What’s Your Hair Type? Here’s How to Find Out
Haircare has been part of our daily rituals for, quite literally, millenia.
The Venus of Willendorf, a voluptuous figurine sculpted about 30,000 years ago, appears to have a crown of braids. Ancient Egyptians moisturized their hair with sweet almond oil and castor oil to protect it from the arid desert air. In 18th century France, people powdered their coifs with fine flours or starches, which also doubled as an early form of dry shampoo.
Today, haircare is still an important part of our self-care routines. But now there are seemingly countless products made for our tresses. So, where do we even begin? Thankfully, there’s a way to tell. Knowing which products work best for your ’do comes down to understanding your hair type.
What’s my hair type?
Back in the ’90s, stylist Andre Walker, who counts Oprah Winfrey amongst his clientele, invented his famous hair typing system. This system outlines the four main hair textures—the natural pattern in which your locks fall. These textures are: straight, wavy, curly, and coily/kinky.
However, it’s impossible to fit all humans into neat little categories. So, Walker’s typing system also breaks down hair textures into several subcategories. Still, it’s not perfect. Many have pointed out that the classification system doesn’t even touch upon density, porosity, elasticity, and your scalp’s moisture (but more on those later).
The system may be flawed, but think of it as a jumping off point for understanding your hair. If this all sounds like a lot, fear not: we’re here to help you decode hair type. The best way to do this is to let your hair air-dry and leave it product-free the next time you wash it so that you can assess your strands in their most natural state.
If your hair is straight, aka type 1, then it has no natural curve. But, not all straight hair is built the same. Here are the subcategories you might fall into:
1A: Your hair falls straight and flat and has a silky-smooth texture and glossy shine, thanks to its fine texture. Chances are, the rain and humidity rarely cause frizziness. Your hair also doesn’t hold curls well.
1B: This hair has more body and volume than 1A. Your hair strands have a medium thickness and can hold curls and waves.
1C: The last of the straight hair types is marked by its thick volume and coarse texture. While you have a full head of luxurious locks, you might grapple with dryness and frizziness.
How to care for straight hair
Your locks become greasier faster, when compared to other hair types. Wash your naturally straight hair about every two to three days, which will help prevent oiliness. Resist the temptation to wash it daily, as this has the opposite effect and causes your scalp to produce more oil to counteract what’s being washed away.
Your hair is delicate, so avoid damage by not blow drying it. Instead, let it air-dry. If you do need to apply some heat to get out the door faster, use the lowest setting and blow-dry upside down, which will add a little bit of volume.
As for products, use volumizing shampoos and conditioners. A dry shampoo can be your hair’s best friend between wash days. These soak up excess oils that make fine hair look greasy. For styling, opt for lightweight mists and serums and avoid sticky pastes and gels.
Your locks are somewhere between straight and curly. You might have tousled waves or loosely defined rings and frizz is a well-acquainted enemy. There are three different categories:
2A: Type 2A hair is the epitome of beach waves. You have gorgeous S-shaped strands that are thinner than other wavy hair types. You also might struggle with a lack of volume or find that certain products weigh your hair down.
2B: Those with type 2B hair have thicker strands and more defined waves. Your hair tends to lie flat at the scalp and cascade into defined curves, like a character from a CW drama. But because your hair is thicker, it’s more susceptible to flyaways.
2C: This naturally wavy hair type is thick, with dramatic, bouncy waves that start at the root. You don’t have to do much in order to achieve a defined look.
How to care for wavy hair:
Give your hair a boost by using volumizing shampoos and conditioners. Avoid mousses, which can make your bombshell tresses crunchy (and not in the fun, granola way) and lead to build-up, which encourages oil production. A lightweight leave-in conditioner or serum can aid in counteracting the frizziness. Just don’t use both at once, lest you weigh your mane down.
Does your hair have dense, defined loops or ringlets? If so, then your locks are curly. Your natural curls can be a blessing or a curse. On your best days, they’re gorgeous and bouncy. But on a bad hair day, you’re plagued by frizziness and flyaways.
3A: Your curls are characterized by their large size, each one about the diameter of sidewalk chalk. Because they’re softer than other curls, avoid heavy products.
3B: Type 3B curls have a springy, ringlet shape and a whole lot of volume. Each curl is roughly as wide as a Sharpie marker.
3C: The tightest of the curl types, type 3Cs have a compact corkscrew shape that’s prone to a lot of shrinkage when it goes from wet to dry.
How to care for curly hair:
Blow drying and heat tools are your curls’ worst enemy—they’re a recipe for frizziness or even breakage. If you must blow dry, use a diffuser. Otherwise, wrap your hair or let it air-dry. In addition to that, avoid taking a brush to your dry hair, which can cause frizziness.
Opt for moisturizing shampoos and conditioners and avoid “clarifying” cleansers, whose ingredients can dry out your curls. You should also avoid strong-hold gels and sprays. Instead, work with products that enhance your curls’ natural pattern, like lightweight serums and leave-in conditioners.
Sometimes mistaken for tight curls, coily hair can vary from fine to coarse, but is almost always made up of tight zigzag patterns. Coily hair-havers might regularly encounter frizz, dryness, and breakage unless regularly maintained.
4A: These tight coils are about the diameter of a knitting needle and have a whole lot of spring to them. Use a moisturizing shampoo once or twice a week, and pair it with a deep conditioner. Your hair can also take heavier hydration products, like butters and creams.
4B: You have tight, z-shaped curls with sharp angles. Choose products that hydrate your hair, which will help prevent dryness and breakage. Get acquainted with leave-in products and serums, which add moisture and a glossy shine.
4C: These ultra-springy curls bounce when you strut and tend to have a tight coil that tangles easily. These strands are also quite delicate, so you need to take extra care to ensure that your ’do is full of vitality. Treat yourself to hair masks made with rich, moisturizing butters that protect your strands from becoming brittle.
How to care for coily hair:
Try to avoid heat, and let your locks air dry. When dealing with tangles, be patient. Your delicate curls need a gentle touch to prevent breakage.
Shampoo less often, and use cleansers that are sulfate-free, which can lead to brittleness.You want products that are made specifically for putting moisture back into your tresses. Treat your hair to heavier conditioning products, like butters, creams, and leave-in treatments.
Other factors that determine your hair type
Additionally, your hair type also includes other factors, such as density, elasticity, porosity (how much moisture your strands hold), and scalp moisture. Just like with hair texture, all of these play a role in how your hair behaves, and which products it can (and can’t) handle.
Your hair’s porosity refers to a strand’s ability to retain or absorb moisture through the cuticle, the outermost layer of your hair. There are three types: low (cuticles are close together), normal (cuticles are further apart), and high (cuticles are wide). In order for your hair to stay hydrated, products like conditioners, leave-in treatments, and serums need to be able to pass through the cuticle. So, if you have low-porosity hair, it’s harder to absorb products, and if you have high-porosity hair, your hair tends to be dry.
To test porosity at home, run a clean hairbrush or comb through dry, recently-washed hair, grab a strand, and drop it into a clear glass of water. Low-porosity hair will float, normal will float before sinking, and high-porosity hair will sink fast.
While porosity is mainly determined by genetics, it can also be a sign of damaged hair, which can be caused by regular blow drying, straightening, and other heat treatments as well as bleaching, over shampooing, harsh treatments, and too much sun exposure. Low porosity can be caused by overworking your hair.
If you think your hair might be damaged, then opt for moisturizing conditioners made with butters and oils, rinse with lukewarm water, and treat your locks to a leave-in conditioner a couple of times a week. The Transformative Mask by cruelty-free haircare brand Loba Mane, which is featured in our May Kinder Beauty Box, was formulated to deeply condition damaged hair. It’s rich in plant-based oils from buriti fruit, tucuma fruit, coconut, argan, and avocado. And, it can also promote elasticity—our next subject.
This refers to how far a strand of hair can stretch before it bounces back. Determining this is easy: just take a wet strand of hair, and gently stretch it as far as possible. If it snaps instantly, your hair is low-elasticity, meaning it’s brittle.
Low-elasticity hair is also more difficult to work with because it lacks the pliability needed for many different styles. Curly hair is more susceptible to becoming dry which can be caused by things like blowdrying, excessive sunlight, and bleaching.
Give your hair a helping hand by using moisturizing conditioners and hair masks. If your hair has medium elasticity, then you’re average, and you can stretch the hair a bit before it breaks. High-elasticity hair will stretch very far, and looks vibrant and healthy.
For those with low elasticity, leave on a hair mask like Loba Mane for longer, while those with high elasticity need use it for shorter periods before washing out.
Density is all about how much hair is actually on your head. Most of us have between 80,000 to 120,000 strands on our scalp. Density varies from person to person, but may also be determined by age, ethnicity, and nutrition.
Thankfully, you don’t have to count every strand of hair on your head to figure out your density. To do the scalp test, tilt your head slightly towards a mirror. If you can easily see your scalp, you have low-density hair, and you’ll want to use volumizing products to give it some “oomph.” If your scalp is less obvious, then your hair is high-density and you should gravitate towards hydrating products to combat frizz. If you have medium-density hair, you’re lucky! Your hair requires less maintenance and lightweight serums should suffice.
Last, but not least: scalp moisture, of which there are three types: dry, oily, and balanced. Your scalp’s moisture is determined by the production of sebum, a lipid-rich oil that hydrates the skin.
It makes sense why a dry scalp will be susceptible to dandruff, since dry skin can flake easily—but surprisingly, oily scalps can suffer from dandruff too. This is because the oils cause dead skin cells to build up, rather than shed cell by cell which would be unnoticable.
The main difference in skin flakes from dry or oily scalps is the size. Oily scalps produce dandruff that is larger, while dry flakes are smaller and may be accompanied by an itchy scalp.
If your scalp is oily, try washing it more often and use lightweight conditioners. Avoid using a hair mask or leave-in conditioner, or your hair might look greasy. On the opposite side of the spectrum, a dry scalp will benefit from dandruff shampoo, serums, and deep conditioners.
Figuring out your hair type is a combination of understanding your texture, porosity, elasticity, density, and scalp moisture. That’s a lot of factors, but by using the tests above, you should be well on your way to knowing what to use to make your hair shine. Good luck!
Kat Smith is a New York City-based writer and editor who loves digging deep into sustainable fashion, beauty, food, and other lifestyle-related topics.