Knowing and Caring for Your Hair Types, As Easy As 1, 2, 3, 4!

The most fundamental thing to be aware of before you can learn how to properly take the best care of your hair and make sure that it is healthy, strong, and beautiful is to know what type of hair you actually have. There is much more too it then just straight, wavy, or curly; according to a few different hair categorization systems – the most well- known and widely used one being the Andre Walker system – there are actually at least 12 different hair types that a person can have (or you can even have a combination of two or more of them). The main three categories, of course, are indeed straight, wavy, and curly, with each of these having different subcategories that are more specific, and each one of them requires different care according to their texture, oiliness versus dryness, fragility / durability, ease of styling (or lack thereof), and a variety of other factors. Some people may even hair with qualities that fall under more than one hair type category. The point of this article is to help you determine your hair type to be able to take the best care of it with the correct methods and products, as well as guide you on styling and care techniques to keep your natural locks looking and feeling amazing.

Before getting into the details how and why different types of hair fall under their respective categories, let us discuss the fundamental biological facts behind what hair actually is and what causes it to be so diverse among different people and races.

Every strand of hair has a complex biological structure with several layers, similarly to how our skin is structured, but of course cylindrical instead of flat and with different types of cells. Depending on your hair type, these cylindrical structures (or fibers) are either oval or round. Straight hair is composed of round fibers, while wavy and curly hair is made up of oval fibers. Regardless of the shape, each fiber has three layers, which are the cuticle, the cortex, and the medulla, each of which serves its own function and contains different kinds of proteins. The most prevalent one of these proteins, found in the cortex (the middle layer), is keratin, which is created in and grows from the hair follicle, which is the part that attaches each strand of hair to your scalp. The outermost layer is the cuticle, made up of thin and flat cells, and the medulla is a hollow portion at the center of each fiber, which doesn’t really have an organized structure – some people do not even have them in their hair strands at all!

Hair Cross Section

Every strand contains sulfur atoms, and in some people’s hair, these sulfur atoms link up and form disulfide bonds. Whether your hair type is straight, wavy, or curly has to do with whether these bonds are present at all, and if so, how many of them you have and how close together they are. The more disulfide bonds between the proteins and the farther apart they are from each other, the tighter the curls will be, and the other way around. This is because when links are made between proteins, it causes the hair shaft to bend or kink, and this is more pronounced when they are at more of a distance.

The main function of the cortex is strength, durability, and moisture intake and retention. This layer contains melanin, and just like your skin, this is decisive of the color of your hair (whether it is lighter or darker), depending on the type, amount, and concentration of it. The cuticle surrounds each hair fiber with a single coating of molecules that makes the strands resistant to water and other elements.

Now that you know what determines your hair type, the science behind it, and how it functions, let us get into how to determine your hair type. As mentioned above, the most well- known hair type classification system is the Andre Walker system, which we will use as the main point of reference, with two additional types.

According to the Andre Walker system (created by Oprah Winfrey’s personal trusted hair stylist himself), there are four main types of hair. Each of these types are denoted with a main number (1, 2, 3, or 4), and each of the numbers have three subcategories (A, B, and C).
Type 1 characterizes straight hair
Type 2 characterizes wavy hair
Type 3 characterizes curly hair
Type 4 characterizes kinky or coily hair.
The Andre Walker system doesn’t include types 3C and 4C, but these are two additional types that do in fact exist, and we will take a look at them here as well.

Hair Types Chart

Before analyzing your own hair to determine your hair type, it is important that it is super clean, naturally / air dried, and has no product in it. Wash your hair carefully with a clarifying shampoo, and do not use any heat or even a towel to dry it (since both of these elements can temporarily alter the texture of your hair, which could lead to an inaccurate result).

The first determinant of your hair type is how long it takes to dry 100% naturally with no interference. This generally decides on the letter value (A, B, or C) of your hair type, based on the strands’ thickness and texture. Type A hair is the most fine / smooth (with strands usually thinner than a piece of sewing thread), and therefore dries relatively quickly. Type B has a bit more thickness to the strands (about the same thickness as a piece of sewing thread), but is still relatively smooth, usually taking the longest to dry. Type C is more coarse / rough in texture and can vary in how quickly it dries, depending on the number value. The thickness of this type of hair can also vary, as the letter value in this case has more to do with texture and feel rather than the width of the strands.

Let’s start with type 1 (straight) hair.

Completely stick-straight hair is most common people with Asian backgrounds, but it is also found in many Caucasian people as well. This type of hair is generally the shiniest of all textures, but also the oiliest. This is because the lack of bends in the hair doesn’t give the oils in your scalp any “obstacles”, so it is easier for it to travel farther down the hair strands. This type of hair can also be very difficult to style, as it typically doesn’t like to hold onto curls and because of the great silkiness due to the distribution of oil, clips and hair ties tend to slide off more easily. Type 1A hair is the most fine / thin and soft with little to no volume, type 1B hair is slightly thicker and has a bit more body, and type 1C hair is a bit coarser, which makes it the most difficult of type 1 hair to hold curl and styling.

As already discussed, type 1 (straight) hair tends to be difficult to style as a result of its oiliness and lack of shape. On the plus side, this type of hair is much easier to keep clean and moisturized. Type 1 hair generally doesn’t need a lot of product, if any at all – it can actually just end up making it look greasy and messy, and the extra weight can make it look flat. However, if you are looking for a little more shape or volume, try some “beachy waves” foam, which is lighter than mousse but has the same effect without being too heavy or oily, and can give you a subtle wave effect for a little more volume and form.

Type 2 hair is characterized by loose to medium waves.

Hair Types Chart

This type of hair generally has a nice balance in terms of oiliness, so it doesn’t get excessively oily or greasy but still retains a good amount of natural oil/moisture. Type 2A is characterized by very subtle waves with fine strands, which tend to be most cooperative in terms of styling, as they hold shape well and can be both straightened and curled. Type 2B tends to have a shape that is right in between a real curl and subtle waves, while type 2C is coarser and is more prone to frizz.

Type 2 (wavy) hair, as discussed above, tends to be the most cooperative in terms of different styling techniques and can hold form very well, making it suitable for a variety of styling possibilities. This type of hair is also easier to keep clean and moisturized, since the oils from your scalp can still easily travel down most of the hair shaft and it’s not so curled that dirt gets easily trapped. This type of hair responds well to heat-based styled, like curling and straightening irons, as well as hot rollers and diffusers. However, as you probably know, too much heat can cause severe damage – luckily, wavy hair kind of styles itself without the need for blow drying, so try to let your hair air dry as often as possible and save the heated styling tools for special occasions. Wavy hair generally doesn’t require a lot of products, and if you have loose waves, some heavy styling products can weigh down your hair and make you lose some of your natural volume. Stick to lighter products like mousse and thin gels in small amounts to give your natural shape a little extra hold.

Type 3  is classified as Curly hair

Hair Types Chart

Type 3 hair has more drastic variations than types 1 and 2. This type of hair tends to be less shiny than types 1 and 2, as the distinct “S”- shaped forms make it more difficult for the natural oils to travel down the hair strands, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that this kind of hair is dry. Type 3A hair is characterized by loose, wide curls that are just slightly tighter than defined waves. Type 3B is characterized by tighter, spiral/ringlet curls that still have a relatively wide diameter, while type 3C (one of the two hair types not included in the original Andre Walker categorization system) is characterized by very tight, corkscrew-like spirals with a small diameter and lots of volume.

Type 3 (curly) hair is more complex when it comes to care, depending on whether you have Type 3A, type 3B, or type 3C. Since real curls can tend to get frizzy, unruly, or even plain out of control, keeping it moisturized is key, and products can do a lot to keep your curls tame. Use a decent amount of conditioner after shampooing to keep your curls smooth and cut back on frizz. Since air drying can result in your locks looking a little unkempt, it’s tempting to blow dry often, but as stated above, too much heat can be damaging for your hair. If you have issues with dryness, use some leave- in oil or serum a few times a week (or daily, if you struggle with excessive dryness) to keep your hair moisturized, smooth, and easier to handle. While gel can make your hair look sticky, mousses can give a more smoothing effect and keep your curls looking tame.

Type 4 hair is classified as kinky or coily hair.

This texture is typical for people with African/black descent. This type of hair is fragile and prone to breakage because of its texture and difficulty in retaining moisture since the tight kinks make it nearly impossible for the oils from the scalp to get much farther down the strands than the roots. Although this type of hair generally appears thick or coarse, the strands are actually quite thin and wiry. Even so, the extreme tightness of type 4 curls gives immense volume and a variety of styling options that aren’t achievable with straight or even wavy hair. Type 4A hair is characterized by very thin, super tight ringlets/corkscrew curls with a similar shape as type 3C, but with a much smaller diameter. Type 4B is similar to type 4A, but instead of round / circular or spiral curls, these types of curls have sharper angles and have more of a zigzag shape. Type 4C (the other type of curl not included in the original Andre Walker hair type categorization system) is known as kinky hair, which has no definite curl pattern. These types of extremely tight curls can have a combination of “S”- shaped curls, zigzag curls, or other types of shapes that are not so consistent.

Type 4  kinky / coily hair requires an intense hair care regimen in order to avoid too much dryness and breakage, which is a common issue with these kinds of curls. Shampooing has a dehydrating effect on the hair since it washes away the natural oils from your scalp, and since these oils already go through a big struggle just making it past your roots, try to avoid shampooing too much. Also wear your hair loose when you sleep and find a silk pillowcase to go easier on your hair to prevent it from frizzing and breaking. For extra kinky hair, it’s best to get a silk cap that you can put your hair in at night to avoid friction and protect your hair from breakage. Since we already know that heat can also have a drying and damaging effect on hair, it’s highly advisable to stay away from heated styling methods. With regard to products, the top priority here is keeping your natural locks moisturized. There are plenty of products available for kinky and coily hair, including special lotion-like products made specifically for retaining moisture and protection against the elements. In addition to these, what’s great about this kind of hair is that it thrives using natural products without chemicals or additives that you can get affordably and easily, such as olive oil, coconut oil, and castor oil. These work great for moisture retention, nourishing your hair with vitamins and nutrients, smoothing frizz, and protecting against dirt and water.

Regardless of whatever type of hair you have, natural hair of all colors, shapes, textures, thicknesses, and volumes is something to be proud of and embrace as part of who you are. Once you take the first step to understand your hair’s biology and figure out what your personal hair type is, you can learn the best methods for cleaning, caring, moisturizing, styling, and countless other aspects of keeping your natural hair beautiful and as tame, wild, reserved, or bold as you want! You can try out different products and methods until you find a hair care regime that works the best for you, and this guide can get you on your way.

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