There are many hair typing charts on the internet but when I newly started my hair journey I used the chart found on the NaturallyCurly site because I found it to be the most useful, accurate and realistic. They also have a hair typing quiz for newbies. Disclaimer: there is a more up-to-date way of hair typing now- simply go to www.amillionwaystoshea.com
The four main hair categories are straight, wavy, curly and kinky which was formulated by Oprah Winfrey’s hair stylist, Andre Walker’s hair typing system. He created a number system: type 1- straight hair found on many Caucasians but is most commonly found on people of Asian decent. Type 2- wavy hair is the second grade on the hair typing system also found in many Caucasians and people of Hispanic, Latin or mixed backgrounds. Meanwhile, type 3 – curly hair and type 4- kinky or ‘coily’ hair is most commonly seen on people of African and Caribbean decent. Within these number groups there are subdivisions such as, 2a, 2b, 2c, 3a, 3b, 4a, 4b. It was only later that types ‘3c’ and ‘4c’ were added to the chart as people thought that curly/’coily’/kinky hair was so diverse that more subdivisions were needed.
Below is a brief explanation of each hair type (pictures included):
Type 1 – Straight hair
All hair needs moisture, even straight hair, but this hair type is able to maintain moisturised and lubricated for longer periods of time. This is because the natural oils that are secreted in the Sebaceous Glands, Sebum, travel down the hair shaft with ease. Essentially, the hair shaft has no bends that are evident in wavy, curly, coily, kinky hair, which would generally increase the surface area that the oils have to travel down. With straight hair, the oils can travel from the roots to the ends of the straight hair with ease. For this reason, this hair type may have a difficult time dealing with oily hair/oily scalp. In spite of this, type 1 hair will exude lustre and shine, as light bounces off of the hair with ease and the strands will usually be soft or silky to the touch because the hair is well lubricated.
Although this hair type can withstand heat styling with straighteners/curling wands, as well as brushing and pulling, heat damage and dead ends can still occur if proper hair care is not practised. Additionally, the hair will tend to be bone straight, flat to the scalp and difficult to curl or hold curls.
Type 2 – Wavy hair
From wavy hair onwards, moisture becomes more essential in ensuring healthy hair due to the bends, waves, curls, which may cause weak points in the hair shaft. Therefore, curly, wavy, ‘coily’/ kinky hair types tend to be much more fragile than straight hair and for this reason, a more gentle hair care regimen is needed to limit shedding, pulling on ends, breakage and mid-shaft splitting. However, the type 2s tend to have more body/volume and dimension than straight hair. Shrinkage is usually not an issue of this hair type, as the hair only shrinks up between 5% to 20% of its actual length.
Type 2a hair is slightly “S” waved and sticks close to the head. Type 2a hair tends to be thin in density, whilst the strands tend to be thick or ‘coarse’ so like straight hair, 2a can withstand heat styling more so than curly or kinky hair. Although it does have a natural sheen, type 2a waves usually lack volume and definition compared to the type 3 or type 4 hair types.
In Type 2b hair, the wave usually forms throughout the hair in the shape of an “S” like Type 2a, but is a bit more voluminous. Type 2b waves might be slightly frizzier on the crown of the head, and tends to lose curl definition easily when styling the hair.
Type 2c comprises of both waves and curls. Actual curls start to form at the ends of the hair whilst the roots keep a wave formation. Type 2c hair tends to be more resistant to styling and loses curl definition more easily than the type 3 and type 4 categories. For example, bantu knot-outs, roller sets, or twist-outs might actually cause the hair to lose definition rather than encourage it.
Type 3 – Curly hair
Curly hair has more bends than wavy hair and therefore must be styled with care. We move away from waves to ‘S’ curls, loops and ringlets. To prevent breakage, I recommend that you finger-detangle your hair when it is wet or damp. Wide-tooth combs, paddle brushes or Denman brushes can help in the detangling process but finger -detangling is the most gentle for the hair.
Side note: It is okay to use brushes, but not all the time because they can snag on the hair strands more and lead to future tangles and splitting of the hair. Finger detangling together with the use of a wide-tooth comb ensures you get all the knots out because you will feel the knot with your fingers and the comb will get rid of the shed hair. Ultimately, your hair will be tangle-free.
The curls provide a more voluminous look and people tend to call this type, ‘big Hair’. This type tends to be sheeny but the bends in the hair shaft prevent it from being as shiny as straight or wavy hair. Nevertheless, type 3 hair has about 30% to 50% shrinkage in its natural state and therefore will not show its true length until stretched or straightened. When wet, the this hair type will elongate and hang more, and may even appear wavy, straight or loosely curled. This occurs because water weighs it down. Once it is dry, the hair has more body and bounce. The curls also become more springy. It is possible for you to have different curly hair types on your head. Many are type 3a/3b or type 3b/3c.
Type 3a moves away from waves to curls, revealing a definite loopy “S” pattern that is well defined and usually springy. Type 3a curls have a circumference the width of a piece of side-walk chalk or the diameter of a £2 or a 10p coin. Generally, this hair type can be easily blow-dried straight or flat ironed. Type 3a curls are more prone to frizz and losing definition than Type 2 hair and tends to have less natural hold than types 3b, 3c and type 4 hair.
Type 3b curls are more voluminous and have a smaller circumference than Type 3a curls; it is the width of a sharpie marker pen or the diameter of a £1 or 1p coin. Type 3b hair tends to be less shiny and more frizzy than type 3a curls.
Side note: Generally, shine is dependant on texture rather than hair type. For example, you can have type 3 hair and it be spongy or wiry (low/minimal shine) or have type 4 hair and it be silky or cottony (high shine).
Type 3c curls resemble tight corkscrews and are approximately the circumference of a pencil or straw. Type 3c hair tends to be higher in density but has finer strands than type 2 or 3a or 3b hair. As this subcategory has strands that are tightly packed together on the head than types 3a, 3b and the 2s, it has a more voluminous appearance.
Here are a few natural hair youtubers that fall into the type 3 category:
- MoKnowsHair, RikaAdorn – 3a
- NaturalNeiicey, GlamTwins, TarenGuy – 3b
- MahoganyCurls, UKAfrolista, SummerKellsey – 3c
Type 4 – Coily/Kinky hair
Here we move away from curls and large loops to coils and kinks. Like curly hair, ‘coily’ kinky hair needs a lot of moisture as it has even more bends in the hair strand and therefore, this hair type has more of a chance of snapping. Many people believe that ‘coily’ kinky hair is coarse, but in actual fact, this hair type tends to be very fine in strand thickness but thick in density. It tends to be densely packed, giving it the appearance of thick hair. As type 4 hair tends to be fine in strand thickness, there tends to be less layers. Whilst coarse strands would contain the cuticle (outer layer), cortex (inner layer) and medulla (the marrow of the strand). Fine strands usually only have the cuticle and cortex and excludes the innermost layer: medulla. Read ‘The Anatomy of Hair‘ to find out more about the hair strand. It is also possible for you to have more than one hair type on your head. Many are type 4a/4b or 4b/4c.
Side note: Not all type 4s have fine strands or high density hair. Some may have low density and fine strands or thick (coarse) strands and high density hair. Again, hair type and hair texture are completely separate. However, each hair type has its tendencies or trends but genetics are the determining factors for hair texture/type.
Type 4a is tightly coiled hair that has more of a small springy “o” pattern generally but has a ‘lowercase’ “s” pattern when stretched rather than an ‘uppercase’ “S” pattern. It tends to have more moisture than type 4b coils and has a more visible curl pattern. The circumference of the spirals is close to that of a crochet needle or a pen spring. This hair type has about 60% to 75% shrinkage.
Type 4b strands have a “Z” shape and a less defined curl pattern. Instead of curling or coiling, the hair bends in sharp angles like the letter “z.” Type 4b hair is tightly coiled and often shrinks up to 75% of its actual hair length. Type 4b coils can be moulded into various shapes and styles well in comparison to Type 2 or type 3 hair.
Type 4c hair has the tightest curl pattern. It tends to grow up and outwards before it grows downwards and is composed of strands that will almost never clump without the use of styling techniques. This hair type is very versatile and has the strongest hold out of all the 4s. As a result, styles like braids and crotchet tend to last very long for 4c naturals. Some say Type 4c coils look identical to 4b except that the curls are tightly kinked and almost has no obvious curl definition. This type of ‘coily’ kinky hair can shrink more than 75% of its actual length.
Here are a few natural hair youtubers that fall into the type 4 category:
- Naptural85, TheKGLifestyle, SmartistaBeuaty, FusionofCultures- 4a
- BlaklzBeautyful, LiveNaturallyLove, TiaJonay- 4b
- NaturalMe4c, Jouelzy, SetApartStyle, Linda Barry- 4c
Side note: All natural hair types are beautiful and truly, you should accept the strengths and weaknesses of your hair. Remember, if you change the curl pattern of your hair, your texture may be affected. For example, perming straight hair to make it curly or relaxing/texturising curly hair to make it straight or to give it a looser curl pattern simply breaks down the hair’s protein bonds and disfigures the shaft on a molecular level, causing irreversible damages. In this instance, the hair cuticle is raised, creating high porosity hair.
Chemically relaxed or texturised:
Even if you are chemically relaxed or texturised, moisture is still vital in encouraging healthy hair which essentially will provide optimum hair growth and hair length retention. In fact, I think that moisture is even more important in maintaining the health of the hair because the hair is now more porous than it was originally. This means that moisture can now escape the hair easily. Also, protein is vital because chemically relaxed/texturised hair has more gaps in the hair shaft. The chemicals have broken down the hair’s natural protein (keratin) bonds and now the hair is weaker than it was when it was natural. To make sure your hair is healthy, moisturised and strong, keep up with moisture-protein treatments and maintain a balance to ensure your hair is not too hard/brittle and/or not too soft/ malleable. Protein or moisture overload will both lead to breakage.
Transitioners / Big Choppers:
If you are transitioning or big chopping, you may be struggling with identifying what your hair type it. My advice is, give your hair more time to grow out to at least 4 inches. This is because the hair at the roots may be scab hair. Also, the weight of the chemically treated hair may be weighing your natural hair down, giving it the appearance of a looser curl pattern. In this circumstance, I would advise you to observe the line of demarcation and cut the hair where the natural and the chemically treated hair meet. Once you have cut your chemically treated hair off, you may find your natural hair to bounce back and become more springy. For example, before you cut the chemically treated hair off, your hair may appear 3c, but after the cut, you may find your hair is actually type 4a.
Overall, remember hair type is only beneficial in finding others who share the same type as you. From this, you may be able to share hairstyle ideas and tips. But what truly is worth acknowledging is your hair texture. Texture will determine how your hair feels and performs, not just the way it looks . It will enable you to formulate a suitable regimen and find the best products that meet your hair needs.
For more information on hair typing, please view the LOIS system.