Hair Types, Hair Typing Systems and You
Google the words “hair types,” and you’ll get a couple pages of article listings by prominent “natural hair” gurus. They all claim to “clarify” or “demystify” the most popular hair typing systems in the “Natural Hair” community.
Those of us with African hair textures tend to gravitate toward a system that characterizes the varieties of curly, kinky and coily curl patterns. Others base their typing systems on hair density. Still, others classify hair based on porosity. Oy vay .. enuf awlready!
Know what I found? Hair types mean different things to different people. There is no definitive hair typing system that accurately incorporates the subtle and complex varieties of the human genome and hair characteristics within the world’s diverse population.
So, I’d rather present the best overview I can and let you decide which you prefer.
Traditional Hair Typing and Philip Kingsley’s Philosophy
The standard cosmetology taught in American beauty schools categorized hair as it did skin types: dry, oily and normal. Over the years, standard cosmetology has grown with the times. Instead of basing its science exclusively on European hair characteristics, the think tank for standard cosmetology continues to modify hair care systems for people of non-European ethnicities.
Meanwhile, world re-known UK stylist Philip Kingsley has attempted to amend that system. His philosophy categorizes hair based on density: Coarse, Fine, Medium and Afro-Caribbean.
Andre Walker Hair Typing System
Celebrity hair stylist Andre Walker introduced his typing system in his 1998 book Andre Talks Hair. Now it’s the unofficial standard within the Curly and Natural communities.
That’s because it’s solely based on hair texture. And that’s important to women (and men) with curly and textured hair who are battle-weary from personal and social pressures to manage their woolly, cottony and billowy manes in a society biased toward straight hair.
It’s also simple.
Walker divides hair into 4 main categories: 1. Straight, 2. Wavy, 3. Curly, 4. Coily/Kinky.
Then, he adds subcategories — a, b and c — to identify various curl patterns.
So, in theory, Walker’s system looks like this (minus a pic of #1 straight hair):
While this typing system is used by most in the curly community, many African American women argue it deepens the good hair-bad hair rift. Walker, himself, didn’t help.
In the June, 2011 issue of Elle Magazine, Walker — touted as Oprah Winfrey’s personal stylist — offended the natural hair community with this comment:
“I always recommend embracing your natural texture. Kinky hair can have limited styling options; that’s the only hair type that I suggest altering with professional relaxing.”
In backlash. many women quit team Walker.
Fia’s Hair Typing System
This is one of the most widely used system worldwide. It’s based on three criteria: texture, density and strand size. Here’s the chart posted on Healthy Hair Dimensions:
FIRST CLASSIFIER – Your curliness
The straight ones
1a – stick straight
1b – straight but with a slight body wave, just enough to add some volume, doesn’t look wavy
1c – straight with body wave and one or two visible S-waves (e.g. nape of neck or temples)
The wavy ones
2a – loose, stretched out S-waves throughout the hair
2b – shorter, more distinct S-waves (similar to waves from braiding damp hair)
2c – distinct S-waves and the odd spiral curl forming here and there
The curly ones
3a – big, loose spiral curls
3b – bouncy ringlets
3c – tight corkscrews
The really curly ones
4a – tightly coiled S-curls
4b – tightly coiled hair bending in sharp angles (Z-pattern)
SECOND CLASSIFIER – What (most of) your individual strands look like
F – Fine
Thin strands that sometimes are almost translucent when held up to the light. Shed strands can be hard to see even against a contrasting background. Similar to hair found on many people of Scandinavian descent.
You can also try rolling a strand between your thumb and index finger. Fine hair is difficult to feel or it feels like an ultra-fine strand of silk
M – Medium
Strands are neither fine nor coarse. Similar to hair found on many Caucasians.
You can also try rolling a strand between your thumb and index finger. Medium hair feels like a cotton thread. You can feel it, but it isn’t stiff or rough. It is neither fine or coarse.
C – Coarse
Thick strands that where shed strands usually are easily identified against most backgrounds. Similar to hair found on many people of Asian or native American descent.
You can also try rolling a strand between your thumb and index finger. Coarse hair feels hard and wiry. As you roll it back and forth, you may actually hear it.
THIRD CLASSIFIER – Your overall volume of hair
Put your hair in a ponytail with as much hair as possible in it. Don’t bother with the way it looks – the goal is to have most/all of your hair in there. If it means it sits smack dab on top of your head, put it there.
Measure the circumference of the ponytail. If you have bangs and/or you can’t get all of your hair in there adjust according to how much of your hair you have measured.
i – thin (less than 2 inches/5 centimeters)
ii – normal (between 2-4 inches or 5-10 centimeters)
iii – thick (more than 4 inches/10 centimeters)
The LOIS system is as simple as it gets. And it’s become the go-to system for women protesting Walker’s system in favor of an “uplifting” one. It’s got a ‘kumbaya’ feel to it. Rather than differentiating curl patterns as common ethnic traits, all those who share specific hair traits are considered “daughters” (of Mother Africa, maybe).
Curls are characterized by four basic shapes corresponding with letters in the alphabet.
L shaped textures have a “z” or zig-zag pattern.
O shapes are spirals or coils
I is the shape of bone or stick straight hair
S is the shape for wavy or “s” pattern.
According to Ourhair.net, a second component to this system requires a strand test to determine hair density or thickness. Compare the strand to a strand of sewing thread which represents the average size of a medium hair strand. If the hair strand its bigger, it’s thick. If it’s thinner, it’s fine. Not complicated.
A third component determines the hair’s porosity and flatness of the outer cuticle layer, according to a 2004 ourhair.net article announcing the LOIS system as posted in the Black Hair Planet Forum in 2008.
“Thready – Hair has a low sheen, with high shine if the hair is held taut (as in a braid), with low frizz. Wets easily but water dries out quickly.
Wiry – Hair has a sparkly sheen, with low shine and low frizz. Water beads up or bounces off the hair strands. Hair
never seems to get fully wet.
Cottony – Hair has a low sheen, a high shine if the hair is held taunt and has high frizz. Absorbs water quickly but
does not get thoroughly wet very fast.
Spongy – Hair has a high sheen with low shine with a compacted looking frizz. Absorbs water before it gets
Silky – Hair has low sheen, a very high shine, with a lot or low frizz. Easily wets in water.”
The Mizani System
Mizani has one motive: selling Mizani products. So, this system is a sales pitch to get you to buy their products for your hair type.
That being said, the Mizani hair typing chart is a wonderful reference. According to Mizani experts, there are 8 hair types from straight to zig-zag coiled.
Click on the type you’re interested in and it links you to a basic description of the common characteristics of that type — such as direction of growth, cuticle angle and porosity.
Discovering Your Hair Type
Now, you see how something that seems so simple has become so complicated. It doesn’t have to be. After all, knowing your hair type really is important.
Most women aren’t just one hair type. Through experience and observation, you may find sections of your hair differ in texture than others. For example, using Walker’s Hair Typing as a reference, a 3 inch wide section of my hair encircling my skull from my temples to my nape is 3c. My bangs — from both temples just before my crown — are 4b. My entire crown — the majority of my hair — is 4a.
So, don’t be rattled if you have weird hair. Most of us do. It’s what gives your hair it’s unique character.
Some of us who’ve lived a lifetime hiding our natural hair texture need to be reintroduced to it. We must shake hands with our hair and have a conversation with it rather than dictate what we think it should do. So, take your time with this process.
It’s the beginning of a journey with your true hair … and yourself.
“Andre Says,” http://andresays.andrewalkerhair.com/
“The Curly Hair Classification System, Andre Walker,” Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=157101360995382
“Hair Typing,” http://thehairsmoothie.com/hair-typing/
“Decoding Hair Texture: Hair Typing Systems 101,” http://www.curlynikki.com/2012/08/decoding-hair-texture-hair-typing.html
“What is My Hair Type? The Andre Walker Typing System,” Black Hair Media, http://blackhairmedia.com/natural-hair/what-is-my-hair-type-the-andre-walker-typing-system/
“LOIS Hair Typing System,” http://hollistics.com/2012/04/05/the-lois-hair-typing-system/
LOIS Hair Typing http://forum.blackhairplanet.com/archive/index.php/t-205.html
“Philip Kingsley Hair Guide: Hair Types,” http://www.philipkingsley.com/hair-guide/hair-types
“Hair Types: Hair Classification Systems,” http://healthyhairdimensions.com/?page_id=71