Afro hair – it’s dry, it defies the laws of gravity, it’s curly, spirally…it’s WOW!
Doesn’t that just sum up black hair? So what’s the deal with hair typing, and why do we need to categorise our hair? Why not just let it be?
For all those people who are new to the whole natural hair thing, categorising your hair into a curl type may be completely new to you. If you’ve been natural for a while…well, categorising your hair may be as baffling now as it ever was.
There are a few systems out there that you can use to determine your curl type but each of these systems has its own flaws and sometimes it’s hard to know exactly where your hair ‘fits in’.
The more I’ve researched this subject, the harder it became for me to work out which curl type I was. I think I’ve figured it out but the problem is that I have different curl patterns on my head, like many other naturals.
The rule of thumb seems to be, to use the dominant curl pattern – the one that takes up around 70% of your head.
My head seems to have a ratio of around 40/60 type 3c and type 4a – but please don’t quote me on this, I’ve been agonising over it for quite a while.
In the back and sides I have a very tight afro coil that retains its definition well.
In the crown and nape, I have looser S-shaped curls about the size of a pencil and a few curls with an even larger diameter.
At the front, however, it gets extremely frizzy and there are some strands with hardly any curl whatsoever – I’m not sure how to class these but I’m thinking they’re maybe a 4b or even 4c. Bizarrely, I once pulled out a shed hair that was tight curly at the top and very loosely curled at the bottom…go figure!
I’ve seen vloggers with hair that looks identical to my own, but they classify it as something entirely different, so trying to determine your hair type isn’t as easy as it sounds.
How Does Hair Typing Work?
No wonder we’re so confused about hair typing. I’ve seen numerous charts and hair typing systems on the internet like the one below, for example.
There’s some debate over whether you should determine your hair type on wet or dry hair. The consensus seems to be that it should be carried out on dry hair, because water can weigh the hair down and alter the curl pattern.
There are a few main curl typing systems out there. There’s the LOIS system, in which the letters correspond to the shape of the curl. For example, the ‘S’ signifies s-shaped spiral curls; the ‘L’ is more of a slight wave pattern. I quite like this system as it’s pretty simple but on the other hand, maybe it’s a little too simplistic if you really want to get to know your hair in-depth.
Mizani has weighed in with their own ‘curl key’, which ranges in Roman numerals from I to VIII (eight), with descriptive text such as ‘straight to minimal wave’ being I, right up to what they term ‘zig-zag coiled’ at VIII.
When you see naturals reference curl charts on YouTube or various natural hair blogs, they’ll most likely be using the popular numeric system devised by Oprah Winfrey’s hair stylist, Andre Walker. This system is the one that’s most commonly used. It ranges from categories 1 to 4 starting at 1a, which is straight hair, and goes all the way up to 4b – super-coily afro hair.
Following on from the Andre Walker system, another chart was developed by top US site Naturallycurly.com. Their chart builds on the Andre Walker system and incorporates some extra categories such as 3c and 4c, which Andre’s chart doesn’t have.
Using the Andre Walker system/Naturallycurly system, here’s (briefly) what I understand about curl types:
Type 1 hair is straight
Type 1a: straight hair (fine)
Type 1b: straight hair (medium)
Type 1c: straight (coarse)
Type 2 hair is wavy
Type 2a: wavy hair (fine)
Type 2b: wavy hair (medium, slightly fuller wave)
Type 2c: wavy (coarse, almost curving into an S shape)
Type 3 hair is curly
Type 3a: curly with a big, loose curl shaped like an S. The curls are well defined but hair can be frizzy.
Type 3b: curly with slightly tighter curls than 3a and a spiral shaped pattern. The curls are usually well defined and have a circumference around the size of a marker pen.
Type 3c: curly with tighter corkscrew curls, around the size of a pencil or piece of straw. The hair is typically quite fine but the hair is usually densely packed. The curls are well-defined.
Type 4 hair is tightly coiled
Type 4a: tight coils with a well defined S shape. These curls are around the same size as a crochet needle. It is said to be slightly less dry than Type 4b and 4c.
Type 4b: characterised by a zig-zag pattern and bends and turns at an angle in a Z shape. The hair is very tightly coiled and can shrink up to 75%. It has a less defined pattern.
Type 4c: this hair is super kinky and so dense that you can hardly see any definition.
I’d definitely advise taking a gander at Naturallycurly.com, which goes into curl typing in-depth and offers pictures to illustrate each curl pattern, along with tips on how to take care of the different curl types.
Having said that, curl pattern is only a small part of the picture. Your hair’s porosity (the way it reacts to moisture), its texture (coarse, medium or fine) and the density of your hair (how much hair there is on your head) all come into play when you’re figuring out how to take care of your hair.
For example, when it comes to choosing products for your hair, porosity should be a major factor rather than the type of curl you have. Or if you’re trying to figure out how to detangle your hair, the density and texture should be a big influence too, not just the curl type.
So keep this in mind when you’re reading advice that’s specific to your curl type. In the end, no-one can really tell you what type of product or treatment your own hair will respond to. Even if two people had exactly the same hair, those same two people may experience completely different results using the same products, the same styling techniques and the same regimen. In other words, take all the advice you can wrap your head around but ultimately you have to listen to your own hair.
What’s the Point of Categorising Your Hair?
Maybe us naturals spend too much time agonising over which type of curl we have. Or maybe it’s just me. There’s so much information out there that it can be really confusing, especially when we start comparing our hair to others.
It’s even more difficult when so many of us curly girls have more than one type of curl on our head. Factor in that the hair can change over time; your age, chemical treatments, damage, your health and the health of your hair can all impact the curl pattern or texture to some extent.
I suppose it’s useful to know what type of curl you have when you’re transitioning. It can help if you can identify with someone else’s hair and see that they’ve managed to grow their hair long – if long hair is what you’re aiming for (particularly if you have the extremely frizzy, dry kinks typical of Type 4b onwards that you’ve been told will never grow!).
But there’s another side to this whole debate on curl patterns. This seemingly innocuous subject can be very divisive within sections of the natural community. There’s a perception that one type of hair is preferable to another.
It’s the age-old debate about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ hair. They say that this is a throwback from the days of slavery, when lighter skin and looser curls were favoured over darker skin tones and tightly coiled afro hair. Wherever this notion comes from, I’ve read enough on the subject of hair categories to know that it still, unfortunately, exists in the black/black hair community.
Am I affected by it? I hope not, but certainly trying to discover your curl type can be a very emotive subject and it’s difficult not to get drawn in. It can be difficult not to have a visceral response when trying to come to a conclusion about your curl type, rather than facing the reality of the hair that’s on top of your head.
I know that I spent a long time trying to figure out which curl type I have and wondering whether I’ve been able to detach myself from the belief that one type of hair is better than another. I’ve tried to be as objective as possible and I’m pretty sure that I’ve nailed it. I think we all have to work on shifting our attitudes towards our hair, and just respect what grows out of our head.
To assign yourself falsely to one curl type for egotistical reasons is understandable, but it can hinder you as you learn to take care of your hair. So my advice is that if you must categorise your hair, be aware of the pitfalls!
And finally, whether it’s 3c or 4c hair, it’s beautiful. Keep believing it! I have curl crushes on naturals with 3c and 4c hair – in the end, it’s all about how you work it. And FYI all you naysayers out there that claim you can’t grow 4b and 4c hair, you only have to check out Aevin Dugas, Guinness Record Holder for the world’s largest fro – a 4c beauty! It just goes to show that with the right care, you can grow healthy black hair.
Have you discovered your curl type yet? What do you think of curl charts? What type of curl do you have and does knowing what it is help you take care of your hair?
Please let me know what you think. Join me at the Natural Hair Forum UK for more discussion!