One of the first things any transitioning curly should ask themselves is 'What's my Hair Type'. Many Curlies work out their Curl Pattern (2a - 4c) and leave it at that. To truly understand your hair and it's needs, hair typing goes so much further.
When any Curlfriend contacts me for help or product recommendations - I always ask them to think about 4 main characteristics: Porosity, Texture, Density and Curl Pattern (along with any concerns or challenges they working through and obviously any allergies or sensitivities).
Let's dig into what these characteristics are, how they impact your hair product/technique choices and how to identify which type your hair is.
What is Porosity?
Porosity simply describes the way in which your hair cuticles (the flexible outer layers of your hair shaft) are sitting. Porosity is described in three categories - Low Porosity, Medium Porosity and High Porosity. Think of the cuticles as like a shingled roof. Low Porosity Hair has 'shingles' which are tightly overlapping. Medium Porosity Hair has 'shingles' which are slightly looser but still overlapping. High Porosity Hair has 'shingles' which are much more separated/open and in the case of damaged High Porosity Hair, can be broken and cracked away.
Hair porosity is often genetic, but can be impacted by damage (heat, chemical or mechanical damage). Porosity can change over time - hair that grew out of your head as low porosity, can become higher porosity as it grows and becomes damaged by excessive use of heat tools, chemicals in products, bleaching and colouring etc.
It is also possible to have different porosity hairs across your head. For instance, if you have highlights but the rest of your hair is not coloured - it is possible that the highlighted sections may be higher in porosity than the rest of your hair.
Why is Porosity important?
The reason it is important to identify your porosity is because it will impact how your hair will absorb and hold on to moisture, water and products. It will also assist with understanding (and anticipating) how your hair behaves in different circumstances.
Porosity will be covered more in depth in a future blog post - but for now, it's important to remember there are some ingredients that are better for low porosity, others that are great for high porosity - because of the way different porosity hair accepts and absorbs moisture/products/water. Porosity also impacts hair behaviour - for instance, low porosity hair is more prone to build up and therefore could benefit from regular clarifying or low pooing over co-washing. Knowing your porosity will set you on the path to selecting the best products and routine for your hair type.
How do you determine your porosity?
There are a number of tests for porosity, some are more accurate than others.
As we discussed above, for the purposes of designing a hair product and technique routine, we want to determine our porosity because we want to know a) how products will be absorbed b) hair behaviour such as build up potential and reaction to moisture/protein balance.
The best way to determine your hair porosity is to consider the below matrix and see which category most accurately describes your hair and how it behaves.
5 - 7 Points - You likely have Low Porosity Hair
8 - 11 Points - You likely have Medium Porosity Hair
12 - 15 Points - You likely have High Porosity Hair
A quick Google search will offer up several other tests which provide varying levels of accuracy.I would only use those for fun and not base any purchasing decisions off these tests.
The 'Float Test'
To complete this test, take a couple of hairs from your head and place them in a glass of water. After several minutes check your result - if they sink your hair is high porosity / if they float, your hair is low porosity.
The accuracy of this test is questionable as results can be affected by:
- the hairs selected may be coated in products, oils from your fingers or other build up.
- The angle in which the hair is placed in the glass could affect the result (if it breaks surface tension of the water it may be more likely to sink / if it doesn't it may be more likely to float).
- The thickness of the hair strand - angel fine high porosity hair may still float / very coarse thick hair may be more likely to sink.
- Water quality.
The 'Slide Test'
To complete this test, take a single strand of hair in between your forefinger and thumb and slide your fingers up the shaft (from ends to toward the root).
The accuracy of this test is questionable because the cuticles are so tiny and in ultra fine hair, may be impossible to feel regardless of how open or closed they are.
What is Texture?
Texture (also referred to as structure, thickness) refers to the thickness of each individual strand of hair. It is split into three categories - Fine, Medium and Thick/Coarse.
Why is Texture Important?
It is important to determine the texture of your hair, to ensure that the products you are applying to your strands are weighted appropriately. Putting very heavy products on fine hair will simply weigh it down and using products which are too lightweight on Coarse hair is unlikely to achieve desired results.
How do you determine your Texture?
Many of us will have been told by a stylist at some point "your hair is so fine" or "you have fine hair but a lot of it!" But to test at home yourself, try these quick tests:
The Strand Test
Take a single strand of hair in between your fingers and rub gently.
If you don't feel anything at all, you have fine textured hair
If you feel hair, you have medium textured hair
If you feel a strong strand, you have coarse textured hair
The Sewing Thread Test
Cut a piece of sewing thread and place it next to a single strand of dry hair (preferably one that's fallen out naturally!).
If the hair is thinner than the thread - your hair is fine
If the hair is the same as the thread - your hair is medium
If the hair is thicker than the thread - your hair is coarse
While the above can be somewhat subjective, the formal numbers are quite hard to judge at home with a normal ruler! Just in case you have access to a millimetre ruler, it can be helpful to know that Hair specialists around the world generally agree that:
Fine hair is 0.04mm - 0,06mm
Medium hair is 0.06mm - .0.08mm
Coarse hair is 0.08mm - 0.1mm
What is Density?
Density refers to how thick your overall quantity of hair is (how much hair you have). This is determined by the number of hair follicles you have and therefore how many hairs are growing out of your head. The average person has 2,200 strands of hair per 2.5cm square of scalp.
Why Is Density Important?
When it comes to choosing products and techniques, understanding your natural density and how to make it appear differently using products, techinques and styles can be helpful.
For instance, lower density hair can appear greasy, lank and lifeless if weighed down by heavy products whilst higher density hair may need heavier products and different cleansing techniques in order to achieve desired results.
How do you determine your Density? There are a couple of ways to determine your hair density.
The Count Test
If you have a lot of time (and/or a friend who is willing to give up a few hours!) you can count the number of hairs in a 2.5cm square section of scalp. Average density is 2,200 hairs per 2.5cm squared - more than that would be high density / less than that would be low density.
The Scalp Visibility Test
Let your dry hair hang loose in it's natural, unparted state. Look closely from different angles (front on, each side, up and downward).
If you can see your scalp very easily - you have low density hair
If you can see your scalp with a little effort - you have medium density hair
If you can't see your scalp - you have high density hair
The Pony Tail Test
Put your hair in a standard pony tail. Grab a tape measure and measure the circumference of the base of the pony tail (don't include the band - measure on
Less than 5cm - Low Density
5cm to 9cm - Medium Density
Over10cm - High Density
Remember if you have shorter hair that doesn't all reach the pony tail (or layers that sit outside the pony) this will affect your results and you should do a combination of the tests to double check your result.
What is Curl Pattern?
The shape (or pattern) of your natural curls is called your Curl Pattern.
The patterns are split by Numbers and Letters and range from 1 (Straight Hair); 2a, 2b or 2c (varying degrees of wavy hair); 3a, 3b or 3c (varying degrees of curly hair) and 4a, 4b or 4c (varying degrees of kinky/coily hair).
It is important to note that:
1. Curl Pattern can change over time. Many people who commence their natural/curly journey begin with damaged hair, as the health of the hair improves, the curl pattern often changes and becomes more curly.
2. You can have a variety of curl patterns on your head (most people do!). The reasons for this vary - It may be that it just naturally grows this way, it could be some areas are more affected by damaged (e.g from highlights or more consistent use of heat on certain areas) or lifestyle factors (regular helmet/headgear wear, sleeping on a certain side etc).
Why Does Curl Pattern matter?
I'm going to be a little controversial here - It really doesn't matter (not as much as the other characteristics, anyway).
Whilst curl pattern is one of the most commonly discussed 'typing tool' it actually matters least when deciding on products. It does matter more when discussing techniques (the way you apply products and style your hair).
For instance - 'Betty' a fine haired, low porosity type 4a may need a completely different styling routine than 'Sally' a coarse haired, high porosity type 4a. Betty would need to be conscious of build up on her fine/low porosity hair whilst Sally would need to ensure that she selects products that moisturise and lock in moisture on her coarse high porosity hair. In this example - Curlies with the same curl pattern would need completely different product routines to ensure their best results. Though it is fair to say they will use a lot of similar styling techniques.
For the purposes of selecting products and techniques when designing a Curly Hair Routine, Curl Pattern can be helpful for discussing desired results. But it is important to note that no product is going to take a 2a to 3c (unless it's a perm) and no product is going to take a 4b to a 2c (unless it's a relaxer).
It is also true that many products are sold/recommended as being "Best For Type x" hair - which is based on the fact that certain curl patterns also often share other characteristics. Often Kinky-Coily Hair is lower porosity and often wavy hair is finer textured. This makes it easy if you fit in to that average/standard, but not as easy for a coarse haired wavy or a high porosity kinky-coily.
How do you determine your Curl Pattern?
Compare to the above chart - noting you may have multiple types on your head.
So What Now?
Now you are armed with all the information on your Hair Type - you can use this to select the products and techniques which best suit your type and desired results. You can also use this to ensure you are following Curlies with similar types to yourself on social media.
Stay tuned for the next series of posts, covering product and technique selections by Curl Type!