What Is My Hair Type, and Should it Matter?

This topic has been done to death in the natural hair community. I’ve seen countless YouTube videos, blog articles, message board discussions, and social media comment sections dedicated to this issue. However, since there isn’t really a consensus on how much or how little hair type should matter, and there are still sooo many naturals running around on the internet who don’t even know their hair type, I figured throwing my hat into the ring wouldn’t be so terrible.

Okay, so let’s start with the obvious — what is hair typing? This isn’t a full scientific analysis of black hair or hair in general, since I am not qualified to give any sort of analysis on either. In fact, the typing system that started all this isn’t entirely scientific itself. Andre Walker, a celebrity hairstylist who worked for Oprah back in the day, created his own hair typing system for women, with Type 1 being the straightest, and Type 4 being the curliest/kinkiest. Within those numbers are letters with more specific descriptions. Two new letters, Type 3c and 4c, were essentially added in by naturals who felt those categories weren’t well represented in the original chart. You won’t find them in Walker’s original book on the subject, but these two “new” types are very common in naturals and you will see those terms in every natural hair message board or article on this topic.

I’m not here to pull a Melania and plagiarize other people (yes I really made that joke), so I’ll just link the photos and descriptions for the hair types HERE. I love NaturallyCurly.com because their photos are the clearest and most accurate and they have good descriptions of each hair type. They also have a very quick and useful quiz to help you if you’re still stuck like I was.

But why do we even bother with the hair typing? Many naturals have stated that in terms of finding products and care techniques for your hair, typing isn’t all that useful. How your hair does or does not curl doesn’t necessarily effect how it retains moisture. Other factors like hair porosity and density tend to be good measures for how healthy or unhealthy our hair is, which is why natural hair lines like Shea Moisture are marketing more towards porosity these days than curl types.

The internet knows this. But the internet still has loads of people referencing their hair types in conversation. Why? Because like any other online community, the natural hair community has its abbreviations and “language” for lack of a better word that allow people from different places and with different experiences to communicate effectively and get advice. Hair type may not be the defining characteristic that determines my hair health, but if I wanted advice on a forum or a comment section about styling, it would be the quickest way to give an idea of what my hair is like, and can help more than a grainy, poorly lit photo sent to strangers to get an idea of what to do. So, in spite of the inherent divisiveness of the typing system, and the hierarchy that developed through texture discrimination, which is for another post entirely, the typing system CAN be helpful.

 

My hair in a fresh wash and go.
My hair in a fresh wash and go.

What’s my hair type? It took me FOREVER to figure it out. It doesn’t help that many naturals, myself included, have sections with different hair types all on one head! As my hair grew out from my big chop, it took a good 6 months to get a feel for what my hair wanted to naturally do and how it curled or kinked in various sections. So my rather confusing verdict at this moment is that my hair is mostly 4a. The front section that frames my face leans more 3c (it’s a mix, really), and the sides by my ears, the kinkiest sections by far, are almost 4b. The back is a VERY tightly coiled 4a that takes the longest to detangle and is the hardest to stretch when setting at night. Left to it’s own devices, the back would be a matted mess within a day of washing! That, in the nutshell, is my hair, and I love every strand on my head no matter what it chooses to do. Seeing my mother go natural  in recent months, and realizing she has the EXACT SAME change in curl patterns (curly in front, kinky on sides, tight in the back), strengthened my feeling that my hair was beautiful. Now it wasn’t just pretty because I liked it — it was pretty because my mama gave me her curls!

Now, the last important question: Does knowing my hair type effect my hair routine? Well…somewhat. Knowing what your hair can or cannot do can help immensely with styling. If my hair was 4c, for example, which is a kinkier texture where curls don’t clump the same way they do for other hair types, I wouldn’t be able to do a wash and go in the exact same way I do it now as a 3c/4a type. 4c naturals, for example, generally cannot wet their hair, pile on a bunch of gel to clump their curls, blow dry with a diffuser and be on their way. They CAN wash and go, but they can’t use the same method as every natural they see on the internet. By the same token, I’m not a 3a, which is a looser curl pattern that falls in more defined, consistent ringlets. So I can’t wet my my hair, throw in a cream with some coconut oil in it, shake and go like some 3a girls can. My hair needs gels to be defined the way I like because they weigh down my curls and force them to clump uniformly rather than frizzing, which they are highly prone to do if left completely to their own devices.

With all that said, after I started coloring my hair in July of last year, it wasn’t hair typing that helped me learn how to care for the health of my hair. My hair has thrived the most by understanding my porosity (again, needs to be covered in a separate post) rather than my curl pattern. Through that, I learned how to keep my hair moisturized for longer and how to work protein into my deep conditioning routine to keep my hair strong and prevent my delicate strands from breaking. So in order to put ALL the puzzle pieces together — hair health, hair care, hair styling — hair typing is a key component. Just make sure it’s not the only component, and that you do the research necessary to look after your hair’s overall health.

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