Curly, wavy, coily, wispy, straight – have you ever wondered exactly what type of hair you have? What about the actual shape of the curls you call your own? Did you know that there are at least 10 different hair types?1 What causes different kinds of hair, anyway?
Though mostly subjective, it’s useful to determine which of these natural hair types is the one you have. How can you know which hair care products to choose if you aren’t aware of your hair type’s tendencies? And what if the hairstyle that looks amazing on your friend just doesn’t work for you – and you have no idea why? Knowing your hair type can help prevent hair disasters before they even happen.
But before describing these different categories in detail, we’ll look at why there is so much variation in hair in the first place. When you better understand some of these differences in hair types, you can more easily figure out which type of hair you have yourself.
Table of Contents
The Science Behind Hair Types
The “why” behind the kind of hair you have has a lot to do with genetics.3 If your mom and dad have straight hair, for example, you’re very likely to have straight hair, too. How a hair grows out straight, wavy, curly, or coiled is more complex.
The primary material your body uses to produce hair is a protein called keratin.4 Each strand of hair relies on a follicle to stay anchored in your skin;5 it is also the source of your hair growth. The shape of your follicles helps determine the curliness, waviness, or straightness of your hair.3 Other factors such as hormones and sometimes even illness/medication can affect how – and how much – your hair grows.3
If the bulb-like shape at the base of a follicle is asymmetrical, the hair growing from it will be curlier. If this bulb is round and symmetrical, the hair will grow out straighter.3 Whether or not a follicle has a “hook” is another way to distinguish follicle types. The more “hooked” a follicle is, the curlier the hair growing out of it will be.7
Finally, the curliness of your locks also has to do with how evenly distributed keratin is on the hair itself. A curly strand of hair will have more keratin on the inner side of its curl than on the outer side. The keratin in straight hair is more evenly distributed.3
Andre Walker Hair Typing System
Andre Walker is famous for being Oprah Winfrey’s personal stylist and a Daytime Emmy Award winner.6 Many people also know his name because of the Andre Walker Hair Typing system.6 It is one of the more well-known hair typing systems in modern times.
The four general categories for the Andre Walker classification system are straight, wavy, curly, and kinky/coiled.4 For each of these categories there are two to three texture subcategories: fine, medium, and coarse. In other typing systems based on the Andre Walker system, subcategories may exist within these categories, too.4
Finally, keep in mind that Andre Walker’s classification system is not the final word on natural hair types. People classify and categorize hair using other methodologies, too. One of the most popular systems (besides Walker’s) is called the LOIS system.1 These systems are usually less than scientific, but if they help you and your hairstylist understand your hair, then they may be worthwhile to learn!
Now that we have a general understanding of why hair looks and feels the way it does, let’s delve more into the Andre Walker’s classification of hair types. Is your hair straight, wavy, curly, or kinky – and what kind of texture does it have?
Type 1: Straight Hair Types
Shiny, boring, sleek, oily, robust – there are many pros and cons both to having straight hair. Straight hair is the most straightforward when trying to achieve certain looks and cuts. If you want severe asymmetry in your style or hard-edged bangs or noticeable layers that will reliably lie flat – straight hair works best. Certainly, this hair type likes to stay, well, straight – so it tends to be pretty predictable to work with.
Straight hair is also damage-resistant, so you don’t have to worry as much about breaking or harming straight hair. However, because natural oils can make their way down each hair without any twists or curls, straight hair tends gets oilier faster than other hair types.4
Now we have an idea of what straight hair types are like overall. Let’s see what distinguishes the three subcategories of type 1 hair from one another.
Straight Hair: Type 1A (Fine)
Type 1A hair has a fine texture. That means each strand of hair is thin, so the overall effect is fine, wispy, sometimes almost baby-soft hair.7 Some people may have an easy time styling this straight hair type, while others may find it difficult.8 Unanimously, however, type 1A hair won’t curl easily at all.
Since it is both straight and thin, this hair type may succumb to greasiness and/or lack body.8 (But keep in mind that type 1A hair is also the shiniest of all hair types!)7 To fight the unwanted tendencies of type 1A, make sure your style includes layers for volume.7 Also, avoid any heavy hair products that might weigh down your hair, making it look flat or greasy.8
Straight Hair: Type 1B (Medium)
1B hair is usually thicker than type 1A hair. It has more texture, but it’s not overly coarse, either (that’s why it’s medium). Type 1B hair is still shiny and straight like 1A, but it has more body and volume than its finer counterpart.7
When it comes to straight hair, people may find 1B the easiest and most versatile to have. It excels at any straight style, but it’s also thick enough to stand alone without giving it much special treatment or consideration.7 It’s also not so thick that it becomes wild and unruly, either.
Straight Hair: Type 1C (Coarse)
Type 1C hair has the most texture of the straight hair types. It may also have an overall body wave or two, rather than the relatively strict straightness of the other type 1 textures. Type 1C is still shiny and mostly straight, but it’s also coarse and a little stubborn.7
This coarse hair is the strongest and most resilient of the straight hair types, but its thickness can make it harder to style. One tactic is to wear longer layers so that it isn’t too hard to control.7
Type 2: Wavy Hair Types
People often think of wavy hair as being like Goldilocks’ “just right” porridge. If you want to wear it straight, just straighten it! If you want to wear it curly – curl it, and it will stay!9
Of course, people with straight hair can make their hair curly, and people with curly or coiled hair can straighten theirs, too. It’s just easier for someone with wavy hair to achieve a wider variety of looks. (And they don’t have to fight so hard or potentially damage their hair to do it!)
What’s the downside to wavy hair? Frizz.4 For some reason, straddling the extremes of curly and straight hair results in a tendency for puffed-out, frizzed-up locks. However, rest assured that there are anti-frizz products out there for people with wavy (and sometimes frizzy) tresses.
Let’s check out what the three subcategories of wavy hair are. Which one could you have?
Wavy Hair: Type 2A (Fine)
Hair type 2A is the loosest of the wavy hair types. This hair type is mostly straight, though it also has a casual S-shaped wave.9 Also, each strand of wavy hair tends to be thinner than it is for people with 2B or 2C hair.
People with type 2A hair usually find it to be relatively easy to style.9 Type 2A hair may also have the easiest time in the frizz department of all the wavy hair types.10 However, the mix of straight and wavy strands sometimes give people with 2A hair a somewhat messy, “bedhead” kind of look.8
Wavy Hair: Type 2B (Medium)
2B wavy hair makes the natural wave (think beach babe/bum) style look easy.9 The ‘S’ wave for 2Bs is tighter and more distinctive than in 2As. Also, the waves in 2B hair tend to lie nicely along the shape of the wearer’s head.9 This likely happens because 2B hair is typically straight at their roots and only begins the wavy shape at around eye level.11
The downside of the medium-textured 2B hair is its frizziness.10 Different products can help reduce the frizz; another tip is to make sure not to over-fuss a 2B style. Some suggest sticking to finger styling with mousse and diffuser, then letting the naturally beautiful 2B strands do their own wavy thing.8
Wavy Hair: Type 2C (Coarse)
2C hair, like other C-types, is the coarsest and thickest of its overall hair category. In the case of wavy hair, 2C combines tighter and distinctive “S” waves with a few actual ringlets.9 And unlike 2B and 2A waves, the “S” pattern starts closer to the root.11 The thickness of 2C hair makes it more resilient than some hair types, but it also adds to the difficulty of styling it.
2C hair often suffers from frizziness. Besides seeking out anti-frizz products and styling techniques, people with 2C can wear their hair long. This will help even out the wavy pattern and keep everything weighed down – and a little less chaotic.9
Finally, if this is your hair type, avoid touseling or rustling your hair. The less you mess with your style, the less frizz you’ll kick up in the process!4
Type 3: Curly Hair Types
Bouncy, voluminous, and youthful-looking, hair type 3 is all about S-shaped curls. Like all other natural hair types, curly hair types come with their own unique advantages and disadvantages. For example, people with Type 3 hair don’t usually suffer from greasy or oily locks. On the flip side of that, curly-haired people may need more regular trims to keep dry split ends at bay.12
As with wavy hair, curly hair types struggle with frizz management and control. Some people with Type 3 hair use gel or styling creams,11 while others may opt for leave-in conditioners. Even wetting your curly hair with a spray bottle of water (or water mixed with conditioner) can help keep frizz down to a minimum.12 Just remember to avoid drying ingredients (like sulfates) in hair products.11
What kind of springy spirals and rounded ringlets do you have? Check out the descriptions of the following three curly hair types to find out!
Curly Hair: Type 3A (Fine)
Type 3A hair is the finest (thinnest) and loosest ringlets or spirals of the curly hair types. You can identify 3A curls by being about the width of large sidewalk chalk.11 You can also call your curly hair 3A if all your hair in a ponytail amounts to 2 inches or less in circumference. (Circumference in this case would be the distance around the ponytail holder.)12
You can straighten type 3A hair more easily than other curl types but be careful not to heat-damage your hair.8 Another 3A-specific tip is to apply product while it’s wet, then use a t-shirt or a towel to scrunch the hair up towards its roots. This way, your curls can do their naturally curly thing with maximum definition – and hopefully, minimal frizz.8
Curly Hair: Type 3B (Medium)
3B hair has a medium texture/thickness and features smaller, tighter curls than 3A hair.12 These curls can be bouncy spirals or corkscrews and are typically about as big around as a Sharpie marker.11 Just like 3A-type hair, people with 3B hair have to watch out for the tendency for frizziness. Some find success in the fight against frizz by using a relatively powerful moisturizer.12
Curly Hair: Type 3C (Coarse)
Andre Walker’s hair classification system is lacking when it comes to Type 3C. Some typing systems don’t even acknowledge the existence of 3C. However, hair stylists and enthusiasts have found ways to make sure 3Cs can still represent! Interestingly, many think of 3C as nearly a category unto itself: neither like other 3-types, nor quite like 4-types, either.11
3C-type hair tends to be a mixture between bouncy curls and tighter corkscrew ringlets. These spirals are typically about the size of a pencil or straw.11 3C hair tends to be a little more coarse12 and more voluminous overall compared to other 3-type curls.11
All curly hair types should avoid drying out their hair, and this is true for 3Cs as well. Some hair enthusiasts suggest that a cleansing conditioner works well for this purpose.8
Type 4: Kinky (Coily) Hair Types
Kinky or coily hair is typically associated with having an African or African-American heritage.2 Unlike other types of curls, coily hair often sports a Z shape – a tight, sharp, zigzagging pattern. Kinky hair types often have a wirier texture, due in part to having several thinner hairs growing tightly (densely) together.1 However, coily hair is quite fragile, so 4-typers should always treat their hair with care.1
This hair type usually has volume to spare. The great thing about this degree of volume is the kind of expressive styles its wearers can pull off. These styles may include the iconic afro, natural dreadlocks, huge or tiny braids, and many other styles.13
Due to dryness, coily hair often suffers from breakage.4 Another aspect of coily hair is the phenomenon of shrinkage; the apparent length of coily hair reduces significantly when it dries.8 That is, someone with type 4 hair probably has much longer hair than it may seem at first glance.11
The key to happy coily hair is staying moisturized. Avoid products that contain sulfates or products that are based in a heavy wax. To help your coily tresses, stick to moisturizing cleansers and conditioners, then use rich moisturizers and styling creams to reinforce healthy hair hydration.4
Kinky/Coily Hair Type 4A
Type 4A hair has small coils about the size of a crochet needle.11 These curls can be wiry or have a finer texture.13 Though smaller and tighter than type 3, type 4A still has distinctive S-shaped curls.13 Interestingly, type 4A hair shares qualities with both type 3C and with the other type 4 categories.
Kinky/Coily Hair Type 4B
4B hair has a very tight coil, resulting in corkscrews about the size of a pen’s spring.11 This type of hair can feel very soft, almost cotton-like.13 Type 4B hair typically has lots of shrinkage, so its length appears much shorter than it actually is.13
Another aspect of 4B hair is its combination of S-shaped coils in with predominantly Z-shaped coils. Along with this natural variety of curly coils, the definition of these shapes can vary.8 For example, some 4Bs may sport more well-defined coils, while others don’t have strong coil-shaped definition throughout. This definition may also vary from day to day for individual type 4Bs.
Kinky/Coily Hair Type 4C
Like curly 3C, 4C hair only sometimes has a place in the typing systems based on Andre Walker’s hair classifications. For those who recognize 4C-type hair, it is generally similar to 4B hair, but it tends to be denser and coarser (or wiry) than 4B coils. The result is less definition in its curl pattern.11
This hair type has the most trouble with shrinkage,11 and people with 4C hair may find dryness and tangled tresses to be an everyday struggle.8 People with type 4C benefit from lots of slip (meaning how products moisturize hair, as when using conditioner) while washing and styling their hair.
The Importance of Defining Hair Types
Though useful, hair typing systems can’t tell us everything about our own hair types. Besides the types of curls you may (or may not) be sporting, there are other aspects that make your hair unique. Some factors beyond curl pattern include your hair’s porousness, each hair’s individual width, and how many hairs you have on your head.11
After discussing the many different hair types out there, remember: there’s always more you can learn about your own hair. The Andre Walker – and other – hair typing systems are just a place to start. Don’t be shy about discussing your hair in detail with your hair stylist. He or she can help you determine which products and styles should work best for your hair.
Tying it All Together
Everybody’s hair is a little different. However, there are usually shared similarities between the wide variety of hair type possibilities. Through these similarities, we can use hair typing systems to get an idea of what kind each person has – and how to best care for it.
The thing about hair is the same as the thing about anything else in life. By being one type of thing, you can’t be something else, too. When you have naturally coily hair, you’re not going to have naturally straight hair. When you have straight hair, you won’t be able to enjoy the unique properties of naturally curly hair.
At the end of the day, every one of the natural hair types has its own unique advantages. Wavy hair can become a surf’s-up beach look, coily hair can pull off ‘fros, straight hair looks great in angular, modish cuts. Meanwhile, the many types of curls exude a bouncy youthfulness, applicable to all face shapes and stunning in a variety of cuts and styles.
When you know what kind of hair you have, you can play up these advantages. You can also proactively confront any disadvantages of your individual hair type, armed with the right tools and products in your arsenal of knowledge.
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