Naturally Curious About: Hair Typing

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The more I learn about "hair typing" or determining "curl pattern" a la the classic Andre Walker system, the more confused I am about what my own "curl pattern" is exactly, and why knowing what it is even matters. I've come to realize that this heavily referenced system offers VERY LITTLE insight in selecting the best hair products for one's hair - even though that seems to be the reason I often see other naturals cite for wanting so badly to know what their hair type/curl pattern is.  I have noticed many other naturals on YouTube, natural hair blogs and hair boards (that I've been perusing throughout my hair journey) literally obsess over finding out what their curl pattern is. I often hear/see statements like the following as the rational: "knowing my hair type helps me figure out which products works best for my hair based on what seems to work for other naturals with a similar hair type". Ok, so full disclosure: I too found myself caught up in the whole "OMG what hair type/curl pattern do I have?" during the better part of my own transition and the period immediately following my big-chop. As a new natural, this line of thought seems logical enough at first - until you dig a little deeper and start to realize just how subjective and open to interpretation it can be. And until you start to discover that there are SO MANY other factors beyond "curl pattern" to take into account when attempting to understand the texture of one's hair and how it is affected by various hair products. AT MOST (and I'm being generous with this statement), I will say that determining one's curl pattern using this system is only a starting point, and to me that is pretty much where it ends. That's because the Andre Walker hair typing system merely categorizes hair based on the look/size/shape of the curl pattern - which in my opinion is really only one minuscule data point in determining how certain product ingredients behave in hair. Further adding to the confusion and subjective interpretation - the natural hair community subsequently added "C" categories to types 3 and 4, neither of which exists in Andre Walker's original system.

I'm no science-of-hair expert, but I've done enough research at this point in my journey to come to some realizations that goes beyond the hair-type/curl pattern discussion. In my opinion, all of the following factors should be considered when trying to understand one's hair texture and determining which hair products/ingredients to use (these are in no particular order of importance by the way):

  • Many people, myself included, have many different "curl patterns" on their head, so a hair product or ingredient may not have consistent results across the whole head of hair.
  • As hair gets longer and "hangs more" due to weight and gravity, "curl patterns" may appear to change, stretch, and look completely different than it did when the hair was of a shorter length.
  • Two people with the exact "curl pattern" according to the Andre Walker hierarchy can have completely different experiences with the same hair product due to a variety of factors that can range from internal (such as the genetic makeup of your hair strands) to external (like the PH-level of the hair product used or the climate you live in).
  • Hair strands, regardless of hair type/curl pattern/size of the curl, can range anywhere from thin/fine to thick/coarse and can appear more or less densely-packed on a head of hair. This can affect how much product one needs to use for it to be fully distributed in one's hair.
  • Despite hair type/curl pattern, hair can be more or less porous, which can TOTALLY affect how certain hair products/ingredients absorb into hair. Learn one way to test porosity here
  • Two people with the exact "curl pattern" can have varying levels of sensitivity to certain product ingredients (such as protein or humectants such as glycerin).
  • The same hair product/ingredient can behave completely different on the same head of hair if it is used in different seasons, temperatures, and dew points.
These are among the various internal and external factors that can affect the overall texture and condition of hair. I've also come to realize that understanding these factors can definitely help determine which hair products to use and which to stay away from - something that can vary wildly from person to person, regardless of similarities in their curl pattern.

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