The Mane Objective: Natural Hair 101: How to Find Your Hair Type and Texture
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Natural Hair 101: How to Find Your Hair Type and Texture

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How to Find Your Hair Type and Texture
As it turns out, there's a whole lot more to your hair than a number and a letter.
Hey girl hey! Welcome to Natural Hair 101! I'm excited to go through this journey with you all again! This is FAR from my first time saying, "I need to focus on the health of my hair", so there's no shame whether you're a newbie natural or on your fifty-leventh chop. Let's get back to the basics of truly understanding our hair, doing what works, and cutting out all the unnecessary noise. This week we're talking all things texture — and as you'll understand soon, there's a lot more to it than a set of numbers and letters.

In some ways, it can be helpful to see someone with 4c or 3b hair try a product your're interested in purchasing, because it gives you rough idea of how it will perform before spending your coins. Unfortunately, because texture typing is more subjective, you can have a variety of curl patterns identify themselves as one thing (I get a headache every time I try to Google or YouTube something for 3c hair), and it does not take into account unique characteristic traits that are more valuable to the health of your hair, and the ease of your journey.

The questions below will help you better shape your understanding of your own hair, and give you the base knowledge you need to build a regimen around its unique characteristics.

1. How does it look?
You can go about this as simply or with as much complexity as you like. I could just say "I'm 3c" and keep it moving to question number 2, but that would be a gross oversimplification. Rather than just resign your curls to a random category designed by God knows who, take a few minutes to observe them wet and dry. Take note of how they look, with and without product applied. Is your hair more of a tight coil than curly? Does it kink up into tight zig-zags, or does it hang more loose and curly? Heck, is it a curl at all? Maybe it's a deep S wave, or somewhere between an S and Z. If it doesn't quite fit into a category that you've seen before, that's okay. Your hair is unique to you, and whether it fits on a scale or not, it's beautiful.


How to Find Your Hair Type and Texture
The back half of my hair. Loose waves with some curl action.
My Curl Profile: My hair is more wavy than curly, although there are chunks over both of my ears that form ringlet-type curls. The back half of my hair is a looser wave that curls on the end and doesn't change much at all, whether wet, dry, with, or without product. The front/center and crown is a combination of tighter waves and hair that doesn't want to clump together or become anything in life. Those areas require more product and more manipulation to fall in line. Without products or manipulation, that area becomes a rebellious puff that doesn't take ish from anybody.

2. How does it feel?
On your next wash day, take a few strands of product-free hair from each unique segment of your head. Run your fingers down it, then run your fingers up. How does it feel? Is it smooth on the way down, or a little rough and bumpy? Does the smoothness change when you reach a particular point? Are there some rough patches? Take note of changes along the hair shaft. This is going to become very important in your healthy hair journey. How your hair feels between your fingers has everything to do with strand health, cuticle health, porosity, and how your regimen is built.

My Strand Feel: In each area of my hair, my strands feel smooth on the way down. With my crown area in particular, it's a little bumpy on the way up. Prior to my curly cut, I had rough ends EVERYWHERE. There are still a few in various parts of my hair, but for the most part, they've been cut away. If your strands don't feel baby smooth all over, don't fret. We'll get to the solution for that soon.

3. How does it shrink?
Shrinkage may as well be a four-letter word in the natural hair community. I see many talking about embracing shrinkage, but many, many, MANY more looking for ways to combat it or stretch it out. In truth, shrinkage is one of the indicators of health for your hair. How much shrinkage you encounter, is wholly dependent upon your individual head of hair. In segments of your hair, it is perfectly normal (barring heat or chemical damage), to have hair that does not shrink up as much as others. One useful tidbit to remember is that looser textures shrink less, while tighter textures shrink more. Different levels of shrinkage on one head are a sure sign of differently textured hair. File that in your memory, bank because we'll be talking about how to manage that as well.

How to Find Your Hair Type and Texture
Air dried, no styling product. Just deep conditioner. Look at that shrinkage!
My Shrinkage: Is a mess. I'm not kidding. The front half of my hair shrinks significantly more than the back half. When it's all wet, it all looks fairly the same and one texture. But oh baby, when it dries! Unmanipulated, I get a mushroom mullet. Literally, the top half will draw up, while the back hangs down. Because my hair shrinks unevenly, I have to stretch the front half to give it more shape. I often achieve this by using a giant banana clip, banding, or with gentle heat from the blow dryer.

4. Does it have elasticity?
Closely related to shrinkage is elasticity. I like to think of elasticity in hair simply as "bounce back". Testing the elasticity of your hair is really easy to do. Just grab a curl, kink, wave, or whatever, pull it down gently until it is stretched out, then let it go. Does it snap right back, snap off, hang lifelessly, or slowly meander back into its original form? If your hair is coiling back, the elasticity is on point. If it's hanging lifelessly, (or worse, breaking in your hands) this series will help you learn how to fix it.

My Elasticity: My hair elasticity is pretty on target. It doesn't snap off in my hands, and springs back accordingly.

5. What porosity am I?
Let me just go'n and throw this out there right now: POROSITY TESTS WITH A GLASS OF WATER ARE JUNK SCIENCE. I don't know where it began or who perpetuated it, but putting your hair in a strand of water to understand water uptake is like telling someone to bake a chicken by just throwing the chicken in the oven on 375. Sure, the chicken will bake. But is it any good? Probably not. Just like haphazard chicken bakery, water glass porosity tests are grossly oversimplified and will almost always lead to useless results. Sorry if it seems like I'm popping off, but it grinds my gears when I see bloggers and brands promoting this test to sell products. Jc of The Natural Haven has my favorite article on why the water glass test is hella unscientifc, but let it just suffice to say that sitting your strands in a glass of water is a lightweight waste of time.

Here's how to figure out your porosity: observe your hair on wash day.

Low Porosity: If it feels like your conditioners have difficulty penetrating, and you notice that your moisturizers require extra elbow-grease to work them in (or they just sit on top of your hair altogether), then it's likely that you have low porosity hair. Low porosity hair is notoriously difficult to hydrate, because the cuticles are so compacted.

High Porosity: On the contrary, highly porous hair tends to always be dry, is more prone to breaking and splitting, and feels rough on the way up or down the shaft (remember question number 2), because the cuticles are cracked, weathered, or damaged.

Medium Porosity: Medium porosity hair sits right in the middle, allowing penetration of ingredients and retaining moisture fairly well.

It is entirely possible to have varying porosity across your hair, so don't freak out if you discover some areas of your hair are more trifilin' than others. We're going to learn how to correct porosity by tweaking your regimen in the next post!

How to Find Your Hair Type and Texture
You can see the porosity difference in action. Check out the frizzed vs. completely smooth areas.
My Porosity: My hair is a mixture of  low and medium. The front/center and crown are definitely low porosity, while the areas on each side and along the back half of my head are medium. Told y'all I had a whole mess on top of my head.

6. How thick and dense is it?
Thickness and density are two entirely different concepts when it comes to the canvas of your hair. Thickness refers to the individual strand. Density refers to how many of those strands are compacted into a square inch. It is commonly believed that natural hair is always thick, which is not the case. In fact, many naturalistas will find they have fairly thin strands, but plenty of them packed into a single area.

As a general rule of thumb, a string of thread can be used as your baseline guide for determining strand thickness. Thicker than thread = thick, same size as thread = medium, thinner than thread = thin. You can marginally and temporarily alter your strand thickness, but the density of your hair is genetically predetermined. You cannot gain density, but you most certainly can lose it (alopecia/hair loss, medical conditions, etc.). To determine whether your hair is dense, medium, or sparse, check out this great video and test by Green Beauty Channel. Understanding hair thickness and density will help you big time in regimen building, and selecting the right products to work for your hair.

My Thickness & Density: My hair strands are a mixture of fine and medium thickness, and my hair is dense (just a little past medium).

7. How strong is it?
Closely related to elasticity is strength. You want your hair to stretch and return to its original state without breaking or wearing thin. Hair that loses elasticity or breaks easily has some structurally weak points (beyond the weak points where your curl, kink, or coil bends) that need to be addressed. There are two methods I use to test the strength of my hair. The first is to just gently graze through a section of hair. If I don't see any wisps, I'm generally good.

The second I again borrowed from Jc -- the scissor test. Every once in a while, I take a standard pair of scissors, and loop one of my shed hairs through one of the handles. If my hair is maintaining its strength, it will stretch and hold the scissors in the air without snapping. If the hair snaps on impact, I need to work on strengthening my hair ASAP.

My Hair Strength: See for yourself:

How to Find Your Hair Type and Texture
Guess how many times this strand completely slipped through my fingers before I got a photo?
My Hair Summary

After going through these 7 questions, I've determined that my hair is:
✅ A combination of waves and curls
✅ Mostly smooth with a few bumpy and rough areas
✅ Very shrinkage prone everywhere except the very back
✅ Overall elastic and healthy
✅ Low and medium porosity
✅ Comprised of fine and medium strands, but dense overall
✅ Generally strong

Once you have a firmer understanding of these 7 areas of your hair, you'll be able to ease your way in to building a solid regimen that addresses all your hair's needs. These are also important attributes to periodically test and reference to troubleshoot in the even that your hair starts acting beside itself.

Stay tuned for the next post, where I'll be cracking the code on regimen building and product selection! See you guys on the 3rd Monday in April! Be sure to leave your questions and feedback below!!!

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12 comments

  1. I love this article. It is one the most helpful and informative articles I've read in a very long time. Thank you. Looking forward to more!

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  2. Thank you for sharing your knowledge about your natural hair journey. I find your post & insights very informative & helpful as I begin my natural hair journey.

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  3. Well written and very informative!

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  4. i look forward to hearing about #2. My hair is smooth in most areas but in the back, the kinkiest, it is smooth then has rough ends. I cut my hair twice a year and they always want to cut more. i want to keep some length but i worry....are these split ends? will they split further up the shaft if I leave them and don't cut them off all at once? Thanks!!!

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  5. This article has been so helpful!!!! Thanks!

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  6. Thank you Jave! That means so much to me <3

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  7. Thank you Asia! I love that Icon by the way :)

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  8. Hey girl! I had sooooooo much rough end drama in 2014. Made detangling an absolute hell sometimes. My rough ends appeared right after my Deva Cut, so I knew they weren't split...they were just rough. I came to the conclusion that I had porous ends, for some reason. Trimming does help, but it will be a never-ending cycle if you don't nip it in the bud. I noticed a magical difference with ApHogee 2 Minute Keratin Reconstructor, and making sure I keep my ends sealed lightly in JBCO. Let me know what you decide to do!

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  9. Thank you Stacey! I really do appreciate it. It's a labor of love, and I'm so glad that I'm able to help <3

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