I shared my transitioning hairstory a few weeks ago. So you’ll understand that after my second big chop, switching to natural hair care wasn’t as difficult because I was already practicing some natural hair care processes and techniques. What I needed to do, however, was to find out my hair characteristics then come up with a suitable regimen.
One’s virgin natural hair needs to be gently introduced to the new processes and techniques. Therefore, the process of finding out your hair characteristics will require some time, I suggest approximately 2-3months. Once you have the characteristics down then it will be easier to come up with a regimen. In this article, I’ll be talking about understanding the characteristics of your hair.
UNDERSTANDING CHARACTERISTICS OF HAIR
There are many aspects of one’s hair from type, texture, density, and porosity. I know that to a newbie natural it all sounds like we’re getting ready for a double chemistry class after a heavy lunch, but not to worry, I gotchu!
Hair type and texture
Hair types can be determined by analyzing the hair texture i.e. how it feels to the touch and its appearance. How hair feels can be described as fine, course, silky, brittle and wooly. It ranges from straight to wavy, curly to kinky. These have been categorized using numbers and further subcategorized using letters. Here is how I understand the hair typing system borrowed from different typing systems.
- Type 1 hair, is straight when wet and also dries straight without any use of chemicals or heat tools. It is the only category that doesn’t have subcategories because there exist no different types of straight hair. Their natural oil/sebum from the scalp travels down the lengths of the hair very fast causing the hair to get oily very fast.
- Type 2 hair, is wavy which normally forms ‘S’ shapes. This hair type falls in the middle of the dryness scale. This is because the hair doesn’t get as oily compared to type 1 due to the wavy texture, and also it doesn’t get too dry like the curly and coily types. It is categorized into 3:
- 2a, which is loose “S” shape that is usually fine and thin hair.
- 2b, which is tighter s shape waves that are often referred to as beach waves with medium density.
- 2c, which is tight c shape waves and is usually thick and course.
- Type 3 hair, is curly with a springy pattern and leans on the dry side of the dryness scale because of they are highly textured. Though this type curls without the aid of any product, products help combat dryness and frizz by moisturizing and sealing the hair. The circumference of the curl determines type 3 hair subcategories thus:
- 3a, which has wider curls that can wrap around a marker pen
- 3b, which can be wrapped around a chalk
- 3c, which can wrap around a pencil and resembles a corkscrew.
- Type 4 hair is kinky. Hair type 4 is described as chronically dry and requires moisture packed regimen and heavy oils to seal in the moisture. Its subcategories are:
- 4a, which is kinky curly has both kinks and tight corkscrew curls,
- 4b, which is kinky curly has both kinks and pin-like coils and type
- 4c, which is kinky with a zigzag pattern.
Kenyan Naturalistas fondly categorize their hair as 4zzzzz in reference to how dry, kinky and unmanageable they find their hair. So how does one determine their hair type? The best way to do this is to go through a moisture-impacting regimen for about 2-3months. Dry hair does not curl or coil to its full potential so allow your hair to get fully hydrated before checking on which category it falls in.
- Clean your hair using a sulfate free clarifying shampoo. (I would highly recommend locally made shampoos and shampoo bars).
- Let your hair air dry without any product in it. When the hair has dried check on the different sections of your head for the descriptions given above. You may find that you have more than one hair type which is perfectly normal.
- Finally, apply a product and see how your natural hair pattern is enhanced, this will clearly help determine your hair type.
Hair density refers to the number of hair follicles in a square inch on a scalp. According to hairessecials.com, on average, humans have 2200 hairs per square inch. Those with more than 2200 have thicker hair while those with less have thinner hair.
There are many ways to test your hair density but the most practical one is to measure the circumference of your ponytail. Low-density hair will be 2inches and below, medium density will be between 2-3 inches while high density will be 4inches and above.
It’s important to know your density because it will help determine your hairstyles and products to use.
- Low-Density Hair: This type of hair doesn’t like heavy butters and oil that weight it down making it look limp and lifeless. Low-density hair would love spray leave-in conditioners, mousse and light oils such as argon & jojoba as well as light crèmes.
- Medium Density Hair: This hair can use light crèmes and gels, coconut, olive and sweet almond oils.
- High-Density Hair: It works best with heavy crèmes/butters & gels and castor & avocado oils. This hair loves heavy butter and oils that tame the frizz and create a shape for styling.
According to Diane Bailey (Master Natural Hair Stylist and Shea Moisture Brand Ambassador), the simplest definition of porosity is, “The hair’s ability to take in moisture, water, color or any liquid.” I found this fact fun, because usually when we talk about porosity it is usually in relation to moisture and not really about colour.
Hair porosity is categorized into 3 i.e. high, normal and low.
- High Porosity hair has its shafts open and these means that as fast as the hair absorbs moisture, it loses that very same moisture in equal measure.
- Normal Porosity:
- Low Porosity hair’s shafts are closed slowing down the absorption process of products. Products tend to sit on top of low porosity hair, which are finally taken away by clothes, bonnets, hands during manipulation or evaporates into thin air and little is absorbed.
Porosity Test: To figure out your hair porosity, take some shed hair strands that are product free after and put it in a glass full of water for 2 minutes. The strand that is low porosity tends to float while the high porosity one tends to sink. Normal porosity tends to remain at the center of the glass.
Hair elasticity is the measure of how much hair can stretch out and bounce back to its initial state. Elasticity is rated as being low, normal, or high. Hair with normal to high elasticity is easy to style into curly hairstyles and they retain the curl better than low elasticity hair, which will prove difficult to curl and when it does will lose the curl quickly.
- Collect wet hair from different sections on your head i.e. the nape, crown, the sides and at the front.
- Use a white paper as your background and measure the strand when pulled out gently. Note that wet hair should be able to stretch out 50% of its length without snapping while dry hair can only stretch 20%.
- After stretching let go of the strand and observe how it behaves. The strand with normal to high elasticity will bounce back to its original state while the strand will low elasticity will either break off or not bounce back to its original state.
It is possible to restore some elasticity to your hair. You can use these steps:
- Cleanse your hair
- Follow up with a protein treatment (for strength)
- Finish up with an intense deep treatment (for moisture)
This protein-moisture balance will ensure that your hair not only regains its elasticity but also promote the overall health of the hair. To further explain this, I’ll borrow from the YouTuber Curly Proverbz. She explains the protein-moisture balance by asking you to think of your hair as spaghetti. When it’s too hard, usually from protein treatments, it breaks and when it’s too soft, form over deep conditioning, it becomes mushy then breaks as well. Maintaining that protein-moisture balance is how you can achieve the perfect balance for your hair.
I hope this article will help you better understand your hair whether you’re a newbie natural or a veteran.