Curls, coils or straight-as-an-arrow strands? Take the tricky guesswork out of styling with this helpful guide to every hair texture type.
Understanding the Different Types of Hair: Hair Type Classification
The different types of hair are separated into classifications that include four major texture types: Type 1 is straight, 2 is wavy, 3 is curly and 4 is coily. Then, the letters A, B and C correspond to the pattern to break it down one further, creating a number-letter combination. To determine your hair type, it’s best to see what it does when it’s sopping wet. “When it comes to textured hair care, there is no one size fits all,”says skin-care and hair-care expert, Josh Rosebrook, “The diversity of density, porosity, and curl level all play a role in determining what textured hair needs and why,” he explains, “Textured hair is a term describing any hair strands that have a particular shape or curl pattern (as opposed to the straight, fine variety linked to Caucasian genetics). Most often associated with Black natural hair, “textured hair” is a term that encompasses any locks with a kinky, coily, curly, or wavy nature.”
“Once you have found what hair you have, it’s also important to focus on density, which can be described as fine, medium, or coarse,” adds hairstylist Adir Abergel, “The quantity of hair you have is also important. We typically have 80,000 to 120,000 hairs on our scalp, and your hair density is generally highest at your vertex, the area at the back of your head also known as your crown.” Abergel emphasizes the importance of understanding your hair’s density and porosity in addition to type in order to most effectively pick and apply your products.
Why Hair Types Matter: How Understanding Your Type Can Help Your Hair
“What really helps to differentiate between hair types is understanding one’s genetic history and hair care routine,” adds hair texture specialist Tina Pearson, “With genetics, aging, menopause, hormonal imbalances, there are a lot of factors that can take a huge hit to texture and overall hair condition. For example, if your parents have a history of thinning and baldness it is likely you will too. This is not something to be stressed or concerned about, but paying attention to this is key. With that being said, these factors affect one’s hair and how it performs using styling products.”
The Different Types: From Hair Porosity to Hair Structure, Everything You Need to Know About Your Type of Hair
Type 1A Hair
“Type 1A hair is described as fine, straight, thin and soft, with noticeable shine,” says Glenn Dale, MD dermatologist Valerie Callender, MD. “Products that have a lot of oil will weigh down this hair type, leaving it looking dull. Dry shampoo and scalp treatments are excellent products to use in between washings because they remove oils that accumulate on the scalp daily.”
Type 2A Hair
According to Dr. Callender, “Type 2A is a loose hair type and is also known as wavy hair because it naturally forms an ‘S’ shape. Lightweight products such as mousses and gels work well for both straight and wavy styling of this hair texture, as heavy products will weigh the natural curl pattern down.”
Type 2B Hair
“If you have a 2B curl, your hair usually lays flat to your head and forms an ‘S-wave’ starting at your roots for three to four inches before it turns into a curl,” says celebrity hairstylist Chuck Amos. “This type is prone to go flat and also can get a bit frizzy, so no heavy styling products. Instead, opt for heavier moisturizing, in-shower products like a great conditioning shampoo and mask.”
Type 2C Hair
Amos says 2C hair texture is your typical Brazilian wave or loose wave. “Serums, moisturizing mousses and very light creams are very helpful for styling,” he adds. “If you’re a 2C, you’re usually a lighter-textured curl than others, so it is important not to pile on products like gels, curl creams and butters because this will make the hair sticky and clump together.”
Type 3A Hair
“Hair that is 3A is curly—usually the kind of curls with a thick texture and a lot of shine, but it can be frizzy,” Dr. Callender notes. “A sulfate-free moisturizing shampoo and conditioner should be used daily to hydrate the hair, while creams and jellies can add control and definition.” Leave-in conditioners are also a good idea to help add daily moisture.
In terms of hydration, Abergel adds that “porosity is the hair’s ability to hold moisture: the easiest way to determine is to take a strand of hair from your head and drop it into a glass of water, and if the hair stays by the surface you have low porosity, if its sinks to the middle of the cup you have medium porosity, and if it sinks to the bottom you have high porosity. This is important because if you have medium hair and high porosity you want to load up on products like hydrating oils to help it hold moisture and look shinny instead of dull.
Type 3B Hair
“This texture tends to be thick and coarse, and curls often vary in shape around the head,” explains Pattern Haircare (Tracee Ellis Ross’s brand) product developer Sierra Britt. “Dryness can creep in to tousle up ringlets, so moisture is key for maintaining definition and shine.”
Type 3C Hair
“With the pencil-tight coils of 3C curls, moisturization is key,” Amos says. “The 3C coils are tighter and more condensed at the roots, so butter cremes mixed with serums, scalp oils and moisturizing curl cremes best suit this texture. Avoid gels or products with alcohol and other drying agents that make curls fall limp, and become dry and unmanageable.”
Type 4A Hair
“Type 4A hair is tightly curled or kinky with very thick, sometimes well-defined curls,” says Dr. Callender. “It can often appear dry and brittle, which can lead to breakage. The key to caring for very curly hair is moisture, moisture and more moisture, starting with a shampoo designed for curly hair and a heavy moisturizing conditioner.”
Type 4B Hair
“Luscious, Z-pattern coils that bend and flare in a zig-zag pose represent 4B,” says Britt. “Tight textures crave as much moisture as they can get—this type loves to spend time in protective styles to remain moisturized, support delicate ends and aid in length retention.”
Type 4C Hair
“The tightest curl of all the textures, 4C is the most sensitive and prone to breakage,” explains Amos. “It usually has no curl definition and a large amount of shrinkage. This type needs a lot of moisture and love: Highly hydrating cremes and serums mixed with light curl definers and scalp oils are the absolute best for this hair type.”
“The more textured a person’s hair is, the more moisture it needs to be healthy,” adds Rosebrook, “Moisture refers to the oils, lipids, sebum, waxes and triglycerides that coat the hair, seal, smooth, and protect the hair shaft,” adds Rosebrook.
The Bottom Line
There are tons of factors that go into fully understanding your hair type and texture, and having a firm grasp on what it all means can do wonders for properly treating and caring for your hair. “Regardless of what texture or type or density of your given texture, how you treat your hair is key, the health of the hair is the determining factor,” Pearson affirms, “Shampoo and treat your hair, trim and cut it regularly (don’t be afraid–4 times per year is golden), and your hair will be good to you if you are good to it. I know everyone is searching for which product and what will be the answer for their hair care regimen, and ultimately, it’s all determined by how we treat our hair regardless of your hair type.”