Hair Speak: Defining Hair Types & Hair Textures

Those of us blessed with naturally textured hair know that it definitely has a mind of its own. While a gorgeous cascade of curls can be incredibly swoon-worthy, an untamed “bird’s nest” is decidedly less so. Textured hair requires its own unique care that starts with the cut and extends through everyday styling. By embracing curls with the proper treatment, they will embrace you right back. The key is understanding your hair type and texture and adjusting your approach to highlight your hair’s unique attributes, rather than trying to fight against them. Go head-to-head against a curl pattern and you’ll come out the loser, every single time. Textured hair cannot be defeated, but it can be worked with and its powers used for the greater beauty good. Here, we will get into the different types of textured hair and how to care for them properly, so that we can all stop working against our natural curliness and learn to embrace it.


curly hair types


Types & Textures

These two terms are often used interchangeably by the beauty layperson, but they do not mean the same thing. Most people get confused with where hair type ends and hair texture begins and how density plays a part. Put very simply, your hair type is whether it is straight, wavy or curly. Your hair texture is whether it is fine, medium or coarse, and your hair density refers to how many hairs are actually on your head. To give you an idea of the starting point for determining whether you are “normal density,” natural blondes tend to have an average of 130,00 total hairs on their head, redheads about 80,000 and brunettes roughly 100,000. Therefore, it’s completely possible for hair to be fine, curly and thin, straight, coarse and thick, or wavy, medium and normal–or any combination of those.

If that has your head (and hairs on it) spinning, you’re not alone. One of the most widely recognized ways of “typing” hair was developed by Andre Walker in 1997 and it has been widely credited for the majority of subsequent hair typing systems. Walker’s system consists of breaking hair down into several categories and subcategories based on curl pattern, texture and density combinations. You start with Type 1-Straight, Type 2-Wavy, Type 3- Curly and Type 4-Very Tightly Coiled or “kinky.” From there, each type has a defined set of subcategories, for example:

  • Type 1a – Straight (Fine/Thin) – Hair tends to be very soft, shiny and difficult to hold a curl. Hair also tends to be oily, and difficult to damage.
  • Type 1b – Straight (Medium) – Hair has lots of volume and body.
  • Type 1c – Straight (Coarse) – Hair is normally bone straight and difficult to curl.

Another popular, and slightly more complex method of “defining” your curls is the L.O.I.S. system, which stands for:

L: Bend

O: Curl

I: Straight

S: Wave

Hair is further classified by texture (which, remember, means the thickness of each individual strand). Beyond the curl pattern and texture, natural textures can also be classified by how prone they are to frizz and the level of sheen (light reflection). Typically, these classifications are broken into five types: Thready, Wiry, Spongy, Cottony and Silky.curly hair quotesGet To Know Your Hair

Let’s start with curl pattern. Here’s what you’ll need to determine your curl pattern:

  1. A freshly washed and completely dry head of hair with no product in it.
  2. A piece of thread.
  3. A piece of white paper.
  4. A low pain threshold.

First things first, take a good long look at your hair and determine if it’s a uniform type throughout. It’s very possible to have different curl types in different areas of your head. If that is the case, select a good length strand from the type of curl most prevalent across your head. Pluck the hair out, and lay it on the paper, next to your piece of thread (which should be stretched out straight).

Comparing your hair strand to the thread, here is a quick guide to bend, using the LOIS method:

L: Your hair has a sharp bend to it, like the letter “L”

O: Your hair coils around itself, and looks like an “O”

I: There is no discernible bend to your hair

S: There are little peaks and valleys in your hair strand, similar to the letter “S”


types of curly hair


Next, we will move onto the frizz assessment. These two barometers will play the biggest parts in determining the best care and styling routine for your hair type. For example, the amount of frizz your hair is prone to balanced with the level of natural sheen is highly indicative of your hair’s moisture levels. Knowing this will help you adjust your care and styling routine accordingly for the best possible results.

The next time you wash your hair, pay close attention to the following:

  1. How quickly/easily does your hair get wet?
  2. How long does it take for your hair to dry (naturally)?
  3. How much does your hair frizz when you air dry?
  4. Does your hair reflect a lot of light in its natural state? How about when you pull it back into a style?

Now that we’ve taken some time to asses those points, let’s get the breakdown:

  • Thready – Hair has a low sheen with high shine if the hair is held taut (as in a braid), with low frizz. Wets easily but water dries out quickly.
  • Wiry – Hair has a sparkly sheen, with low shine and low frizz. Water beads up or bounces off the hair strands. Hair never seems to get fully wet.
  • Cottony – Hair has a low sheen, a high shine if the hair is held taut and has high frizz. Absorbs water quickly but does not get thoroughly wet very fast.
  • Spongy – Hair has a high sheen with low shine with a compacted looking frizz. Absorbs water before it gets thoroughly wet.
  • Silky – Hair has low sheen, a very high shine, with a lot or low frizz. Easily wets in water.

Getting to know our hair on a slightly more intimate level makes it easier to determine the proper cutting, styling and care techniques to employ in order to get the best possible results. Each of our hair is utterly unique and it’s not until we begin to understand it a little better that we can learn to embrace it.