Ever heard the terms "3a" or "4b" in reference to hair type? Knowing what hair type your child has can be the first step in developing a hair-care routine. The type of hair determines both how you moisturize as well as which tools you use to detangle and style the hair. Very often your child will have more than one hair type. For example, Boo has mostly 4a hair, except for the area where her bald spot once was, which is 4c. Curl pattern indicates how likely the oil produced from the scalp will move the the strand of the hair to keep it moisturized. Straight hair allows the oils to flow easily. Very curly hair does not. Knowing how curly your child's hair is will help you understand how unlikely the hair on the ends will stay moisturized on its own. But curl pattern doesn't tell you everything when it comes to finding the right hair products (please see our post "Understanding the Role of Curl Patterns in Natural Haircare" for more detailed information). Understanding porosity will also help you get a fuller picture of what hair needs to maintain moisture and stay healthy.
I should also mention that although most of the information below is from experience, it is also based on research. However, much of what you will find online can be found in (or even is based upon) Andre Walker's book, Andre Talks Hair! He's Oprah Winfrey's personal stylist and, although not the definitive person on hair, does give us some common definitions that will help us all talk about it. Conveniently enough, this classification is called the Walker system.
Although the Walker system is widely accepted as the standard, it's really rigid and it's often difficult to determine where some hair types fall. I can argue with the system all I want (especially considering how many different curls we have going on in our family), but the truth is that most of the products out there reference this system so it's good to know and have an idea what they're talking about.
Type 1: Straight Hair
This hair is very shiny. Although it is difficult to damage, it is also the hardest to curl. Often straight hair is oily hair, in part because the natural oils produced in the scalp make their way down the strands, unencumbered by the curls that that often leave curly hair dry. The oil that gives the hair it's beautiful sheen can also weigh it down and make it look greasy if not properly cared for.
Type 2: Wavy Hair
Type 2a: This is my hair type. I can go from scrunching up my curls to blowing my hair straight. It's the best of both worlds, although I normally just throw it up in a bun! Although I can go between styles, if i do nothing to my hair it just looks frizzy and unkempt.
Type 2b: This wavy hair type does not straighten easily and will often start to get frizzy when exposed to humidity.
Type 3: Curly Hair
Type 3a: My husband has 3a hair. When his hair is short, it is straight, but when grown out it gets increasingly more curly. He has beautiful ringlets (I know this because it's about shoulder length right now) that hold their shape nicely. However, now that he has grown his hair out we've got TWO people in the house who have hydrating-curls hair care routines! His hair does get frizzy and cannot be straightened at all. Even when pulled back in a ponytail his hair looks "bumpy," where the curls are trying to break free. 3a hair is usually loose to medium curls. Curly hair is not brushed regularly like straight and wavy hair. In my husbands case, it's never brushed, but combed through while wet with conditioner. Brushing hair helps distribute the oils from the scalp to the ends of the hair, thus making the hair shiny and more resilient. Since curly hair is not brushed, product needs to be added to help keep the ends from drying and breaking off.
Type 3b: Some of the hair on the front hairline and crown of Boo's head was Type 3b when she was a toddler. Even when really short 3b hair has some direction to it, indicating that it's curly. It is mostly medium curly to corkscrew curls. It doesn't have as much shine as 3a hair, but it is not nearly as lack-luster as Type 4 hair.
Type 4: Kinky Hair
Contrary to popular opinion, although Type 4 hair looks really thick it is usually rather fine. It is the most fragile of all the hair types, despite the fact that it looks so thick, in large part because there is no protective scalp oil (sebum) that makes it's way down the strands of hair. As a result, it often looks dull and wiry. This doesn't mean that the hair is "unhealthy." Remember, hair is dead, just like fingernails. If the hair lacks luster, and doesn't feel soft to the touch, then it is probably not getting enough moisture to protect it from breakage. You may have even heard that this hair type doesn't grow because it's so kinky. This is not true. It is just more prone to breakage if not properly cared for. In fact, it will grow at the same rate as other hair types, so if your child's head was shaved at the orphanage (or for some other reason), it will grow back! Type 4 hair is also known for having a great deal of shrinkage, meaning that it looks shorter than it really is.
Type 4b: Often the most coarse-feeling of the hair types, due to lack of moisture and the shape of the curl or coil. When lengthening a 4b strand it will bend more like the letter "Z," in a zig-zag pattern. This is what makes this type "kinky," as the hair pattern is defined by the sharp bends of the "Z," rather than the softer coiling of the letter "S." As a result, 4b hair does not hold curls very well and will often look frizzy. Curl definers will not work on this type of hair because the "Z" strands never join with other "Z" strands to form an actual curl. However, it makes for really great looking afros and puffs!
Type 4c: This is not one of the types in Mr. Walker's book, but it is one that is often spoken of. This is very much like Type 4a except for that 4c curls are really, really tightly coiled and very small in diameter (think smaller than a pencil). The other half of Boo's hair falls into this category. She definitely has well-definied corkscrew curls but they are itty-bitty.
|boo's 4c hair now, at 4 years old. you can see how much it's changed.|
As you can see from the illustration, the curls are categorized based on relativity to one another. So someone might think they have 3c curls, where others would call them 4a. Generally Type 4 curls are the most fragile and the ones most often associated with chocolate hair.
Once I learned the differences in hair types it made me feel so much better about Boo's hair. Every type has it's pluses and minuses and all require care that is specific to itself. Doing Boo's hair was just a matter of learning how to care for her hair type(s), something that I was not used to doing; caring for my 2a hair is much different that caring for her 4c hair!