Hair Texture & Hair Density Explained

Hey there. This is another post in the Hair Basics series, a bunch of posts about the fundamentals of hair. What it really is and how it functions. You could continue the Understanding Hair 101 class here 🙂

Hair texture and density are two properties that get mixed up a lot, but they really are different things.

Do you believe that all big afros or natural heads are “full” or “thick”? Just because someone has got a lot of hair does not mean that the person’s strands are thick.

Hair texture refers to the width/size of your hair strands, and Hair density is simply how much hair you have.

HAIR TEXTURE

– The size of your strands.
– Determined by the cortex.
– Types: Your hair texture may be fine, medium, coarse.

The thicker your strands are, the stronger they are. Fine hair is the most fragile, and coarse hair the least. Thick strands I read, are easier to detangle.

How can I determine my texture?

I don’t want to go there but in trying to determine mine, I read something that simplified the matter. Sorry ladies. The hair that grows in your nether region is coarse. Compare how similar or how different the hair on your head is to that and the texture of your hair will be revealed to you.

Can one person have different textures?

Yes.

My strands for the most part are fine. Not thick at all. Then I have some in the centre of my head that are more coarse than the others.

Here’s a short slideshow showing a coarse strand and a fine strand (both mine)- can you see the difference?

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HAIR DENSITY

Basically, it’s the population of Hair City. A measure of how many strands are living on your head.

Types- Your Hair density may be High, Medium, Low.

Technically, you can only measure your hair density if you partition your hair into 1” x 1” sections and count the number of strands per section- like the average number of strands/follicles per square inch area. You don’t have to do that.

What’s my Hair Density?

It’s best to check for your hair density when it’s dry. All you have to do is this- Let your dry hair hang loose. Can your scalp be seen? If it’s difficult to see your scalp or no scalp can be seen at all, your hair is high density. If it’s very easy to see scalp, your hair is low density, and if you can see only some of your scalp, medium density.

Again, I must stress this:

High density hair is usually called thick by other people- because of how it looks or feels as a whole. However, it does not mean that your individual strands are thick. You can be high density with fine strands (like me) and low density with thick/medium strands.

What to do with this information?

Again beware of sweeping generalisations. Some people say fine hair is easy to moisturise and doesn’t need a lot of moisturising but so far my own fine hair hasn’t been easy to moisturise. A moisture plan has got a lot more to do with hair porosity I believe, than the way it feels. *side-eye* at those people.

  1. The simple advantage of knowing your texture is that you have a better idea about how to handle your hair. If you attack your high density hair with all your might and a comb or brush just because it looks thick, you will be doing mad damage if you have fine texture strands.
  2. Choosing products- a High Density head does not need volumising products. Heavier products may be desired instead, to weigh the hair down a little. The very opposite is the case for Low density hair.
  3. Styling- low density heads may prefer smaller twists or braids, styles that don’t show a lot of scalp. High density heads may prefer bigger braids or twists and layered styles.

CAN I CHANGE MY TEXTURE/DENSITY?

No. You have not grown any hair follicles since you were born. Even weeks before you were born. Follicles are responsible for your density and your hair cortex is responsible for your hair texture.

So anything that claims to volumise or decrease the look of your hair- thin it or thicken it (that is, reduce or increase its density) or thicken your individual strands- is really just promising to make it appear so. APPEAR is the key word. That’s all it’s doing. It’s not changing the structure of your hair. It is what it is. Accept your texture and density and learn to work with them- consider them in building your regimen, in styling- and if you want thicker or thinner hair for any purpose, just google. There are so many temporary thinning or thickening products or practices you could try. 🙂

So tell me, how densely populated is your Hair City? And the individuals that live up there, how thick are they?

x

What Is Hair Porosity?

Hey you. This is another post in the Hair Basics series- a bunch of posts about the fundamentals of hair. What it really is and how it functions. You could continue the Understanding Hair 101 class here 🙂

Porosity, adj

The property of being porous.

Porous, noun.

Easily penetrated.

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WHAT IS HAIR POROSITY?

Hair Porosity refers to your hair’s ability to be penetrated. absorb and (not) retain moisture.

WHY IS THIS RELEVANT?

Good hair is healthy hair. Healthy hair is basically well moisturised hair.

When you moisturise, if your hair isn’t accepting it, your money and time are spent in vain. If your hair accepts all the moisture and lets go of it almost immediately, that’s like pouring water in a basket- still a waste of your time.

WHAT DETERMINES YOUR HAIR POROSITY?

Remember the structure of hair?  The Cortex is the power house; it determines what your hair looks like. Any hair product that promises strength, or moisture or conditioning, everything really, is supposed to get to your cortex for it to work. But sometimes, it’s not so easy to get to the cortex and sometimes it’s too easy. Why is that?

Ask the cuticle. Your hair cuticle is the gateway to your cortex and it does what it does. You have to learn how friendly or unfriendly your cuticle is and befriend it, work with it to get the desired results. Your cuticle determines your hair porosity. Stay with me now.

WHAT ARE THE TYPES OF HAIR POROSITY?

There are three levels of Hair Porosity.

  1. Low Porosity. Lo-Po hair has really tight, compact cuticle and so it’s really really difficult for moisture to get through. On the bright side, if you can succeed to get moisture in, it retains the moisture really well.
  2. High Porosity. Hi-Po hair is like a sponge. It absorbs moisture, products pretty well, maybe too much- but it does a bad job at retaining moisture.
  3. Normal Porosity. If you’ve got Nor-Po hair, you’re lucky. It can absorb moisture but doesn’t overdo it and it retains it as well.

CAN YOU KEEP A SECRET?

Well, this isn’t a secret you should keep. Most hair products are designed for Nor-Po hair. However, I have good reason to believe that there are more Hi-Po and Lo-Po people in the world than Nor-Po people. Sucky, I know. Knowing your porosity can change everything. It can help you make adjustments- it can help you filter the information and products you’re assaulted with whenever you care to look.

HOW CAN YOU KNOW YOUR POROSITY?

It’s really simple.

  1. Put some water in a bowl.
  2. Take a strand of your hair- a clean, freshly washed, product-free strand and leave it on the surface of the water.
  3. Observe how long it takes for the strand to sink to the bottom of the bowl, if it goes down at all.

If your hair quickly sinks to the bottom, you’ve got High Porosity hair.

If your hair doesn’t get to the bottom in like an hour, or it’s still floating on top, you have Low Porosity hair.

If your hair gradually makes its way down- not too fast, not too slow, congrats, you’re a lucky one! Normal Porosity.

MY POROSITY

As I strongly suspected, my hair is super-duper Low Porosity. I placed my hair in a bowl of water, I checked an hour later- still floating on top. I went away, hopeful- and came back another hour later- still on top! O_O

OKAY, I KNOW MY POROSITY.  NOW WHAT?

When you know better, you do better- this is what the Hair Basics posts are all about.

Remember what I said about sweeping generalisations on the basis of Hair Typing? One myth or general rule I’ve read so many times is that highly textured hair a.k.a. Kinky hair is highly porous. My hair is SO kinky, yet I’m the opposite of highly porous. My cuticles cannot possibly be any less porous!

Another general rule I was observing since my big chop is- wash natural hair with cold water only. I’ve been doing a little Lo-Po research lately and it has been recommended by a few Lo-Po naturalistas, that light heat is good for Low Porosity hair. Washing with lukewarm water instead is advised. I’ve done this a few times since I read that and so far I haven’t noticed any difference but time will tell.

Having introduced the three levels of Hair Porosity, I’ll go on now to discuss them in a little more detail.

NORMAL POROSITY

Hey, lucky one.

Pros:

  1. Your hair absorbs moisture really well.
  2. Your hair retains moisture really well.
  3. Most products were made for you.

Any cons? No. All you have to do is moisturise and seal with a light hand, as you feel your hair requires.

If you don’t moisturise enough, your hair will be dry. If you do too much, you could have build-up too. It’s just that your hair naturally knows the moisture balance, so go with it. Don’t do too much, or too little. Just listen to your hair.

LOW POROSITY HAIR

Your cuticles are not just united against moisture, they are united against everything, really- and this works both ways, good and not so good.

Pros:

  1. Retains moisture really well.
  2. Lo-Po hair is highly resistant to damage from chemicals or heat- any form of over processing really- and this is a big pro.
  3. Lo-Po hair doesn’t need a lot of protein treatments- except your hair is breaking or showing any signs of damage, put down the mayo. Don’t follow that person that does a protein DC every two weeks. Too much protein and your hair is going to look dull because it’s just ugly dead protein lying there atop your hair shaft.

Cons:

  1. Serious difficulty in absorbing moisture.
  2. Lo-Po hair may be prone to build-up because the product isn’t getting in, it’s probably just sitting on your hair, weighing it down- except you’re doing the right things.

Since I discovered my hair is Lo-Po, I’ve been doing a bit of reading on this and basically- since the cuticles are so tight, the key to working with Lo-Po hair is stimulating it to raise its cuticles. When the cuticles are raised, they open up to receive the goodness you have to offer. I will be trying the things mentioned in this article I found on Curly Nikki and will report on any difference I experience.

It is advised that the basic regimen for Lo-Po hair involves

  1. Water-based leave-in moisturiser
  2. Humectants
  3. Seal in with a light oil.

The idea behind a light oil is this. Humectants draw moisture from the atmosphere into your hair. A heavy oil can render this useless as it is too much of a barrier. Some people say Coconut Oil may be too heavy for Lo-Po hair since the cuticle does such a great job at retaining moisture.

Note to self: The basic Lo-Po regimen is the simple moisturise & seal regimen that I’ve been doing. Coconut oil has been alright so far but I should probably try a lighter oil- like Jojoba or Grapeseed- just to test the theory. My moisturiser contains glycerin, a humectant- but as I’m using less of the lotion, I should probably mix more humectants into my routines.

HIGH-POROSITY HAIR

The good news is, unlike some of us, you have no problem absorbing moisture. The bad news is, your hair lets go of this moisture really quickly. Also, High-Porosity hair is very prone to chemical and heat damage, so you have to be really cautious and avoid this.

Some are born with Hi-Po hair. Some have Hi-Po hair thrust upon them (or bring it upon themselves)

Some people are born with Hi-Po hair and some people’s hair becomes Hi-Po along the way because of over processing. There are some treatments designed for High Porosity and the idea behind them is to make the cuticles tighter, and more compact.

Also, some say that a cuticle once permanently altered is altered forever. So if your cuticle is wide open because of chemical or heat damage, it might not be a bad idea to cut your hair and start growing it out again.

A Hi-Po hair regimen involves a lot of sealing! And at this point, I’m pretty sure you know why. The cuticle in Hi-Po hair is elevated in some way, making it easy for matter to go into and come out of the hair shaft. As it has no problems absorbing, the idea is to make exit more difficult. More sealing is required than with Lo-Po or Nor-Po hair.

A Hi-Po regimen according to the good people at naturallycurly.com

many high porosity naturals, after washing their hair, apply a leave-in conditioner, then a thick water based moisturizer followed by a heavy butter. By layering your products, you are providing your hair with the moisture it needs from the leave-in and moisturizer, and ensuring that the moisture remains near the hair shaft by using a heavy butter or oil to act as a protective layer to prevent the moisture from being lost to the atmosphere. High porosity naturals may also find it necessary to moisturize often and some high porosity naturals moisturize once or twice daily.

So now. What’s your hair porosity? Please do the test and google accordingly, for more information on your porosity. You might need to make some adjustments- raise or shut your cuticles- as your hair requires.

How long have you been aware of your porosity, and has this knowledge made you follow a particular routine for your hair? 

Low Porosity is new to me, so this is one more discovery in my hair journey. This is now the journey towards happy, healthy, kinky 4C low-porosity hair. : )

xx

Hair Typing, Part 3.

Hello you! We are still learning about the fundamentals of understanding hair and today, we conclude the lesson we started on Monday on the system of Hair Typing. So far, we know that

1. hair may be classified into 4 groups, according to naturally occurring curl patterns.

2. We’ve got Type 1- Straight hair (no curl), Type 2- Wavy hair (not straight but not really curly either), Type 3- Curly hair (well defined loopy S pattern of curls) and Type 4- Kinky hair (less defined curl pattern. Ranges from a slight S pattern to a zigzag pattern to tightly coiled hair with no visible curl definition).

3. Yes, it is possible to have more than one hair type.

If you missed the last post, please read it here. If you’re new, the blog is currently in session, going back to school, trying to understand the very fundamentals of hair- what hair is, how it functions, why it acts the way it does, you are welcome to join the Hair Basics series.

Q: IS ANY TYPE BETTER THAN OTHERS?

A: No.

Yes I know, in Nigeria and beyond, people feel like the looser your curls are, the better. For one too many people, Good Hair = Loose curls. There’s a documentary I should find and put up a link to. I came upon it when I was transitioning and I was really shocked that people seriously think like this and it’s not just bants. A woman actually cried tears of joy (And relief?) when she saw that her baby didn’t have “nappy hair” like her, but “good hair” like his daddy. The occasional celebrity comment (hey Brandy) or random guy tweeting about wanting “good hair” for his kids. Or relaxed girls saying things like “The Natural hair thing is not for everyone.” Or even the random unnecessary comment you see in a problem solving forum from fellow naturals on a problem that has nothing to do with them- “Oh my 3C hair is like butter.” “Sectioning? My hair is so soft, I don’t need to section when I wash.” Who said you section because hair is soft? Who asked you sef? :s

Haha this should probably be a post on its own. Please please PLEASE do not listen to any of that. Do not let anyone intimidate you or oppress you. People of all hair types have bad hair days. All hair types get tangled and messy and have the potential to break combs. No hair type is better than others. If your hair is tightly coiled, it’s doing what it’s supposed to do- it’s being good. Just get to understand the features of your hair, and soon you’ll be on your way to figuring out what your hair needs. Give your hair what it needs and IT WILL cooperate.

Q: OKAY EKENE. HERE, HAVE SOME SPRITE. IS IT POSSIBLE TO PERMANENTLY CHANGE YOUR CURL PATTERN?

A: No.

In the post on Hair Structure, I tried to present the anatomy of hair; what it’s made of and how it functions.

Our hair keeps growing. The bit you’ve relaxed or processed or whatever might change your cortex (for a long or short while) but the hair that keeps growing out your follicle is never going to change. The external message never gets to the heart of it where the growth process begins, in your follicle. It’s not permanent if you have to do touch-ups and do this thing or rub that thing every now and then.

Q: PLEASE TELL ME AGAIN WHY THIS IS RELEVANT?

A: I used to think Hair Typing was really important. It is clearly not unimportant but let me just say, it’s not the beginning and the end.

Appreciating the different curl patterns certainly helped me be reasonable with my expectations. For instance, kinky hair tends to shrink, sometimes as much as 75% of its actual length. If I didn’t know this, I’d probably be frustrated that my teeny weeny afro only looks like half its real size or length when it’s not stretched out. I also think it’s going to be helpful when I start styling because kinky hair do what kinky hair do, and curly hair do what curly hair do. For this, I really love that the good people at BGLH feature fab naturalistas hair/styling stating their hair types.

Please beware of sweeping generalisations! Hair typing is largely based on the outside look of hair. There are other features of your hair- porosity, density, thickness and elasticity- that truly affect what goes on on the inside. These factors and their relationships with each other are the real big guys, who push the buttons to determine what exactly you should use on your hair and what to do to your hair, the nitty gritty. These things cut across all hair types and not knowing them will affect you more than knowing your hair type will. Don’t just lean on what you’ve heard about Type this or Type that. It is your business to figure out what works and does not work for your hair.

Next week, we’ll be moving on to a very very very VERY important fundamental, Hair Porosity.

Till then, my people. What do you think about hair typing? What’s your hair type? Share!

x

Hair Typing, Part 2.

Q: HAIR TYPING. YOU NATURAL HAIR PEOPLE AND YOUR BIG GRAMMAR. *eye roll* WHAT’S THIS ONE NOW?

A: Hair Typing did not start with the natural hair community. Indian hair weaves are sought after by many for being wavy. Probably all the Chinese people you’ve seen on TV have straight hair. If you see a Nigerian with really curly hair, your first instinct is to think that she’s kind of mixed race abi? You my friend, have been hair typing with your eyes for as long as you’ve noticed the difference. :p

The origin of the system of hair typing as it is formally known today is credited to celebrity hair stylist, Andre Walker. He’s famous for being Oprah’s stylist and he classifies hair under four umbrellas in his book- ‘Andre Talks Hair’.

Q: WHAT IS THIS SYSTEM BASED ON?

A: This system of classifying hair is based on the feature of curl pattern. Your curl-pattern is one of the things you were born with, pre-determined by your genes, your cortex merely acts on instructions from source.

When you were a baby, your hair was really soft, wavy or curly and not as thick as it is today. As you grew, this changed- not because of anything you ate or because of anything you did. (I don’t know about type 1 or 2 baby hair but I know this is true for us Africans) Puberty I’ve read, can change your hair type. BUT the way your hair decides to curl or not curl is not something determined with your permission. The system of hair typing is based on naturally occurring, chemically unaltered curl patterns.

Q: OKAY… LET’S GET INTO THIS ALREADY, SHALL WE?

A: Yes, of course. Hair is classified under four umbrellas based on the naturally occurring curl pattern.

1 A, B, C.             2 A, B, C.             3 A, B, C.             4 A, B, C.

The letters in the typing system refer to the circumference and type of curl. Like imagine a strand of your hair as a slinky or a spring. Circumference of a circle is the total area the circle can go round. It’s the same with a curl. Circumference here refers to how big a curl is, like what can fit into the slinky or spring; something your curl or spring can easily accommodate in its middle.

For Type 3 hair, “a” is the circumference of sidewalk chalk; “b” is the circumference of a sharpie marker pen and “c” is the circumference of a pencil or a straw.

For Type 4 hair, the circumference is of a crochet needle or maybe smaller.

Type 1: Straight hair. 1A, 1B, 1C.

This hair type has no curl. This makes some people say that it is the most manageable of all the hair types. However, it is prone to tangles and split ends.

Lucy Liu
Lucy Liu

Any Africans with straight hair? I don’t think so.

Type 2: Wavy Hair. 2A, 2B, 2C.

Type 2 hair is somewhere between 1 and 3. Not straight, not curly either, what we have come to know as wavy hair.

Sandra Oh
Dr. Yang Sandra Oh

Type 3: Curly Hair

This hair type has a definite loopy “S” pattern.

3A: has the most defined and most obvious loopy S. It’s circumference is that of sidewalk chalk.

Look how thick these are!
Look how big these are!

3B: as previously mentioned, it is the circumference of a sharpie marker pen.

3C: this hair type has the circumference of a pencil or a straw.

Yvette Nicole Brown. She plays Shirley on Community :)
Yvette Nicole Brown. She plays Shirley on Community 🙂

Type 4: Kinky Hair

Kinky hair is tightly coiled. It is said to be the most delicate hair type, but it is no less manageable. Type 4 hair has the circumference of a crochet needle, or smaller.

4A:  it has an “S” pattern, less obvious or defined than a Type 3 S-curl, but it’s there. It’s a little more obvious when stretched (and by stretched I don’t mean straightened in this case. If I pick my hair and pull a strand to the left or right, or anywhere, I’m stretching) Can you see the loopy S?

4A
Esperanza Spalding and Geraldine the Great

Type 4B hair bends in sharp angles like a zigzag similar to a “Z” pattern. It has little visible curl defintion. This is a little difficult for me to explain right now BUT just look at the pictures. The Type 4B hair is clearly curlier than Type 4C but not as curly as Type 4A.

L- My girl Solange and R- the beautiful Erykah Badu
L- My girl Solange and R- the beautiful Erykah Badu

4C hair is very tightly coiled with a short, “Z” curl pattern. It has the least visible curl definition. Some say it has no visible curl definition whatsoever. This is because it is so tightly coiled.

our very own Nollywood mama, Nse Ikpe-Etim
our very own Nollywood mama, Nse Ikpe-Etim

Q: IS IT POSSIBLE TO HAVE MORE THAN ONE HAIR TYPE?

A: Yes.

My hair for the most part, is 4C Kinky hair. However, a small community behind my right ear does not feel as kinky as the rest of my head. I think it’s 4B territory. Not enough to make a difference though, at least not right now. And I have a few 4A strands like these that stand out.

one of my random 4A strands. which is actually a clump of a few strands. A curl needs a couple others to stick to it to show obvious definition.
one of my random 4A strands. which is actually a clump of a few strands. A curl needs a couple others to stick to it to show obvious definition.

This is just to say that I know for a fact that this is possible. SO many combination naturalistas abound. Your 4A side may not like to be combed with as much pressure, or may need more of a particular product than your 4C side or vice versa. Please be observant and treat your hair, or parts of it as it wants you to.

Are you bored yet? I hope not. This is the second of three posts on the phenomenon of Hair Typing. The final bit will be here on Friday, same time at noon. Don’t miss it! You could subscribe by email so that you don’t forget. 🙂

So my people, what’s your hair type? Share! x