Understanding your hair type will help you more effectively manage your hair, buy the right hair care products, and keep it healthy.
There are several ways that hair types are measured and categorized. These include the density of the hair, porosity, diameter, elasticity, and curl pattern. Becoming familiar with your hair type will allow you to practice healthy self-care for your hair.
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Most commonly, this refers to the hair curl pattern, or formation, which describes the way the follicle grows into the scalp. Four main curl patterns exist: straight, wavy, curly, and extra curly.
The more asymmetrical the hair follicle is, the curlier your hair will be.
Though you may treat your hair to temporarily change the way your hair behaves or appears, that does not change your hair type. A person’s formation is encoded into their DNA, and how the hair grows from the scalp does not change.
There are other parameters by which people describe their hair, such as density, porosity, diameter a.k.a. texture, and elasticity.
Hair density is how many individual hair strands you have per square inch on your scalp. Density is different from hair diameter (thick or thin hair strands). To gauge hair density, face a mirror, take a section of hair on the front of your head and pull it to the side. If you can visibly see your scalp through your hair, you have low hair density. If your scalp is barely visible at all, your hair density is high If the amount of scalp you can see is somewhere in the middle, you have medium hair density.
Since hair density is sometimes confused with hair diameter, let’s look at how that is measured.
The diameter of your hair refers to the diameter of your hair strands, not the density of your hair. You can have coarse hair strands but a low hair density, and vice versa.
Texture is categorized as fine, medium or course. This all depends on the layers of cuticle you have per strand of hair. Fine hair has as few as 4 and course hair has as many as 18.
A practical way to determine the texture of your hair is to take a single strand of hair and run it between your index and thumb. If can barely feel it, you have fine texture, if you can somewhat feel it the hair is medium, if it feels like a piece of thread you have course hair,
Determining the texture of your hair matters, because if can help you and your stylist determine the appropriate products to use based on their strengths. The courser the hair the more strength is needed in a product,
Porosity is how much moisture your hair can absorb and retain. The higher the porosity, the more moisture and product your hair can absorb. Porous hair has more microscopic holes in the surface layer, called the cuticle.
Knowing the porosity level of your hair will determine what types of products and chemical treatments your hair can withstand.
Your hair may be naturally porous, or chemical treatments and heat styling may create extra porosity.
High porosity hair may be susceptible to frizzing in humid weather. This is because the hair strand is absorbing moisture from the air. High-porosity hair also releases moisture quickly, meaning it might need extra conditioning, moisturizing masks, or leave-in treatments to help nourish the hair and seal the cuticle layer.
When your hair is low in porosity, the cuticle resists moisture absorption from the local climate or chemical processing.
Here is an easy way to test your hair to see if it is low, medium, or high porosity.
Take a strand or two of your hair and put it in a bowl of water. If it sinks to the bottom quickly, your hair is high porosity. If it sinks at a moderate pace, it has medium porosity. When your hair floats, it has low porosity.Hair that is highly pourous tend to lose color faster which leads to fading.
Your scalp produces a natural oily substance called sebum, made up of various lipids. This is produced by sebaceous glands, which are connected to hair follicles. Though sebaceous glands appear on all parts of your body that have hair follicles, there are many of these glands in the scalp. The sebum produced by these glands help moisturize and protect the body. This thin layer of lipids helps guard the body from microbes.
If your scalp underproduces sebum, you may be prone to dry scalp or flaking. Overproduction of sebum may lead to oily skin and hair. Certain areas of the face and scalp may produce more oils and sebum, such as the hair behind the ears or above the temples.
A good way to test the oiliness of your hair is to wait until the day after you wash your hair, then dab your scalp with a tissue. You may determine that you have a high, medium, or low amount of oils produced by your scalp. It is also possible to have combination oiliness, such as a oily scalp and dry split ends.
Depending on what type of hair you have, you can select an appropriate shampoo or conditioner to bring the oiliness of your hair to a medium measure.
Hair elasticity is the extent to which a hair strand can stretch before returning to its normal state. High elasticity has a high correlation to overall hair health and strength.
To measure the elasticity of your hair, take a strand of your hair and stretch it as far as possible.
High elasticity hair can stretch a large amount without breaking. Hair with medium elasticity can stretch a reasonable amount before breaking. Low elasticity hair breaks quickly when stretched and tends to be very brittle. Hair in this category needs special attention – be careful of what products and treatments you use with low elasticity hair.
This leads us to how most cosmetologists and hair stylists categorize hair types today, using a system of hair curl patterns and diameter to create twelve distinct hair types.
There are four basic shapes of hair as it grows from the follicle.
Straight – no curl
Wavy – Some ‘S’ shaped curls
Curly – coil curls
Extra Curly – ‘Z’ shaped curl pattern
What emerges from your follicles is a product of how the follicles are shaped. The flatter or more oval the shape of the follicle, the curlier your hair will be; a more circular shape results in straighter hair. Your curl pattern describes the shape that each strand takes as it lengthens – curves, or spirals – and how they all behave when draping together.
The amount of curl in your hair is largely determined by the shape of the follicles at the root. The rounder the follicle, the straighter the hair. The more oval the shape of the follicle, the curlier the hair will be.
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