POSTED: 8 Nov 2017


Despite the phenomenal amount of hair products, accessories, treatments and styles available, there is surprisingly little information regarding understanding your hair type. This is probably the most important place to start as it will help you know what you can and can’t do with your hair. Equally, a better understanding of your hair type will also help you choose the best hair care and styling products or techniques. It will also enable you to get the most of your hair and look after it properly. In this post, we’ll get quite deep about hair and hopefully, by the end of it, you will be able to better understand, take care of and love your hair type.

An Overview Of Hair Anatomy And Physiology

Before we begin, it’s important to point out that this guide is meant for any hair type and regardless of length, texture, age, colour or racial background. You see, like skin, all human hair is essentially the same. That is to say, hair is just hair and as such we all share the same fundamentals. Hair is composed of the shaft, follicle and bulb. The hair shaft (what we see as a strand of hair) is made up of a protein called Keratin. Each hair is anchored into the skin by a hair follicle. At the base of each follicle is a structure called the hair bulb. This is the living part of the hair as it contains stem cells and keratin making cells which make the hair shaft.

At the base of each hair follicle, there is also a rich blood supply which nourishes the hair cells and control growth as well as regeneration.These blood vessels also deliver hormones which help decide which stage of the hair cycle each hair is in. At any one time, each hair is either in the growth phase (Anagen), transitioning (Catagen) or in the resting phase (Telogen). Most hair is usually in the anagen stage ie it’s growing. Whilst the rate at which hair grows differs from person to person (it also depends on your overall health, hormonal status and well-being), the average rate is 0.5 inches per month. Hair colour is determined by the melanin-producing cells in the hair follicle. Whilst hair colour is dependent on your genetics, when we all age the pigment-producing cells die and our hair turns grey.

Figuring Out Your Hair Type

Ok so now that you have a super basic understanding of hair structure and behaviour, let’s move to the fun bit. There are 3 basic categories to understanding your hair type. These are strand shape, elasticity and porosity. These distinctions are important in that they will also help you understand why your hair behaves the way it does and also how to choose the right products and techniques of it. Like with figuring our your skin type, working out your hair type is easiest to do if you wash your hair and gently towel dry it.

hair type

Hair Strand Type

Strand type is what gives your hair its overall appearance. The best way to look at this is by identifying which one of the 4 main categories your hair falls into. These are essentially straight, wavy, curly and coily.

Straight hair varies from baby fine hair which is super straight and never curls to thick straight hair that can just about manage to hold a curled style. This hair type tends to be oilier as the oil gets distributed along the shaft without any interference from curls. It also tends to appear more glossy because again the light hits it evenly because of its surface. This hair type is pretty hard to style as its resistant to hold a curl or wave.

Wavy hair sits between straight and curly hair with the curls having a more open ‘C’ shape. This strand type ranges from the bed head look to surfer girl and at its thickest its big bouncy loose curls. It can still project more sheen than curly or coily hair but less than straight hair. Type A strands in this category are easy to style either straight or add more curl definition whilst types B/C are harder to style straight.

Curly hair has a more defined curl with an ‘S’ shape. Typically curls range from ringlets to spirals depending on the degree of curliness. This hair type is more fragile and as such can be more easily damaged. It may also appear drier than straight hair and less glossy because the curl of the shaft reduces the even distribution of oil from the scalp.

Coily hair is actually the most fragile and tends to be the i=finest of hair types. The strand pattern is more of a ‘Z’ shape. This hair type is the driest since the curl pattern impedes the distribution of hair oil from the scalp throughout the shaft. As such, coily hair is prone to breakage which is why it appears to not grow very much. In fact, coily hair grows at the same rate as any other hair type but because it’s so delicate, it breaks more easily thus reducing the appearance of its length. Another complaint is that it appears rough in texture. This again is due to the uneven distribution of oil from the scalp as well as the curl pattern which creates the illusion of a rough surface.

Hair Elasticity & Porosity

Elasticity relates to your hair’s ability to bounce back. Healthy hair should be elastic. To test this gently pull a strand of hair between your fingers to stretch it and then see if it recoils. If it barely moves in either direction then that means it is dehydrated.

The porosity of hair means how good your hair is at absorbing and holding onto moisture. To test this dip the dry ends of your hair into a cup of water. If the hair floats it means that it is not porous if it sinks immediately then it is very porous. If your hair is not very porous then it means it doesn’t take in products easily and so would benefit from thick moisturising hair care products, Porous hair easily absorbs products and as such is better suited to lightweight non-oily formulations.

What Your Hair Type Means For Hair Care And Styling

Knowing your hair type make sit immensely easy to understand how to look after and style it. First of all, no matter your hair type the universal rule is to treat it with a bit of love and respect. Working with your hair type will make a huge difference to the results that you get.

Straight hair can have a tendency to look limp and greasy or even frizzy in more humid conditions. The secret to looking after this hair type is to avoid over washing (which can strip the scalp of its essential oils) and use a dry shampoo in between washes. Also, use cleansing and moisturising treatments that are hydrating but not thick or oil based as these will weigh down the hair. A smoothing serum will also be super handy if you want to avoid frizz without weighing down your hair.

Wavy hair is exceptionally prone to frizz so handle it as little as possible. It’s important to use hydrating cleansing and moisturising products but best to let it dry gently or if you’re drying use a cool setting and diffuser. Avoid over styling or touching too much as its quite easy to go from an easy tousled look to fuzzball. An anti-frizz spray or treatment is great in humid conditions.

Curly hair can be a bit of a diva. If you do too much it looks tortured and weighed down whereas too little results in frizzy wild locks. The important thing is to cleanse the hair without stripping of moisture and depending on the porosity, use an oil or water-based moisturising treatment. This hair is very prone to damage so it’s important to treat it gently and use protective products if heat styling it. As its prone to frizziness, its worth (sparingly) using a frizz-taming product. Remember though, less is more and the aim is for moisturised and radiant looking hair.

Since coily hair is the most delicate of all hair types, treat this hair very gently. The main problem with coily hair is that it can be quite dry and thus in need of hydration. Cleanse it with a non-drying and gentle shampoo and always follow up with a deeply moisturising conditioner. Always dry gently with a towel. Style with a rich and oil-based cream. On a daily basis (day and night) you should be using a hydrating product to keep the air-conditioned and moisturised. If you’re looking to chemically treat or heat treat this hair then you must be super careful. It’s worth doing deep conditioning hair treatments beforehand using a protecting spray prior to such treatments. Following these steps will help you achieve moisturised, elastic and nourished locks all the time.

So we hope you’ve enjoyed our overview of figuring out your hair type. Let us know what you think and keep an eye out for more hair beauty tips on our blog.

What next?

Don’t miss our post on how to survive winter with our skincare SOS guide.

This way if you think that your skin can do with a bit of hydration with our focus on hyaluronic acid skincare treatments.

Authored by:

Dr Amel Ibrahim
Aesthetic Doctor & Medical Director
Founder City Skin Clinic
Member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England
Associate Member of British Association of Body Sculpting GMC Registered - 7049611

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