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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Hair Typing Systems

Some people believe that hair typing systems are useful in determining product selection and styling options.  Others believe, for various different reasons, that these systems do not serve any true purpose in the natural hair community. When I first started visiting hair boards and forums, I would sit for hours on end trying to determine my hair type and others. I found it very intriguing. As my journey has progressed, I no longer have any strong feelings about typing systems one way or another. I have gotten great results from various products that are raved about by people with my hair texture and people without my texture. I believe that finding the right products is basic trial and error. What works for one person may not work for another.

When analyzing hair people should focus on the hair's elasticity, porosity, texture, density, and wave pattern.

 The hair's elasticity is the measure of how much the hair will stretch (and return to a normal state). Healthy hair, when wet, will stretch up to 50% of its original length and return to its normal shape without breaking, while dry hair will only stretch about 20%. Elasticity is rated as being low, normal, or high. Hair's elasticity comes from the side bonds in the hair shaft. Hair with normal and high elasticity is easily styled with wet-roller sets, thermal styling tools, etc., while hair with low elasticity may prove hard to curl, or lose its curl quickly.

Porosity is the measure of the hair's ability to absorb moisture. This is determined by the condition of the hair's cuticle layer (the overlapping scales of the hair shaft), and is rated as low, normal, and high. In normal, healthy hair, the cuticle is compact and inhibits the penetration of the hair shaft by moisture - both moisture going in, and moisture coming out. When the cuticle is overly compact and prevents the penetration of the hair by moisture it has low porosity. Hair with low porosity is harder to process, and is resistant to hair color and perms. Low porosity hair must usually be softened prior to other chemical services. Hair with high porosity is hair whose cuticle layer is open and the hair too-readily absorbs moisture. Overly-porous hair also releases moisture easily and becomes dry and is easily damaged. Acid-balanced conditioning treatments are used to contract the cuticle layer and lock-in moisture on overly-porous hair.

Hair texture is the measure of the circumference of the hair strand itself. Professionals classify the texture of hair as being "coarse", "fine", or "medium". Coarse hair has the largest circumference, and fine hair has the smallest. Medium texture indicates a middle-range of the size of the hair shaft, it's considered normal and poses no special considerations regarding processing and chemical services. Coarse hair is stronger, for obvious reasons - it has more substance. However, coarse hair can also be harder to process, and can be resistant to hair coloring services, perming, and straightening. Fine hair, conversely, is often very easy to process, and can be over-processed easily and is susceptible to damage from chemical services. This should not be confused with wave pattern!

Hair density is the amount of hair strands on the head. Generally, it is measured by counting the number of hair strands found in one square inch of scalp. When a stylist tells you that you have thick hair, it is high density he/she is describing. Generally, the classifications of hair density are thin, medium, and thick, and are unrelated to the texture of the hair. The average head has approximately 2,200 strands of hair per square inch, and a total of approximately 100,000 hairs.
Wave Pattern
The hair's wave pattern is different from the other elements of hair analysis because its classifications have no reference to the health of the hair. Any of the wave pattern types can be found in healthy hair. The classifications for wave pattern are straight, curly, very curly, and coiled. Hair with absolutely no wave in its length is straight hair. Straight hair can be coarse, normal or fine. Curly hair has wave to it. A curly hair strand will form a distinct 'C' shape when short and an 'S' when longer. Very curly hair will make an 'S' when short and a repetitive wave when allowed to grow out. Very curly hair tends to be 'bushy' when worn long. Coiled hair strands do just that - they coil in spirals as they grow out from the scalp. The coils can be very tiny and give a kinked look to the hair, or they may be finger-sized ringlets.
With all that I said, I still feel that its only fair to share information about hair typing systems because many people want to know their type for one reason or another. To remain unbiased I will discuss the three main typing systems in future posts in this order:
  1. Andre Walker
  2. LOIS
  3. FIA
If someone is interested in using a hair typing system, I personally believe that one of these three can be of some use. Which one a person decides to use should depend on how the level of simplicity or complexity they are looking for.

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