The Great Debate on the Hair Type Chart: Is it Useful?

51 comments
June 4, 2012 ‐ By Jouelzy

Healing Herbs By Renee

Andre Walker, an Emmy award winning stylist best known for his work with Oprah, created a hair chart that would be a base for how most women of color identify their hair texture. Walker’s hair chart had four variations of texture from straight to kinky, Type 1 through 4. Thirteen years ago, Naturally Curly, one of the preeminent natural hair sites, with the help of their beckoning forum users, revamped the hair chart to include more breakdowns under the types. This is the chart that has become most infamous within the black hair community today. Now past Type 1 (straight hair) there is Type 2A-C (wavy hair), Type 3A-C (curly hair), Type 4A-C (coily/kinky hair), which better defines the variations in textures. However, as the natural hair community grows and more women are in search of basic education, a debate has sprung up over the usefulness of hair typing and what purpose it really serves.

Let’s sidebar briefly, before you dismiss this solely as another article on natural hair. Hair typing is used to market products for both natural and relaxed hair. How you apply heat or process your hair is impacted by the natural texture of your hair, therefore, it’s useful for all to be better informed.

Back to the topic at hand. How useful is the hair type chart? We’ve tried to break it down for readers on the site before, and many weren’t sold on it being a positive thing. Some feel that hair typing and the chart that helps you do so is nothing but a divisive tool that provides little information and easily misguides women on hair care. As Imani Dawson, founder of TribeCalledCurl notes:

“Hair typing as it exists today is divisive and ultimately destructive because it emphasizes one “type” of curl texture over another. It also provides limited information; just because your hair looks like someone else’s doesn’t mean it’ll respond to products similarly.  Here are some important factors that the current hair system doesn’t take into account: porosity, strand size, and density.  Curl pattern is the LEAST helpful in terms of caring for your natural hair, and figuring out which products work best.”

Dawson brings up several key points on the debate against the usefulness of hair type charts. The hair chart as it exists today is a simply a chart of curl pattern. Many female consumers who are uninformed (whether relaxed or natural) may simply associate their curl pattern as how to take care of their hair, while remaining ignorant to the key factors that really affect healthy hair care. The porosity of your hair, whether 3A or 4C can greatly sway how products impact it and what maintenance one needs in order to achieve healthy hair. Ever wondered why you and your friend have the same exact hair texture, or dare I say, “hair type,” but you can’t achieve the same styles she does? There’s more to hair then just texture and pattern.

This is not to say that one should just dismiss the hair type chart. It definitely has its place in the grand scheme of educating yourself on your hair. Karen Tappin, founder of Karen’s Body Beautiful, best sums it up by pointing out that the hair type chart “helps naturals be realistic about their texture.” She adds, “If you’re a type 4 hair, your hair won’t behave like type 2 hair, no matter how you style it or which products you use.” Personally, having been natural off and on over the past eight years, the hair type chart has helped me to have realistic expectations of my hair and provide a base for how to treat it. For the longest time I thought I was doing something wrong with my hair, and that everyone was suppose to have 3C/4A hair. I thought there had to be some magic product that I could put in my hair and snap my fingers to get some magic, but my hair was and is 4C.

When Shea Moisture, the organic hair care company aimed at women of color, hosted an event offering consultations on hair type, more than 350 women showed up. Richelieu Dennis, founder of Shea Moisture, spoke to the outreach of their event as it “speaks strongly to the need for guidance, education and support for women with textured hair.” Shea Moisture in their consultations actually took into consideration “other aspects of the hair such as porosity, condition, chemical damage and scalp issues to create a customized hair care regimen.” That is the progressive thought that needs to apply to how to use the hair type chart.

Michelle Breyer, co-founder of Naturally Curly, concedes that the hair type chart is a base to understanding your hair texture. It’s been 13 years since Breyer and associates built upon Andre Walker’s basic hair type chart to create the textured hair type chart of today and they understand the need to further inform the growing world of textured hair. Just as Breyer used her readership to devise the current hair type chart, they are currently working and listening to their core audience to further expand it to help women better understand their hair.

So let’s meet in the middle on the hair type chart and understand that in the end, it is just a base to understanding how to better care for your hair. As you begin to learn more about it, using the hair type chart as a guide can be a great foundation. But remember that as you browse YouTube or stroll down the hair care aisle, there’s more to your hair than just the pattern, and just because you say you’re one type doesn’t mean your days of learning and toiling over your hair are over. Proceed accordingly. Happy healthy hair!

What do you think of the hair type chart and hair typing in general? Does it help you or is it divisive?

Jouelzy offers tutorials on all aspects of Black hair care via her YouTube channel, focusing on women with tight budgets. You can also find her daily hair tips and inspirations on Facebook.

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  • alasia min

    The hair chart doesn’t make any sense at all. I’ve seen macy gray be listen under 4a and ac which are different. I don’t think the people using the chart understand it at all.

  • Mercedez Roper

    I like the hair charts. I find it a good base for hair care and styling. When I am describimg my hair to someone and trying to figure out styling methods it serves as a frame of reference. When I say thick curly coarse hair prone to dryness, (especially because I am very light skinned) people tend to imagine dry 3a or 3b hair, when realistically it’s akin to the far reaches of the 4 category. Even beauticians have been shocked to silence after washing all of the product out of my hair and seeing the natural texture. There’s more to it than the hair charts, but for me, they are a good place to start.

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  • http://twitter.com/CheezyLove1126 Chelly LoveULongTime

    The hair chart helps somewhat; I dont think its for everyone, like me who has multiple textures in their hair. When my hair was natural (since I know regularly relax it) it was in tight coils and was categorized as a possible 3C but more so at the roots its was a cross between 4A and B so really this doesnt help me that much; I think it helps the person get a better understanding of what they are working with and can give them ideas of what to possibly use on their hair instead of just pulling things out of the air and being totally confused

  • Frances Hunt

    I find the chart helpful. There are currently soooo many products on the market and the chart helped me to identify my hair as a 3B-3C. I follow many naturals who have the same “type” as I and some products they recommend work for me and some don’t. I don’t use it as the end all be all but it does help me narrow my choices. I try products that other 3B-3C ladies love and don’t love b/c i recognize EVERY head of hair is different. There have been products that someone who hair looks just like mine loves and the photo looks lovely however I am fully aware (and OK) that I may not have the same result. To me the chart is on of the many ways I educate myself on my hair and hair products that may work for me. Lastly, as a product junkie it saves me a LITTLE bit of money

  • Auset

    To me, hair typing is a fail and people use it as a status symbol. Also, Andre Walker himself doesn’t really like nappy type 4 hair, so I don’t support his idiocy. Type 4 hair is the only hair type he suggests chemically altering. FAIL! This hair typing may tell you what your hair looks like, but that’s it. According to the chart, I am supposed to only detangle my hair while wet with lots of conditioner. I did that, and hair in the sink was what I got. Shea butter is supposed to be my hair’s best friend, according to this chart. I did that, I got dull weighed down hair. (My strands are baby fine). Ultimately, trial and error are the only sure ways to find what works best for your hair. Plus, your hair length will affect what your hair looks like. Hair that is type 4 may look way more type 3 once it gets very long as the weight will stretch the curls out. So again, this chart just has too many holes in it.

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  • caribbeanvixen

    I actually think the hair type chart is extremely helpful, but do acknowledge it is just the beginning. I’ve been ‘natural’ on and off for more than 20 years and it is difficult to find products that work on my hair. Often, products marketed for ‘natural’ or ‘kinky’ hair don’t work on my hair, and I’ve tried many. There are after all different kinds of ‘kinky’. It was always frustrating to see images of ‘kinky hair’ or ‘natural’ in magazines (yes even in magazines like Essence and Ebony), on products and even from friends, that look so different from my hair. My hair doesn’t have a slight kink, it is so kinky that leaving if out for more than a couple of hours would result in tangles and two strand twist would turn to dreads after 3 days. It has a tight curl pattern (if one can call it that) and is coarse, brittle and dry. I love it nevertheless and wouldn’t change it for anything in the world, although I would like it to be less brittle. To me there is a huge difference between caring for hair that is 3C versus mine which is 4C. There is so much diversity in ‘kinky’ hair and it should be appreciated. What the hair type chart does do is allow me to focus on products that work on hair similar to mine. So I don’t buy products meant for someone who’s hair texture is on the opposite spectrum as mine, but still is considered ‘kinky’ or ‘natural’.

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  • Ms_Sunshine9898

    I don’t pay attention to that hair chart, because when my hair is in it’s natural state, it looks absolutely nothing like any of those hair patterns. . .

    • alasia min

      Yeah I still don’t see my cousins hair texture which doesn’t have curl at all. The hair texture with no admixture hasn’t been accepted yet

  • Numero Uno

    I honestly don’t see the use for the hair typing chart other than to simply describe what texture you have. It’s not like it comes with a detailed factual list on exactly what products you should use. Some hair products work for some people, some don’t. Two people can have similar hair textures and use the same product, and it will do wonders for one head, and be a hot mess on the other. So therefore to me the chart is relatively useless. But if someone feels that it helps them in some way, I’m not gonna rain on their parade :) I just feel that some people get too caught up in the chart and using it to determine what their hair can and can’t do without even trying stuff out first.

  • Numero Uno

    I honestly don’t see the use for the hair typing chart other than to simply describe what texture you have. It’s not like it comes with a detailed factual list on exactly what products you should use. Some hair products work for some people, some don’t. Two people can have similar hair textures and use the same product, and it will do wonders for one head, and be a hot mess on the other. So therefore to me the chart is relatively useless. But if someone feels that it helps them in some way, I’m not gonna rain on their parade :) I just feel that some people get too caught up in the chart and using it to determine what their hair can and can’t do without even trying stuff out first.

  • http://www.facebook.com/joann.nash JoAnn Nash

    I have absolutely no issues with the chart because for me it was a starting point and a tool that prompted me to learn more and understand more about my own hair.

  • linena

    I need a chart. I have a son almost one with spiral curled hair. It look like he has a straw set and the back lays on his neck. I have been unsuccessfully shopping around for products fit for his hair type here and there and on-line.

    Grease just sits on his hair looking shiny & moisturizer does nothing but make it heavy. For the most part I just wash his hair and let it dry. I only put something in it one or two times.I found some milk products for curly hair recently but I didn’t purchased. However i’m going to go back and give them a try. I need something for his scalp which looks healthy, it doesn’t look dry or anything but I know I don’t put anything on it. I need something for his lil curls that doesn’t make him look greasy, or isn’t heavy on his head. His natural hair looks fine and healthy but I know I need some kind of nourishment or do I ? Is just washing it ok ?

    • stevievi

      momma, baby doesnt need anything but a little coconut or jojoba oil, maybe once or twice a week. His texture might change, so i would plan on that. unless his daddys white or yall biracial then it might stay the same.

      • http://twitter.com/teezy_baddasx14 Liquefied Dopeness ™

        Oh the ignorance of this comment, black people can have spiraled hair too, dear God …

        • http://twitter.com/CheezyLove1126 Chelly LoveULongTime

          I mean lets be realistic here; if you are 100% black, u wont have spiraled hair; it is what it is. People arent even really 100% anything, Especially blacks in America. Your hair compared to a person of Ghana will not be the same unless you have direct ancestry to those people; Blacks in america are greatly mixed with Caucasian as well as native american since they were slaves as well and they all mingled; as for the son, all he needs is some oil and natural shampoo; young virgin hair like his doesnt need to be bombarded with chemicals since his follicles are still maturing

          • Kemi

            Hello. Both my parents are black, and I have spiral curls. And I am also Nigerian. Black people can have spiral curls. We are a very diverse people. Heck, even some black people in the Solomon Islands and the Aborigines in Australia have naturally blonde hair, which developed on it’s own with NO race mixing from whites. We aren’t a monolithic group of people. :/

    • LittleBabyBug Jones

      i don’t put anything on my son’s hair either, and my son has the same texture as what you described for your son, except around his sides my son’s hair is, if i had to type it, probably even type 2. i think it’s best that you keep things off his scalp, because it doesn’t take much to clog their pores. for healthy hair, just leave it be, because his natural oils will make their way through this hair if you just massage his scalp from time time- you can deposit his natural oils onto his hair in this manner- if he’ll stay still long enough. i wouldn’t worry about his hair too much right now. my son’s hair is healthy, fluffy and soft, all without product. i think that children don’t need anything on their hair this young, as the only the product is really necessary for is styling.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ashley-Elam/1398323795 Ashley Elam

    This chart helped me a great deal, even though I always knew what my nature texture was. It saved me from making more errors with my hair like continuing bonelaxing my hair (which really was overprocessed for me). I wish they would go more in depth with coarse, porosity, fine and thick strands.

    • Papillon

      I thought I knew all the hair terms. What is “bonelaxing”?

    • dancerzrule14

      is bonelaxing just leavinng perm in until its bone straight?

  • http://www.facebook.com/whivolyn.thomas Whivolyn Classynsassy Thomas

    i loved the chart! I think some folks are confused cause going natural is a learning process between you and your hair. if you pay close attention to your hair you will most likely find that you have more than 1 type in your head. for example. my coils at the front center of my head are more loose and softer than the hair in the back of my head which is more tightly coild. the hair chart does what it is suppose to and thats help. we still have to find out what our hair likes and what it doesn’t. everyone that has 4b hair may not respond the same way to certain products. trail n error honey!

  • Mrsadkiah

    I think it can be helpful for the right person. I don’t really pay it too much attention because I just work with my hair and learn what it likes and what it doesn’t. If someone looks at a woman on the chart and expects their hair to do EXACTLY what that woman’s hair does they are being ignorant. You can wat YT videos of someone w/ your hair type but have to understand that, similar or not, you hair is different and may/will want different things. 

  • Anon

    The hair typing chart is stupid. The only use I could see in it is to describe what your hair looks like to a person that isn’t directly in front of you. Hair typing does nothing to help a woman know what products and techniques to use. Everyones hair is different no matter what “type” it falls into. I’m told my hair is 3c but my bestfriend is 4b and we use the same exact products on our hair and they work beautifully for both. I was told my hair is much too loose to use butters yet my hair loves a nice shea whip…. Hair typing is useless.

  • Knuckles

    Well I am hair type 2b & this chart helped me. Especially in my teenage years !!! . Lord knows I remember them days (lol). Other black females have more of the 4a/4b hair so most of their perms/flat ironing/products/rituals were a NO GO for me. Once I learned my texture, I haven’t looked back :)

    • LittleBabyBug Jones

      on that note, those other black females could also do with doing away with those perms, flat ironings and products. that stuff is every bit as destructive to their hair as it is to yours. i only wish that they knew that and accepted it. sigh.

  • http://twitter.com/FeministaJones Meshell Assofjello

    My hair is nappy
    Period
    Curl pattern doesn’t matter as much as density, strand size, and strand texture, when it comes to selecting products.
    Too many people convince themselves that products will change their hair texture into some magical biracial asthetic-looking deal. Nah. Well maybe relaxers that front as texturizers or silkeners…
    *sips tea*

    • Anon

      lol! oooooh the texturizer. women SWEAR its not a relaxer…… I let go and let god lmao

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ashley-Elam/1398323795 Ashley Elam

      I hate when people think that. A relaxer is a relaxer even if you leave it in for 5 mins and have a full on fro.

      • dancerzrule14

        Well…it is a relaxer since u are putting chemicals in it and making the texture softer. the kinks are being relaxed (meaning smoothed out).makes sense to me.

    • Sparkly Glitter

      Ur hair is urs and the hair of someone who “fronts” with a texturizer or a silkener is theirs..therefore…u may just end up choking on all that judgemental tea you are sipping on!
      How does it feel when someone judges u on ur nappy (ur terms)….well dont be so quick to turnaround and do that to others~~~!!!!!
      Natural Hair Nazis need to GET it TOGETHER

    • http://twitter.com/CheezyLove1126 Chelly LoveULongTime

      Not everyone uses relaxers because they want to “be something they arent”. I personally use them because my hair is much more manageable than it is in its natural state. I wake up early, which I hate, so I dont want to have to spend a long time to style my hair. Also some people love the straight look, while some (caucasians) want the curly look, therefore they get a perm. My hair will always be my hair, It will never have caucasian attributes no matter how many times I click my heels and wish upon a star. I think you should think about what you say before you just assume people are doing something for a certain reason when really it isnt the case alot of the time.

  • Di

    I don’t see the point of the chart, I’ve been natural since 2001 and I learned how to do my hair through trial and error. Now that’s just me, I don’t look down on those who do look to the chart. My main concern is that I don’t know how much of an idea it can give people on maintaining their hair, because the chart doesn’t take into account porosity, possible allergies, and that no head of hair is truly the same. And maybe that’s not what it’s supposed to do.

  • NikkitaMichelle

    I don’t have an issue with a chart. If you’re newly natural and have no idea of what products to try hair typing can give you a starting place to see what might work for your hair.

  • Papillon

    I don’t like the chart because it goes from straight to kinky. I think it should go from kinky to straight ;)

    • dancerzrule14

      haha i always thought abt that. like kinky is the lowest grade on the chart.

      • alasia min

        Technically it’s the highest since it’s type 4.

    • car1

      I agree especially b/c i ihave 4a hair this chart makes it seem like i have the worse of the worse hair, but i love my “kinks” :)