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

June 4, 2012  |  

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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