Hair Texture: Find Your Hair Type
Reviewed by Vicky Davis, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
As a man, finding reliable information online about caring for your hair can be, let’s just say, a bit of a challenge.
Part of this is because the overwhelming majority of hair care information out there is targeted at women. Let’s face it — most hair products for healthy hair growth are aimed at women.
However, figuring out how best to manage your mop is far from a ladies-only situation, meaning it’s important to understand your hair type and texture, as well as the effects that it can have on how to best care for your hair.
Whether you have thick hair, wavy hair, curly hair, or coily and kinky hair, spending your money on high quality, reliable hair products that actually improve how your hair looks and feels is the goal.
And hey, if you can reduce breakage, frizz, dehydration, and all of that other stuff that can harm your hair, all the better, right?
Understanding your hair texture and type of hair can get you started on a path towards choosing better hair care products and routines. Ultimately, you’ll likely try some things that just don’t work with your hair, but knowing what your hair needs can help narrow your selection.
However, the unfortunate reality is that many, if not most, of the hair type guides you find online are written to sell hair products, or created by bloggers who might understand their own hair but have no formal background or expertise in hair care.
Although there’s no single scientifically-backed method for determining your hair type, there are a few methods that you can use to understand what type of hair you have, as well as its unique needs in terms of care and attention.
We’ve discussed these below and explained why hair types differ between men, as well as the steps that you can take to determine your hair type and work out the best routine for allowing it to grow to its full potential.
Why Men’s Hair Texture Differs
Before we get into specific hair types (as well as how you can find yours), it’s important to briefly go over the basics of why men’s hair types can vary so much.
Your hair texture is determined by the shape of your hair follicles and hair shaft, which — as with many other things about your appearance — are determined by your genes.
In short, your hair texture is largely genetic, with research suggesting that genetic factors play a major role in determining whether you have straight, wavy, curly or coily hair.
Over the course of several decades, researchers have identified several genes that could affect the shape and texture of your hair. The specific genes that affect your hair may vary based on a variety of factors, including your ethnic background.
For example, variations in the gene TCHH are thought to affect the texture of hair in people with northern European ancestry, while other variations in the genes EDAR and FGFR2 are linked to differences in hair thickness amongst people with Asian ancestry.
Researchers haven’t yet identified all of the genes that are involved in the texture, thickness and other characteristics of your hair follicles and hair shafts. However, it’s likely that future research will tell us more about what gives each person’s hair its unique texture and appearance.
These genes all have an impact on the structure of your hair, from your hair follicles (the “pores” from which your hair grows) to each hair shaft, which is the physical hair fiber that gives each of your hairs its physical form.
Each hair on your scalp is made up of cells formed into separate layers. The bulk of these cells are found in the cortical layer, or cortex, of your hair — a structure that’s made of keratin proteins and is surrounded by dead, overlapping cells that form the cuticle, or protective layer.
The cortical layer of your hair plays a major part in determining its shape and texture. Based on the structure of your hair’s cortex, you might have perfectly straight hair, loose curls, a wavy hair type or Afro-textured hair that grows in a helix shape.
In addition to determining the shape of your hair, your hair’s cortex and cuticle structure can also affect the strength and feel of your individual hair strands.
Some people have finer hair that’s small in diameter, while others may have thick hair that’s far larger in size.
For example, in one study, researchers compared loose hair strands from people of a variety of different backgrounds and found that they varied in diameter from just 30 ± 3 micrometers (µm) to 74 ± 7 µm.
Habits, Environment and Hair Texture
It’s not just your genes that can have an impact on your hair’s texture. Plenty of environmental factors, such as the climate in your region and the way you care for your hair, can also have a significant effect on its appearance, texture and feel.
For example, certain hair treatments, such as bleaching your hair or straightening it using heat or chemicals, can change your hair texture by degrading the hair cuticle. This may result in dry hair, frizzy hair or common issues such as split hair ends.
Certain styling products, such as oil-based pomades or hair wax, contain ingredients that could leave you with a greasy scalp and oily hair.
Simple activities such as swimming in a pool can leave you with more than just wet hair — they can also make it harder to maintain healthier hair in general, as the chlorine in many pools can dissolve the lipids that protect your hair’s internal structure.
Even the weather in your region can affect your hair health and texture. For example, exposure to UV radiation — the same type of radiation that can damage your skin — can break down your hair’s proteins and cause you to develop brittle hair that’s more likely to break.
Read more in our blog on seasonal hair shedding.
Types of Hair Texture: Is Your Hair Curly? Wavy? Fine?
When it comes to hair type and hair texture, one important thing to keep in mind is that there’s no precise scientific technique that dermatologists and other experts in hair use to sort hair into different categories.
Historically, hair has been classified based on people’s ethnic backgrounds, with different hair types sorted into subgroups of African, Asian and Caucasian hair, or European hair.
However, this classification system is generally considered inadequate and outdated, since it’s not an effective way to take into account the huge range of hair types and textures that exist in each group.
If you spend any amount of time Googling about “hair texture” or “hair types,” you’ll likely come across a typing method from Andre Walker, none other than Oprah’s hair stylist.
Walker’s system defines hair based on texture and curl pattern and recommends products from his hair care line accordingly. While it isn’t totally scientific, the Andre Walker hair typing system has blown up in terms of popularity.
Google “hair typing” and you’ll run into source after source talking about 4a kinks, 2c waves and other hair types. Walker’s system starts with 1a hair, the straightest of the straight, and climbs to 4b, tightly coiled “z-angled curls.”
Whether you’re looking at Walker’s original typing system or any number of the sites that use it, each hair type is matched with a laundry list of hair care best practices and products.
Knowing your curl (or lack of curl) type can be useful in choosing specific hair products, but this isn’t the final word, and Walker’s system isn’t without criticism.
It’s been suggested that the use of the system favors folks with straighter (lower numbered) hair, an age-old point of contention in the Black community. Many other hair typing systems also rely on things like density and diameter, not solely texture.
Put simply, there’s no perfectly objective way to work out your hair type or determine which hair products are likely to give you the best results. Instead, the process is partly scientific and also partly subjective, with opinion and perception playing major roles.
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How to Find Your Men’s Hair Type
In general, the best way to know what hair type you have is to simply ask your stylist or barber for their opinion. They encounter all sorts of hair textures and types on a daily basis, and they’ll likely have a good idea of your hair’s type based on its relative thickness and density.
Depending on your hair’s texture, density and other characteristics, they may mention one of the following hair types.
Type 1: Straight Hair
Type 1 hair is straight, with a tendency to become shiny or greasy, in part because the oil from your scalp travels down a straight follicle more quickly.
This type of hair is divided into three major subcategories, 1A, 1B, and 1C. As each letter goes higher, the respective hair type gains volume and thickness, with the hair follicles more coarse and the hair larger in diameter.
Type 1A hair is fine, with a very straight appearance. Type 1B hair is straight, but shows some bends, while type 1C hair is straight, but with a slightly more coarse texture.
Type 2: Wavy Hair
Type 2 picks up where Type 1 ends — the hair in this category tends to have a subtle wave to it, and likewise is usually thicker than hair from the previous category.
Like other hair types, type 2 hair has three subcategories. Type 2A hair is wavy and fine, with a limited diameter. Type 2B hair is wavy, but has a more defined S-shape to its curl pattern, while type 2C is wavy with a clearly defined S-shaped pattern.
Type 3: Curly Hair
The difference between wavy and curly is largely subjective. However, type 3 hair is usually full of springy curls that are easier to style. Like other hair types, it has three subcategories, ranging from type 3A to type 3C.
Type 3A hair is loosely curled, with a flowing curly pattern when it grows longer. Type 3B hair is tight and springy, with a closer curl type. Finally, type 3C hair has an S-shaped or Z-shaped curl that straightens when pulled on but jumps back to its naturally curly shape when it’s released.
Type 4: Coily Hair
Type 4 represents the curliest and kinkiest hair, and typically the most coarse texture. This type of hair is often referred to as coily hair, as each strand of hair tends to form into a tight curl with a zig-zag pattern.
Like other hair types, type 4 hair has three subtypes. Type 4A hair is defined as loosely coiled, meaning it has medium-sized coils that are loosely packed. Type 4B hair has a zig-zag shape, while type 4C is the most densely packed, with the tightest zig-zag pattern.
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The Bottom Line on Hair Texture and Men’s Hair Type
Working out your hair type and texture is an important part of discovering which styling products are best suited to your natural hair style. It’s also a key part of the process of working out how to care for your hair using products like shampoo and conditioner.
While some hair types benefit from light care with mild products, others benefit from moisturizing shampoo, leave-in conditioner and other products designed to eliminate hair damage.
Our guide to men’s hair care tips goes into more detail about how you can use these products to take care of your hair, whether you have hair that’s light in texture and straight, thick and curly or densely packed and coily.
One important thing to keep in mind is that all men, regardless of their hair type, can be affected by male pattern baldness — a common form of hair loss that can cause a receding hairline, bald patch or, when severe, near-total loss of hair on your scalp.
Not sure where to start? Our guide to the signs of balding covers early symptoms to look for, as well as your options for preventing thinning and maintaining a full, thick head of hair regardless of your specific hair type.