Ever hear this statement? I do. A LOT. And I do have thick hair… however, I recently discovered that sometimes what seems like thick hair is not really thick at all. In fact, most people just mean that I have a lot of hair. And I do. A. LOT.
But there is a difference between the amount of hair one has on their head and how thick their actual strands are. This is where natural hair texture and density get mixed up… and often we as naturals do not understand the difference. I am embarrassed to admit that I have been natural for well over 12 years now, and I am just learning about all of these terms. Not because I didn’t want to know, but because I didn’t realize that knowing this kind of information would help me grow out my hair to its healthiest and fullest potential… I’m getting it, now.
So in this post, I will try my best to explain natural hair texture and density, and why understanding this term is the start to a healthy hair journey.
One of the first things many naturals do when they start to see that very first curl forming into glorious naturalness is to determine their curl pattern. Do I have 3C hair? Do I have 4A hair? And then they think this is all they need to know about their hair – that this number-letter system will determine their hair type. But this is not so. In fact, there are so many factors contributing to your hair type and we so often miss them; so we don’t know our true hair texture, density, porosity – and these are details that can help us with the most accurate and proper care for our strands. Our curl pattern is really the least relevant. Of course. if you try to search “how to determine hair texture” articles and posts for knowing your hair type (aka curl pattern), the only results you find at the top of the page.
Simply put, hair texture is the thickness of your individual strands. So a natural’s hair texture may not necessarily be “thick” – they may just have a lot of hair.
The thickness of your strands is determined by the cortex. The cerebral cortex, that is. What is the cortex? Well “the cortex of the hair shaft is located between the hair cuticle and medulla and is the thickest hair layer.” Learn more about the structure of your hair here.
Your hair strand can either be fine, medium, or coarse. This goes for every hair out there, not just kinky-curly. This may be obvious, but the thicker your strands are, the stronger they are, and the easier they will be to detangle. And of course, the finer your strands, the more fragile. Medium hair will be somewhere in the middle. This is important to know so that you can properly care for your hair, as well as find products that will assist in its continued care.
How Do I Test for Hair Texture?
So as far as I can tell, there are two ways to test for hair texture. One is seemingly pretty easy-peesy; the other, however, is a bit… well… unconventional.
First Method (in Pics).
I washed my hair. You really want to test your hair when it is clean and free of products, etc. For me, a wash is a nice hot water only hair wash session in the shower. Best. Showers. Ever. lol
Then I let my hair air-dry. Remember, no products or manipulation.
I know that my hair has different textures, so once dry I yanked a strand from the front, the middle, the side, and the back.
I then cut four pieces of thread. Yes, thread; and it needs to be regular sewing thread – not the thick heavy-duty stuff. See, thread is equal to a medium-thick strand of hair; so if your strand is thinner then you have fine hair – thicker and your strands are coarse.
I lined up the thread and each strand of hair to compare and taped them down.
Then I compared them.
I found that I have coarse to medium textured hair. The front and back are more medium; while the middle and sides tend to be pretty coarse.
Second Method. No Pics.
Okay, so there are actually naturals that have tested the thickness of their hair this way. Me? Well, I’m good on this one. But I am more than sure that it is just as effective as the first method.
First, you yank a strand from your nether-regions…
Then, just like the thread, you compare that hair to the strands from your head. Why? Because the hair from down ‘thair‘ is most commonly coarse; so if your head-hair matches your pube-hair, then you have coarse hair. Simple as that, right? Yeah…
What Does All Of This Mean?
Being the most fragile of the hair textures, fine hair can be damaged pretty easily. But did you know that naturals with finer hair can actually have more hair than those who have thicker hair? It is also oilier than other hair textures. Fine hair does not keep styles as well, becoming weighed down with heavy products. Those with fine hair may not have the volume they want.
Did you know that this hair texture only has two hair layers? The cortex and the cuticle.
This is the most common hair texture – not as fragile, and can be styled easier than finer hair. This hair texture usually only contains two layers, but may also have the medulla.
Thick or Coarse Hair
Thick hair is strong. This is because its structure contains all three layers – the cortex, the cuticle, and the medulla – the center of the hair shaft holding a series of empty spaces filled with mostly air and protein.
This hair texture takes longer to dry than the other hair textures, and can resist chemical treatments like hair color and texturizers/straighteners. It does tolerate heat better than the other textures and can resist breakage. It always appears full and healthy.
So How Do I Use This Information? or How Do I Style My Hair?
I’m still learning this. Look for the answer to this question in a later post that will tell you how to care for the three different hair textures!
Do your own test – go ahead, I’ll wait!
What is your hair texture? Share in the comments below…
Now THIS is where we often confuse hair texture with density. Density refers to how many strands you actually have on your head – as in how closely they are packed together . This hair type comes in three categories: high, medium, and low. People with high density are often thought to have thicker hair and vice versa for low density hair. However, you can have high density hair ( a lot of strands per square inch) consisting of fine strands. Or thick strands of hair that are situated farther apart on the scalp.
How Do I Test For Hair Density?
Well, there are actually three ways to test your hair density. Don’t worry, these tests involve observing hairs only from your head! LOL
You need a friend.
Now part a section of hair off – 1″ X 1″ is the right measurement.
Have your friend count each strand that is in that squared off portion.
No? You don’t have a friend willing to count the hairs on your head? What kind of friends do you have? You may need to re-evaluate your friendships! lol
But seriously, there is an easier way!
This is a bit more practical.
It will require clean and product-free hair. I let my hair dry for this one.
Now, part your hair down the middle.
Grab a handful of hair. Holding that section, make sure you can see the roots when you move it around in different directions. Get a good light – you want to see your scalp, so you may need a lamp or a friend who will hold a flashlight or light to your scalp. I’m sure you can find a friend to do this much!
You are looking to see how much of your scalp you can see in that handful of hair. Without counting individual strands, you want to get a sense of how dense your hair is by how much scalp you see. If you don’t see much of your scalp, you have high hair density; if you see some of your scalp, you have medium hair density; if you see a lot of your scalp, you have low hair density.
Repeat this process for different portions of your hair (front, sides, middle, back…).
Of course, you can always let your hair air dry and then just observe it while turning. Can you see your scalp? Then you have low hair density. No scalp anywhere? Then your hair is high density.
They call this the ponytail method. For me this was a challenge. THIS hair does not go into a ponytail. That should have been my sign, right there. But it does go into a nice puff…
So you smooth and tie your hair into a ponytail. Do the best you can.
Measure the circumference of your ponytail.
Low-density hair will be less than two inches; medium, two to three inches; and high-density hair will be four or more inches.
Okay, so for me, this isn’t as accurate as, say, counting the hairs on your head. First, a ponytail for me is more of a puff for others. Each time I perform this particular test it will measure differently, depending on how loosely or tightly I’ve pulled my “ponytail”. I prefer to pull my hair up and look to see if I can see my scalp that way.
Either way, I have high density hair.
Why Does This Matter?
Well, this information helps for natural hair care and styling. For example, those with high density hair have a plethora of products to use – as long as they are heavier gels, creams, and butters that will hold thick curls together and reduce volume. You can even consider layers, which look great on thick hair! Those with medium density hair can use a greater variety of products and wear more types of styles. Those with low density hair don’t have time for heavy products that will weigh the hair down. You want to focus on styles that will create volume, and simpler, rounder hair cuts and styles.
Knowing what type of hair you have – and not just the type of curl pattern – will help you in deciding what your natural hair care routine will be, the products you should incorporate into your routine, the way you will handle your hair, the styles you can wear, and even the shape of your hair cuts. All of this can’t be determined by just a letter and a number.
My advice? Know your hair texture and density. Take time to feel your hair wet and without product, and then dry without product; and then look at your strands – compare them to other strands on your head.
Once you know your hair’s texture and density, you’re ready to move on to Step Two in determining your [true] hair type.
What is your hair texture and density?
What test did you use to determine your hair’s texture and density?
Of course, I had some help with this information. Here are my sources, below: