Before you can dive into the wonderful world of personalized hair care, it’s important to answer one question first: what’s your hair type? There are several specific classification systems of hair types that can be an extremely important stepping stone toward finding what really works for your hair.
When we talk about hair type, we’re mainly discussing the natural curl pattern of your hair. This is determined by the shape of your follicle — curlier hair means a flatter, more oval-shaped follicle, and those with straighter hair have follicles that appear more circular in diameter. This makes sense especially when you picture curls themselves: in order to bend around into a coil, there needs to be some “flatness” in the shape of the strand.
Despite what different routines and styling products can do to tame and alter your hair, hair type itself is mainly pre-determined by genetics. That’s not to say we don’t have some control over our hair type: drying sulfate shampoo and repeated chemical or heat damage can be hurtful to natural curls, but growing your hair out over time usually restores the natural pattern. Hair typing systems are used to categorize the different range of locks out there, letting you have a better idea of what you need to do to care for your hair type, and what specific styling routines and products you should be using.
Although we will get more specific in sub-categories, here are the four main hair types that your strands will fall into — and it’s important to remember that many people can have different “types'' of hair at once, like if you have different hair texture or locks that gradually get curlier as you work towards your ends. But these are a helpful starting point to finding the right kind of customized haircare.
No natural curl, hair thickness and density can vary.
Wavy hair can range from a loose, undefined wave to visible S shapes. Generally the more defined your waves, the more likely it is you’ll have to deal with frizz.
All hair types in this category have well-defined S-shaped curl patterns. They range from loose curls to tight and springy corkscrew ringlets.
This is the tightest form of natural hair curl pattern, ranging from a defined, “O” shaped pattern to a more noticeable “Z” shaped pattern of tight curls.
Here are three widely used systems for hair classification — no matter which one you choose, each use the four umbrella categories discussed above as a shared jumping off point to help you figure out care and styling.
Oprah Winfrey’s personal stylist Andre Walker is credited with coming up with a simple, easy to follow system of hair typing that breaks hair types down into four main categories: what he calls Type 1 (straight), Type 2 (wavy), Type 3 (curly) and Type 4 (kinky-coily) hair. Within these categories are subcategories that are more specific about what type of hair you have: my hair is probably best defined as 2B (loose waves), whereas someone with tight, corkscrew curls would probably define themselves as 3C.
The LOIS hair typing system gets rid of the idea of main numbered tiers, and instead starts by assigning different hair types by letter: L for bends, O for curl, I for straight and S for waves. It’s possible to have a combination of letters in your specific hair type, so you also need to take into account frizz levels and how well your hair absorbs water and maintains shine when figuring out your dominant classification in this system.
This uses the same main tiers as the Andre Walker method, and like the LOIS system, the FIA system also goes deeper with individual classification to look at more specific hair qualities. It takes into account the overall volume, texture (ranging from fine to coarse strands), porosity and elasticity of your hair. Using the FIA system, I would classify my own hair as “Type 2 medium.”
Here are some general product suggestions and care tips for different hair types. For general care tips that work for every hair type, check out our blog post “11 Tips from Davines Stylists for Getting Shiny, Healthy Hair.”
If your hair is on the fine or thin side, use a volumizing shampoo and conditioner for fine hair to lift it from the roots, or delicate daily shampoo that won’t over-strip your hair of essential oils and shine. Most of the best hairstyles for thin hair don’t require a lot of expertise, such as using headbands or sleek ponytails (and this hair type can also benefit from a volume-boosting mousse). Straight hair types tend to be oiler than others, so you want to make sure that the products you’re using aren’t adding additional oil — or that you’re washing too frequently and causing your follicles to produce even more oil. When you’re looking to switch up your style, using a medium hold hairspray will help to secure your styles when curling your hair, just remember to use a heat protectant spray to avoid damaging your strands.
Many wavy hair types have to deal with frizz, so use an anti-frizz shampoo and anti-frizz conditioner to keep your waves smooth and defined. Washing your hair with cool water while showering also controls frizz, since it helps the cuticle of the hair lie flat. As someone with wavy hair that can easily frizz (especially on humid days or while attempting hairstyles with heat), I like to keep a light hair oil on hand for touch ups during the day: this will help smooth down any flyaways without compromising on volume. If your waves are looser and you’re looking for a little more definition and body, try a beach hair spray to give you salt-kissed locks and natural-looking texture.
As beautiful as they are, anyone with curly hair can attest to the fact that it takes the right routine (and usually a lot of trial and error) to keep your ringlets and spirals looking their best. So start with the right curly hair products: a moisturizing conditioner and shampoo for curly hair, as well as rotating in a curly hair mask at least once a week for an additional boost of hydration that curls crave. If you feel that your curls are drooping or losing their definition during the day, keep some curl revitalizing spray on hand to help bring them back to life without needing to wash and style. Since moisture is such an important part of curl care, curly hair doesn’t need to be washed as much as straight and wavy hair types, so make sure your curls are preserved overnight by investing in the right pillowcase. Satin or silk pillowcases allow the hair to glide more smoothly over the surface than traditional cotton ones, which mean less frizz, breakage and loss of curl definition when you wake up in the morning.
Those with tightly coiled curls can use many of the same base curl care products, but since this tends to be a more dry curly hair type, you can benefit from even more moisture and tweaked washing techniques. Co-washing, or using a conditioner in place of a shampoo, is a great way for those with curly hair to avoid stripping even the tiniest amount of essential oils that their curls need. After towel-drying (using a microfiber towel to avoid any roughness or potential breakage on your delicate strands), use a leave-in curl cream to help lock in more moisture and definition. And if you need additional nourishment, a rich hair oil is a smart way to ensure your strands are healthy, shiny and hydrated. Whether you have curly or coily hair, be sure to read our blog post “Six Curly Hair Hacks for Naturally Curly Hair” for more ideas.
Finding out your specific hair type is the first step toward getting the targeted care your strands are craving. All hair types can benefit from things like frequent trims and advice from a hairstylist (remember to visit your local Davines salon), a well-balanced diet, sun protection and delicate brushing techniques, so try to incorporate all of these things into your routine as well. If you have any other tips or haircare routines that have worked for your specific hair type, be sure to share in the comments below!
By Lauren Hannel, staff contributor
Photos by @goldandglowco