A definitive guide for identifying your hair type
We bet you think you know your hair the same way you think you know your family: “I know everything I need to know.” Well, turns out, Mom puts Bailey’s in her morning cappuccino, Dad’s scared of dogs, and your brother loves Reese Witherspoon movies. So yeah, there’s probably something new you could learn about hair—and it all starts with your hair type.
Everyone aligns with a specific hair type depending on the pattern of their waves, curls, kinks—or razor straight locks. Just ask Andrew Walker (Oprah’s devout hair stylist), who invented the entire hair typing system. Instead of complaining about why your hair is the way it is (baby, you were born with it!), we’re here to encourage you to rock what your mamma gave ya.
Once you know your hair type, you’ll discover proven ways to always make it look its best. While it might not be as vital as knowing your blood type, or as complex as investigating your ancestry (let the bad apples on your family tree take the blame for your naughty side), nailing your exact hair texture and curl pattern is a game changer—and we stand by that statement.
First question (and don’t worry, you can change your mind later)
When you look in the mirror, what is MOST of your hair doing? Is it straight (Type 1)? Wavy (Type 2)? Curly, or coily (Types 3 or 4, respectively)?
Now, let’s zoom in further—literally. Get in front of the mirror—or if you’re super determined, pluck a single strand and place it on a white piece of paper. Investigate the journey your hair takes from the root to the end. Once you’ve settled on the main hair type identifier, you’re ready to tack on a letter that gives your type a little more personality. These sub-classifications are essentially width indicators of pattern size in waves, curls, and coils, with “a” being the widest and “c,” the shortest. Let’s break it down like we’re on the dance floor at your niece’s Bat Mitzvah.
Type 1 hair types: The straight-haired gals
Regardless of whether it’s thin or thick, Type 1 hair is as straight as a board. These strands typically boast a healthy shine, though, and that comes from oil on your scalp slicking down from the roots. Because of this, and the general lack of dimension, a product with volumizing properties (we love a non-aerosol dry shampoo) will always save the day.
Type 1a hair type
1a is the finest, straightest hair—as in, the thinnest and most curl-resistant strands—in the Straight-y Bunch. (Did that land? No? Okay, Jan…)
Type 1b hair type
There’s a bit more textural variance in 1b strands, with some thick or coarse outliers making an appearance on your scalp.
Type 1c hair type
You’ll land in this category if you’ve got naturally thick, straight hair. Treated or damaged/dry hair can also land you into this category.
Type 2 hair types: Your wavy ladies
Wavy locks are usually associated with the term “beach hair,” but Type 2 strands actually resemble an aerial view of a river, with bends and undulations from the root to the tip. You’ll want to dive right into a product that helps define those Type 2 waves, like a leave-in conditioner.
Type 2a hair type
2a hair has delicately tousled waves that can flip-flop to straight with minimal intervention, usually contingent on the humidity level.
Type 2b hair type
You’ll find more defined “S” waves in 2b hair. They usually begin midlength from the scalp on both fine and thick strands.
Type 2c hair type
2c waves are thick and occasionally cross the line into curl territory with fully-formed loops. Frizz can arise as an issue.
Type 3 hair types: Your curly Q’s
And by “Q’s,” we mean curls that won’t quit. Type 3 hair encompasses everything from Shirly Temple loops to uber tight Slinky-like ringlets. In other words, it’s all about spirals—and an unwavering determination to conquer frizz.
Type 3a hair type
The 3a club is made up of loose, lightweight curls that quickly get drunk on humidity, but can usually be straightened up with the right tools.
Type 3b hair type
3b curls are tighter and more rigid, like springy corkscrews. Doubling down on a hydrating conditioner is always a good idea.
Type 3c hair type
With the diameter of a drinking straw, 3c curls are stacked pretty tight. Be mindful of styling tools causing breakage and damage.
Type 4 hair types: Our best coil-friends
Here we’re referring to a delightful mix-up of textures, kinks, and patterns found most commonly on those with African roots (you might even hear it described as “Afro-textured”). Type 4 folks are blessed with the ability to adapt to a range of styling. But since they’re naturally dry, kinky strands need to be regularly and deeply moisturized to avoid damaged locks and shrinkage.
Type 4a hair type
4a coils are densely packed with a width like a knitting needle. Creams and leave-in moisturizers will leave a big impact on your quest to keep the strands flexible and soft.
Type 4b hair type
Known for their fluffy appearance, 4b coils are Z-shaped or come in a zig-zag pattern. They’re naturally susceptible to breakage and shrinkage, so elongating hair products (think: styling gels) are key.
Type 4c hair type
Even more fragile than 4b hair, 4c’s Z-patterned coils are so compact that they can actually be hard to spot from afar. But that’s part of their beauty—a chic Lupita-esque TWA (teeny weeny afro) one day can be stretched out to a huge bun the next. Just make sure to keep deep conditioner on your top shelf. A treatment every one to two weeks will do wonders.
Finding the right shampoo and conditioner for your hair type
Feel like you know enough to be Oprah’s new hair stylist? Now take our Gemmist quiz to find the right products that will help you fall in love with the locks that you’ve got. Trust us, we know your type.