Are the Letters on the Hair Typing Scale Really that Significant?


by Tori of black girl long hair


natural hair types

Let me preface by saying, that I have a love/hate relationship with the hair typing system. On one hand, I do believe the system can be beneficial to help individuals understand how their hair type typically operates. It can help in identifying hair techniques and products that will or won’t work with each hair type. However, I do believe the system can be quite divisive. Sometimes, certain levels within the system are portrayed as being more superior to another, which could potentially lead one to feel as if their hair type is inferior.

The hair typing system is based on numbers from 1 to 4, with subcategories from a to c. Generally speaking, type 1 hair is straight, type 2 is wavy, type 3 is curly and type 4 is kinky. The subcategories go into more detail about each level of ‘wavy-ness’, ‘curly-ness’, or ‘kinky-ness’. Recently I have been wondering: Are the subcategories (or letters) in the hair typing system really that significant? For instance, one person’s hair could be a little wavier than another’s, but wouldn’t they still both have wavy hair?

Let me explain a bit more why I think the subcategories may not be necessary.

First of all, the subcategories make hair typing even more complicated and divisive than it should be. It starts getting confusing when you have to determine which of the subcategories of type 4 hair you have, especially since many naturals have multiple hair types and textures all over their heads. I have type 4 hair, which, personally, for me this means I have all three subcategories mixed in all over my head. So, it would be hard for me to simply say that I am 4c, for instance, when I also have type 4a and 4b hair strands.

Also, since we are discussing type 4 hair, I can say from personal experience that all the subcategories of type 4 hair react in a similar way. Type 4 hair, regardless of the subcategory, is still kinky hair. It requires lots of moisture, attention, careful detangling, heavier creams/butters. It’s also prone to more tangles, knots and lots of shrinkage.

With that being said, I think if there is going to be a hair classification or typing system in effect, we could certainly eliminate the subcategories, thus making the system less complicated.

What are your thoughts about the hair typing system? Do you think the subcategories are really necessary? Share with us.

There are 13 comments

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  1. LaNissa MdLeod

    I do agree the subcategories are not necessary. I too have 4b and c hair type. In the beginning of my journey It was confusing trying to pick products for my 4c hair while having 4b on the crown of my hair.I just decided to focus on acknowledging my 4c hair and purchase products according to that type.

  2. sg

    The hair typing system, to me, is just a thing, a concept, a thought, someone had and their interpretation/expression of that thought. So with that said, to me, for me, it has absolutely no power other than the fact that it is information for the one seeking it. I think the problem/confusion arises in the interpretation of the information the thing provides. This is relative and changes depending on the person. Because we are beautifully, fearfully, and wonderfully made in all of this uniqueness and mystery, we will never come up with a universal understanding/interpretation of this hair typing system. Why? Simply because we are so complex on all levels, even our physical make ups. I say all of that to say this, “Take the meat and leave the bone.” Meaning, take whatever you can/want from the system and leave the rest that does not apply to you. Whatever you do don’t look for anyone to cosign your interpretation for you will never find it. This approach will diminish the divisiveness that exists over this thing called the hair typing system. All textures are beautiful in their own right and context, so basically, no one should feel or be made to feel inferior because of what someone thought up out of their own uniqueness/complexity to be socially acceptable. #noshade #justmyopinion

  3. eh...

    It seems to me that porosity has more to do with what types of products you use. My hair is a 4a but I have extremely high porosity so I can’t use coconut oil or heavy creams because it just weighs my hair down. They never make it truly into the shaft. If I used products according to simply the 4 category, heavy oils & butters my hair would be a flat, greasy mess.

    Also it is true that due to how curly or kinky our hair is the detangling process changes and styles. For me the best style is a wash and go, I co wash condition add Shea Moisture Curl Enhancing Smoothie and air dry, I am able to wear it for 3-4 days. If I’m being lazy and don’t feel like co washing again, I’ll wet it just a bit put it in a bun for 1-2, then I might twist into an undo for a day or two before I re wash. For my type 4 hair that’s what works best. A good friend is a 4c and for her a wash and go ends up tangly because it’s slightly more curly, but she can rock the hell out of a twist out. Me not so much.

    Instead of eliminating the label , maybe we need to work on accepting it. My hair is a 4a, it’s kinky and curly. I’ll never be a 3c, my texture will always be kinkier and curlier than a 3c, whether or not I refer to it as a 4a or just type 4. But knowing my hair is a 4a has allowed me to learn about it more intimately than if it was just type 4 hair.

  4. Theodora Onyinyechi Joannis

    Well I find the subcategories helpful because like you said it’s helpful in letting know how their hair operates and gives them realistic expectations. When I first became natural I didn’t know where to start. I just typed up “natural hair” and I saw a lot of vloggers and bloggers with 3c/4b textures and I thought that was what my hair was supposed to look like. For example, the wash n’ gos…I don’t even have to explain. I have 4c hair so when my hair looked like broccoli instead of curly fries, I got really upset. I know now to embrace and love my hair because of the subcategories. It really helped me understand my hair and helped take better care of it.

  5. queenbee9

    OK–my hair “types” keep changing and everyone’s typing illustration/guideline differs. My hair has been “typed” from 3a-4b and everything in between but based on this chart, I have hair that is s waved, but poofy and looks like 2c but definitely is NOT– the hair is afro textured but CRIMPED with no coils of any sort and looks like it has been braided to get s waves but that is natural–the 1st pic is my hair with clarifying shampoo–second shampoo, the second pic is the back of my hair which is very silky and has s waves but no coil–the hair that is crimped will get pencil sized coils at the very last 2 inches but the rest is straight with deep crimps–the hair at the sides and crown are NOT silky.

    I have helped may type their hair and for many it is obvious but for me this continues to change–at one time, I had large, deep curls in the back and smaller ones to the front–now I have coils in some parts, straight silky hairs that wrap around my poofy hair and get tangled and matted (by gray hair is bone straight with NO CURL OR KINK and my poofy hair is very easy to comb with out conditioner but it is not silky or curly at all it is CRIMPY.

    I have many types of hair on my head but given what I am seeing, I have made my peace with calling it 3a-4b and letting it go at that–I know I have larger coils in my crown but only at the ends and not everywhere, some of the ends are straight and they are straight no matter how often or how much I cut my hair.

    My hair just IS–but please feel free to type it.

  6. queenbee9

    A word about hair typing–it is deceiving–because how your hair types depends on what products you use, your diet, and your techniques–I don’t mean products to change the curl pattern, I mean what shampoo you use–take a look at my hair–one with hard water, shampoos with sulfates and using the loco method but using coconut oil which my hair hates (but I did not realize this) the other picture is with a deep clarifying shampoo and then NOTHING but filtered water–no product of any sort on naked hair.

    In the first, by hair looks like 4b or 4c in the next 3b the difference was the water and the products and the technique sequence and oil types.

    What you THINK is your hair type may really just be the state of your hair based on the techniques you use and have NOTHING much to do with your hair type because the products and techniques used disguise what your real hair is like.

    1. Get a water tap filter –make sure it filters chlorine , a soft water sys is NOT the same it will not affect chlorine
    2. Use a shampoo or cleanser with no sulfates, silicones or alcohols
    3. clarify your hair then rinse, rinse, rinse
    4. after washing and rinsing and BEFORE conditioning, spritz hair with an acidic ice cold spritz such as ACV and water or Aloe and water or lemon juice and water–no look at your hair–what does it look like?

    Also try baking soda (Tablespoons mixed into Trader joes tea tree tingle condish as your clarifier) leave on for about 30 minutes to an hour then rinse–you MUST follow this with an ice cold vinegar spritz but you can also wash, then rinse then dc then put in leave in, then moisturize then oil then spritz. do not use the baking soda more than 1 time per 6 weeks or so.

    What does your hair look like? how does it feel? you should not need to clarify anymore like this unless you use gels–but if you have popping curls why would you use gel?

    Note: In my second pic, my shampoo is Qhemet Biologics Cleansing tea shampoo

  7. Carmen Clark

    I don’t think subcategories are necessary. Knowing that your hair is straight, wavy, curly, or kinky is sufficient. I wouldn’t go to my dermatologist and tell him what color foundation I wear to get him to fix a skin issue. Hair is really no different.

    • Kas

      No, you would go to your dermatologist and tell him what foundation you used so he could see what was in it. That way he could find a treatment that suited you and YOUR skin needs. Maybe you have dry skin, but just because you have dry skin, and another person has dry skin, it does not mean you are both have it to the exact same degree. Therefore you may have to treat them differently. Hair is no different. We don’t all fall within the bell curve, so subcategories makes it easier to focus on your specific needs.

  8. tisha

    The subcategories have always been confusing to me that I would get frustrated. I kept trying to determine what hair type I was and how to take care for it. After reading an article on hair porosity and how it was more important than trying to determine your hair type, I stop worrying about it and focused on maintaining a clean, healthy and well moisturized head of hair. I do however think they are necessary when a person is trying to figure out what type of products work for their hair type.

  9. Amari

    I agree!
    Because in the end, 4a, 4b, and 4c are all kinky coily hair and they react in the same way.
    As does 3a, 3b, and 3c.
    Totally agree. I lvoe this article

  10. AshleyEmanuel

    I truly believe hair porosity and density are THE most important things when it comes to determining products. Curl size.. Yea ok good to know but if two people have 3c hair and 1 is low porosity/fine and the other is high porosity/dense (or vice versa use your imagination) then the same
    Product will react completely DIFFERENT on both 3c heads of hair. One will absorb the moisture easily and need more of it, the other will have their hair feeling weighed down like straw.


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