How to Actually Determine Your Hair Type (Or How to Get 3c Hair)

Now here’s a question that we hear way too often these days: “How do I determine my hair type?” The question has worn some of our nerves so thin that many of us just respond by assuring the askers that their hair’s other properties are much more important than their hair types.

And that’s pretty solid advice.

Still, that answer isn’t necessarily productive. These women did, after all, ask a specific question, so maybe they deserve a specific answer.

So, without further ado, here’s a step-by-step guide to determining your hair type. Enjoy, ladies.

Step 1: Look at a Bunch of Confusing Charts

Google will often be the first weapon in your arsenal when you want to learn about your natural hair. You just type your question into Google’s search box and — voilà! —you’re met with useless charts which supposedly help women find their hair types.

To be fair here, the charts aren’t totally useless. If you have type 1 or 2 hair, you’ll probably have no problem identifying your hair type. You might even have some luck if your hair’s pattern falls somewhere in the 3’s.

But if you have type 4 hair? Forget about it. Though types 4a, 4b, and 4c hair may have slightly noticeable differences, these charts do a terrible job at highlighting those differences. They usually come in one of two feckless flavors. You can choose between:

  1. A chart with three side-by-side clumps of type 4 hair that look pretty similar to each other, and if they don’t look similar to each other, none of them look a thing like your hair.
  2. A chart with photos of three smiling black women who have three admittedly distinct, but usually shrunken, fros. Of course, the pictures of these women aren’t close-ups or anything, so they’re of no use to you.

    confusion over hair type chart
    An actual image of me looking at a hair type chart.

Realizing that these charts are almost impossible to understand, you just move on to the next step, but not before you assign one of the chart’s hair types (4c, likely because 4c hair seems like the most “unmanageable” texture and you think your natural hair is so hard to maintain) to your hair for your own sanity.

Step 2: Let Those Relaxed Ends Tug on Your Roots

Now that you’ve looked at a few charts and successfully “determined” your hair type, it’s time to tend to your transitioning hair. Transitioning to natural hair has been a challenge for you thus far, but you’re starting to get the hang of it.

Well, at least you think you are. You still don’t know that determining your hair type with five inches of chemically treated hair tugging on your roots is pretty impossible, but, hey, it happens to the best of us.

Anyhow, you continue to let your hair grow out, and those ends just “loosen” your curl pattern more and more each month. You’re now becoming concerned because you’re thinking that you must have incorrectly identified your hair type in the last step.

You refer to the charts once again, and this time you find that you no longer have 4c hair. You now have 4a hair, and, though you’ll never admit it, you’re secretly happy about the fact that your natural hair is less kinky than you originally thought it was.

Step 3: Wet Your Hair and Load It With Conditioner

Another wash day rolls around. You’re taking care of business as usual: pre-pooing, co-washing, detangling, styling, etc. Then, in the midst of your detangling session, during which you’ve loaded your hair with conditioner and other water-based products, you realize that your hair is nowhere near as kinky as it usually is.

Which, for some reason, leads you to believe that your actual hair texture is even looser than you’d imagined it was. So you start thinking, I must not be properly moisturizing my hair; if I was, it would retain these pretty curls and spirals after it dried.

Because “moisture” is now completely dictated by an identifiable curl pattern, right?

curly hair is moisturized hair
I wish I had hair this curly moisturized…

In any case, your type 4a hair is now history. You now have 3c hair, and you’re internally giggling because you now get to have a seat at the “good hair” table. Now you just have to find a way to keep those 3c “curls” popping when your hair dries.

Good luck with that.

Step 4: Join a Forum or Facebook Group and Ask Around

The journey has been long and hard, but you’ve finally reached the penultimate step. This step is all about confirmation, so you head on over to a natural hair forum or Facebook group in order to reassure yourself. You take a picture of your hair — which possibly still has relaxed ends and/or is wet — and pose the question: “What’s my hair type?”

And, for reasons you can’t understand, people start giving you answers that differ wildly from your expectations. To make matters worse, the answers you’re getting aren’t even uniform; some women think you have 4b hair while others insist that you have 4c hair.

Perhaps expectedly, some of the discussion about your hair type eventually devolves into a debate of some sort.

Because it’s Facebook and it would be abnormal if people didn’t get a little petty in a discussion about something trivial.

Anyway, you’re starting to get the point. You were actually just holding that seat at the “good hair” table for the next woman who incorrectly comes to the conclusion that she has 3c hair, and she’ll just be holding it for the woman who makes the same mistake after her.

Back to being confused (and disappointed) about your hair type you go.

Step 5: Never Officially Determine Your Hair Type

So here you are at the end with nary an answer about how to determine your hair type in sight. If you were expecting an in-depth guide of some sort, I apologize and encourage you to go find one of those indecipherable charts we talked about earlier.

But remember, ladies: It’s just a chart. Don’t ever let it determine how you feel about your natural hair. Most importantly, don’t let it determine what your hair is.

sad girl, natural hair
Regardless of what any chart says about your natural hair, it’s still beautiful and it’s still yours, be it 3c or 4c.

Because your hair is more than a number paired with a letter.

Am I suggesting that knowing your hair type is a problem? Nope. I think it’s what you do with the knowledge that ultimately matters. So if you want to know your hair type for the sake of having an answer to give people? Go for it.

But if you want to know so that you can aspire to someone else’s hair or somehow feel better about the hair on your head? I think you’ll find that your use of hair typing will hurt you more than it will help you in the long run.

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One Reply to “How to Actually Determine Your Hair Type (Or How to Get 3c Hair)”

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