Understanding hair types

Published on October 1, 2022
Updated on October 1, 2022
A visual representation of Type 1, 2, 3 and 4 hair
Andre Walker's expanded hair type classification system

Hair types have been separated into different groupings for centuries. Everyone knows the difference between straight hair and curly hair, after all.

In the late 1990s, celebrity hair stylist Andre Walker developed a system to categorize different hair types. His hair type chart divided hair into four main groups: straight hair, wavy hair, curly hair, and coily or Z-shaped hair. Each of these hair types was then broken down into another 2-3 subtypes.

Andre Walker’s hair typing system has been expanded on since its original release in 1997, and people now tend to categorize hair into one of 12 different hair subtypes. Different versions of Walker’s hair type chart are still the most commonly used ways of categorizing people’s hair today. 

Modern day hair types categorize hair based on several different factors, including texture, the shape the strands form, and appearance. Working out which hair type you have can help you choose products that are specifically suited to your needs and improve your hair’s health.

What are the four different hair types? 

Andre Walker’s four main hair types are still the same as when his hair type chart was originally released. According to a study in the International Conference of IP, Computer Vision, and Pattern Recognition journal, Type I refers to straight hair, type 2 is wavy hair, type 3 is for curly hair, and type 4 refers to coily hair.

Type 1 hair: Straight

Man with straight hair

Type 1 hair is most common in Asian and Caucasian individuals.

Type 1 hair is made up of three different hair types, all of which are considered “straight”.

  • Type 1A hair is usually described as fine, thin, soft, and shiny.
  • Type 1B hair is considered to have more body and volume than Type 1A, and has a slightly thicker medium texture.
  • Type 1C hair is straight but coarse hair. It’s resistant to curling products like mousse and curl-styling with heat.

Visual representations of what straight hair looks like

Type 1 hair is generally thought of as straight, but type 1b has a light natural wave that gives volume.

Straight hair is often associated with Asian people. And while a study in BioOne found that 93 percent of Chinese people had straight hair, this hair type is also common in Caucasian people and others of European descent. The same study reported that 68 percent of people from Poland also had straight hair, while 57 percent of people from Germany and Denmark also had this hair type.

Type 2 hair: Wavy

A man with wavy, almost curly, hair

Type 2c hair can appear like a mixture of wavy and curly hair.

Type 2 hair is made up of three different hair types, all of which are considered “wavy” and shiny.

  • The 2A hair type is similar to type 1a hair – it’s fine, thin, and soft. But instead of being stick-straight, this hair type forms very loose S-shaped waves. Type 2a hair in men is extremely versatile. It can easily be straightened, curled, or styled to enhance the hair’s natural waves.
  • The 2B hair type starts out straight as it leaves your head, but forms waves about an inch or two away from the scalp. Type 2b hair in men tends to form that quintessential, summery beach bum or surfer dude-type hairstyle. This hair is medium-thickness, like type 1b.
  • Type 2C hair is the most complex hair type within the type 2 category. This coarse hair type is made up of well-defined, loose S-shape waves that frizz easily. Some type 2c hair is mixed, with different locks of hair taking on the appearance of type 2b hair, while other strands form more defined type 3 curls.
Visual representations of what wavy hair looks like

Type 2 hair is similar, but each subtype forms a progressively tighter S-shape.

Type 2 hair is usually easy to work with as it’s not dry and fragile or oily and heavy. People – especially those with long hair – often want to enhance their hair’s volume at the root as long hair can easily weigh down hair at the top of the head.

Type 3 hair: Curly

A man with ringlet curls

Ringlet curls that form S-shapes when stretched are typical for type 3 hair.

Type 3 hair is made up of three different hair types, all of which are considered “curly”. Curls can range from tighter S-shapes to loose spirals of hair. These curls should all form S-shaped patterns when stretched out.

  • The 3a hair type is made up of shiny, loose curls. Type 3a hair in men tends to look similar to type 2c hair. However, the majority of hair in people with this hair type forms spirals and tighter S-shapes which start much closer to the scalp.
  • The 3b hair type is made up of distinct curls that are often referred to as ringlets or loose corkscrew curls. It can be a challenge to style 3b curly hair into styles that aren’t curly or at least wavy. Type 3b hair in men tends to dry out easily, especially if you use gels and other styling products regularly.
  • The 3c hair type is made up of much tighter corkscrew curls. This hair type is one of the newer additions to the Andre Walker hair type system. Type 3c hair in men is very versatile, as you can maintain ringlet curls cropped close to the scalp, maintain longer, natural curls (as long as you moisturize regularly), or grow your hair out and brush it into an afro. 
Visual representations of what curly hair looks like

Types 3a, 3b, and 3c are similar, but each shape forms a progressively tighter spiral.

Type 3 hair is beautiful and unique. However, these curly hair types are often hard to straighten – or maintain in straight styles as they easily form waves and curls if you get them wet, sweat, or expose them to humidity. Too much straightening or processing can also easily damage this hair type. It’s important to moisturize and condition regularly to avoid frizz and hair breakage.

Type 4 hair: Coily

A man with coily hair

People with type 4 hair have tightly-coiled hair that’s prone to shrinkage.

Type 4 hair is made up of three different hair types, which could be described as very tight Z-shaped waves, spring-like curls, or coils. Type 4 hair could be considered to be made up of different types of curls that are tighter-wound. Although coils might be coarse, they also can be made up of very fragile, fine hairs that are tightly packed together.

  • Type 4a hair is full of very tight coils and has the most overlap with 3c hair. Type 4a hair in men may still form an S-shaped pattern when stretched out, but may need to be quite long to do so.
  • Type 4b hair is less of a curl and more of a Z-shape, with the curl pattern bending at sharp angles. Type 4b hair in men is prone to shrinkage, which means it needs to be grown out a fair amount to create any volume.

Type 4c hair is similar to type 4b, but has very tight coils that are hard for the naked eye to see. Type 4c hair in men is the most prone to shrinkage. This hair type is another one of the newer additions to the Andre Walker hair type system.

Visual representations of what coily hair looks like

Type 4a and 4c are made of tight coils, while type 4b hair forms a Z-shape.

Type 4 hair tends to be wiry and fragile. It requires even more moisturizing and care than type 3 hair. This hair type is also often referred to as kinky. However, a thesis published by Georgia State University has made it clear that the word kinky, like the word nappy, is a more of a pejorative term used to refer to tough, coarse, easily tangled hair without any Z-shape or curl pattern.

What different hair types can men have?

Men’s hair is no different to women’s hair – it can be straight, wavy, curly, or coily. That being said, many men wear their hair short. The study in the journal BioOne mentioned that hair type was easiest to define when it was at least 6 centimeters (2.36 inches) in length. This means that if you use clippers on your hair or tend to maintain other similarly short hairstyles, you may struggle to accurately determine your hair type. 

Should different hair products be used depending on hair type?

You should definitely use different hair products depending on your hair type. Fine straight and wavy hair can’t handle heavy products, while curly and coily hair types thrive off of them. In contrast, products made for fine straight and wavy hair are likely to be unsuitable for curly and coily hair types, drying it out and making it more prone to breakage… or simply not working at all.

Hair types 3 and 4

Hair types 3 and 4 need regular conditioning, hydration, and moisturizing. Both hair types can use curl creams and other natural products, like cocoa butter, shea butter, coconut oil, and castor oil. However, people with type 4 hair may need to use these products on a more regular basis.

Type 3 hair has a bit more flexibility, as people with this hair type can also use gels and mousse-type products to define curls. If you like to use these products regularly to avoid frizz, applying gels and mousses along with a curl cream or oil can help define curls without drying your hair out.

Hair type 2

Type 2 hair can use the widest range of products, from styling sprays and mousses to curl creams and leave-in conditioners. The exact products you’ll want to use on your hair depend on your subtype. Type 2c hair may benefit from using a curl cream regularly, but such a product is likely to be too heavy for type 2a hair. Type 2a hair is more likely to benefit from mists and sprays that won’t weigh hair down or make it look greasy.

Hair type 1

Type 1 hair doesn’t need a lot of product if you like to wear it naturally. Whether you’re trying to add waves and volume or just smooth out the frizz, this hair type tends to be the easiest to heat-style. If you’re heat-styling regularly, make sure to use a heat protectant. It’s also important to take care of your hair by hydrating it – whether that’s with leave-in conditioners, hair masks, or another product.

Should I use a specific hair loss treatment based on hair type?

Hair loss treatments aren’t affected by hair type. Any man can use minoxidil, finasteride, or low-level laser therapy. All three of these are approved by the FDA to treat pattern hair loss.

Despite their name, topical hair loss treatments like minoxidil don’t go on your hair. They’re meant to be applied to the skin of your scalp – specifically, the area where you’d like to improve hair regrowth.

Whether you’re using a mist or curling cream, these hair products are meant to be applied to your hair. That means you can apply both your hair loss treatment and your hair products without any issue.

The only product you may want to watch out for is dry shampoo. This product is also meant to be applied to your hair, rather than your scalp, but a lot of people like to apply it to the roots of their head in the hopes of gaining extra volume. If applied too close to the scalp, this product can clog your hair follicles and has the potential to exacerbate hair loss or affect your hair loss treatment.

Will my hair type affect my hair loss treatment?

Hair can be grouped into four main types: straight, wavy, curly, and coily. Each of these hair types has 2-3 subtypes. Your particular subtype is based on the shape your hair makes as it grows out of your scalp and your hair’s texture. 

You should be able to use any hair loss treatment you want regardless of your hair type. FDA-approved products for male pattern hair loss include minoxidil, finasteride, and low-level laser therapy. Out of these three options, only minoxidil is applied directly to the scalp. And not to worry – it shouldn’t interfere with any of your styling products.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

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