Hair Typing: The Deal

We don't like to categorize our heads of hair on Nappturality, trying to maintain that ALL hair no matter how kinky, curly, wavy and zig zagged it is, is GOOD hair.

However, it is sometimes necessary to differentiate hair types due to the differences in care and product usage necessary. What I don't want to do is bring in an ste in stone *labelling* system to categorize our hair in general terms, for instance, the "Andre" system of Type 4 hair.

Andre's type 4 hair was a blanket generalization of our hair which was said to be the "worst" hair out of his category system.

Eg: 4a = well at least you have some coils. 4b = get the straightener out and 4c = just shave it off and buy a wig.

What people don't realize is that it is rare to have just ONE Andre hairtype on your head. Andre just says it's a "4" and lumps us all into a,b,c or z depending on the level of nappiness and undesirability (badness). 

So there's another system: the LOIS system.

  • L = l shaped strands
  • O = round circular coils
  • I = straight with angular or sharp bends
  • S = s curls

Nappturality tried using this for a few months but it did not catch on. However I still feel it is the best characterization of our hair yet. I can guarantee you, you have these types of strands on your head in great amounts. No matter what "type" of hair you have.

Most napptural hair falls within the LOIS system. You may have a combination of all these strand types all over your head, or just dominated by one. The hair on top may be different from the hair underneath. Then there's the kitchen and hairline...

If you must use one of Andre's system types to name your hair, it is your choice. However keep in mind where this came from and learn more about your hair. You will find that that simplistic system does not do your beautiful crown the justice it deserves.

After washing your hair, pull a single strand out of your head, from underneath is the best place, since it is less likely to be damaged by the sun or dryness. Place it on a contrasting surface and study it... see how it falls. Does it curl up like slinky? Does it turn into a bunch of S's? Does it have sharp angles? Does it stay straight, with the occasional bend? When you roll it between your fingers does it "catch" or is it a "smooth" roll?

This is your first step in telling you how and why your hair does what it does.

Hair Types if you MUST

We come in all shapes, sizes and colors... and our hair comes in all shapes, widths and textures. It is difficult to categorize hair because of all the variation that occurs. However, attempts have been made to categorize in an effort to help people better know their hair.

Black/afro-type hair is difficult to categorize for a few reasons:

1) our hair differs in pattern - coils, springs. zig zags, s-curves
2) our hair differs in pattern size - watch spring to chalk size
3) our hair differs in density - sparse, dense
4) our hair differs in strand diameter - fine, medium, wide
5) our hair differs in feel - cottony, wooly, spongy

And on one head it is possible to have all 5 category differences represented somewhere, each reacting differently to the same routine.

Andre Walker, Oprah's stylist, came up with a system in his book, which put all hair into categories. Number 1 being straight Asian type hair and 4 being "kinky" or "nappy" or "tightly coiled" African American type hair. He then divided the numbers with a lettering system, 'a' being the straightest within a category, 'b' being the next curly.. etc and so on down.

Shine - hair that reflects light along its surface.

Sheen - hair that sparkles as light bounces off it.


L = Bend

O = Curl

I = Straight

S = Wave

Strands can beThick, Medium or Thin/Fine

One half of a piece of inexpensive sewing thread (such as the kind that is contained in those palm sized personal sewing kits) split in two is about the thickness of a medium strand size of human hair. If you hair is larger than this, then your strand size is thick. If you hair is smaller than the split thread, then your hair strand is thin, or fine. If you want to compare your hair strand to a split piece of thread, it can be done by moving the thread back and forth between your thumb and forefinger holding the free end taunt. 


Thready - low sheen, high shine, low frizz

Wiry - sparkly sheen, low shine, low frizz

Cottony - low sheen, low shine, high frizz

Spongy - high sheen, low shine, high frizz

Silky - low sheen, high shine, low frizz

    • Thready texture of hair usually has a low sheen, with high shine if the hair is held taunt (as in a braid), with low frizz. Wets easily but water dries out quickly.
    • Wiry hair textures have sparkle sheen, with low shine and low frizz. Water beads up or bounces off the hair strands. Hair never seems to get fully wet.
    • Cottony hair texture will have a low sheen, a high shine if the hair is held taunt and has high frizz. Absorbs water quickly but does not get thoroughly wet very fast.
    • Spongy hair has a high sheen with low shine with a compacted looking frizz. Absorbs water before it gets thoroughly wet.
    • Silky hair has low sheen, a very high shine, with a lot or low frizz. Easily wets in water.

How to determine which hair type you have:

  1. Remove a single strand of the most common type of hair on your head. Aim for 70%, so if you have different textures, use the most common texture on your head.
  2. The hair should be freshly washed without products applied to it and rinsed in cold water. Or, gently rinse a single hair with a little dish detergent and rinse in cold water.
  3. Lay the hair on an absorbent paper towel to dry.
  4. When the hair is completely dry, look at the pattern without touching it.

If the hair has all bends, right angles and folds with little to no curve then you are L.

If the strand is rolled up into the shape of one or several zeros like a spiral, then you are O.

If the hair lies mostly flat with no distinctive curve or bend you are I.

If the strand looks like a wavy line with hills and valleys then you are S.

It will be common to have a combination of the LOIS letters, (with more dominant) which can help you determine which daughter of LOIS you are. If you cannot see one letter over the others, then combine the letters. Example: LO or IL or OS.

With all this in mind, we'll combine Andre's system with LOIS for a general category, then further divide us into more detail. It is important to understand that every head of hair is different and it's impossible to include everyone's exact hair. A close-as mentality is best when viewing other women's hair.


We have included some pictures here of type 3 to 4 combination, napptural and biracial type hair. It's important to address here because these hairtypes found in the Black community, too. 

S-curls/coils. Combed or brushed, it becomes a light, fluffy 4a afro. Usually a lot of product is needed to maintain definition in this hairtype.

O-shaped strands. Curly AA hair. Very curly, but not coily, It also has a high shine factor which indicates more rounded hair strands, rather than flat, ribbon-like 4a hair strands.

I-shaped strands.Wavy to straight AA hair, with some corkscrew curls, high shine factor, curls are wavy and corkscrewed rather than coily.

Multiple textures on one head:

Combed, damp product-free hair.


(Dominant OS pattern, although L and I may also be present)

The first pic is my combed, dried 4a, OS hair. In the second pic it's dripping wet.

4a-OS dense hair tends to feel spongy.

4a-OS fine hair tends to feel cottony.

4a-OS wide strand diameter tends to feel wiry.

OS hair coils into springs and s-curls when wet, with the occasional spiral curl.


  • These springs can range in diameter from chalk to pen spring size.
  • {googleads}The smaller diameter the coils, the more shrinkage is expected.
  • These springs and coils may disappear when hair is dry or combed/picked.
  • Hair may lose it's sheen when combed and/or dried, needing a shine product to revitalise it.
  • This hairtype can be sheeny or shiny when glossing products are used.
  • It doesn't straighten easily if the strands are coarse.
  • When it grows long it sits more outward than downward.
  • 4a hairtype may hold a shake & go style and coil definition with the right products.
  • It holds wet twists and comb coils tightly and very well for long periods.
  • Stays moisturized with the right products
  • This hairtype may not hold a press well because it reacts quickly to moisture.


(Dominant LI pattern, although O and S may also be present)


The first pic is close cropped 4b hair. The second is longer 4b hair.

4b-LI dense hair tends to feel coarse if strands are wide.

4b-LI fine diameter hair tends to feel cottony and slightly rough.

4b-LI wide strand diameter tends to feel wiry and coarse.

4b-LI hair is the most fragile because of zig zag angles of the hair strands

The smaller the zig zags, the more shrinkage is expected.

4b-LI normally doesn't shrink as much as a similar pattern size 4a.

4b-LI does not reflect light easily so it doesn't have a natural shine.

It tends to straighten easily with heat but may flatten out before puffing out in humidity.

It will shrink upwards and inwards when drenched.

4b-LI tends to grow outward and sit downward once it has length.

4b-LI may be a combination of very small, tight coils and zig zags.

4b-LI does not have coil definition so may look fuzzy at the ends.

It holds wet twists & coils but may need to be re-done more often than 4a to hold.

This hairtype tends towards dryness and needs extra moisturizing to maintain softness.

Boar or natural bristle brushes are good for this hairtype to achieve a sleek look and distribute natural oils while still being gentle on the hair.

Because of the zig zags and tight coils, this hairtype is perfect for locking quickly.


Last modified on Saturday, 25 November 2017 05:34
Patricia Gaines

Patricia Gaines aka Deecoily is the founder and creator of Nappturality in 2002, the beginning of the natural hair movement. Since 2000 she has been blogging on all things natural hair, Black culture and politics.

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