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Are you struggling to understand the various types of hair textures and terminologies? Perhaps you’re unsure about the distinction between texture and curl patterns, or the meaning of terms like fine, medium, and coarse hair.
If so, you’re not alone. To help clear up the confusion, we’ve created this informative guide using science-based terms to help you understand these differences.
Extensive scientific research has been conducted in the field of hair care science, which is a significant topic in the personal care industry.
We as consumers have an interest in learning and understanding the technical terms related to hair care, as described in the scientific literature to help us make informed decisions when selecting products or styling procedures.
Unfortunately, some of these terms are misunderstood and used incorrectly leading to misconceptions, so we’d like to take this opportunity to clarify the differences between types of hair textures and other related terminology.
We will explain important technical terms related to hair care and their differences, so let’s review the different types of hair textures and other terms together.
Hair texture is defined as “hair fibers having some degree of curls, twists, or coils while curl pattern describes “the shape of curls”. 1
“Textured hair” is a term often used to describe hair fibers that have curls. This can include hair that is only slightly wavy, very curly, or extremely coiled and kinky.
In scientific literature, hair texture is a broad term often used in scientific literature to describe various characteristics such as the diameter of the hair fiber, its curvature, and the degree of curls.
In recent times, the term “texture” has been used to refer to the curly hair fibers that are commonly found in people with Hispanic, Latin, and Afro backgrounds.
Hair texture is important for both formulators and consumers because people from different ethnic groups have varying degrees of curliness, as well as differences in diameter, moisture content, and porosity.
Thus, hair fibers of varying textures require different levels of moisture and conditioning.
For example, Afro-textured hair is known for its dryness, fragility, and difficulty in combing and managing due to its tightly curled, coiled, and kinky texture. Therefore, there is a specific market segment dedicated to products designed for this hair type. 2–3
Hair density and hair thickness are two distinct terms that are sometimes incorrectly used interchangeably to refer to the same thing.
Hair density refers to “the number of hair fibers per unit area of the scalp surface.” Essentially, it defines how closely and compact the fibers are on the scalp.
In contrast, hair thickness describes the “diameter of the hair fiber”.4
The two terms are quite different from each other representing two different scenarios. Hair density refers to the amount of hair present and is an important factor in determining hair loss or baldness.
In scientific literature, we often come across the technical term “Hair Thinning”, which also means hair loss with decreasing hair density over the scalp.
Both men and women commonly experience hair loss, which is measured by scientists using hair density as a metric. This is typically determined through visual or image analysis of a selected segment of the scalp.
Individuals who have low hair density can benefit from anti-hair loss treatments that are available in the form of various herbal and chemical actives, specifically designed to address the issue of decreasing hair density.
Hair thickness (Thick Hair) is measured by calculating the diameter of the fiber. This is generally carried out under the microscope with a graduated scale bar. A fiber image can also be used to obtain its diameter.
Hair fibers are not round and have some degree of ellipticity. Curly hair has a higher degree of ellipticity compared to straight hair fibers.
The ellipticity of Afro hair fibers is the highest compared to other hair types. Additionally, the thickness of hair varies from the roots to the tips, with hair being thickest at the roots and gradually becoming thinner towards the tips.
At the tip (ends of hair), the hair is the thinnest. This is due to the aging factor as hair loses its upper cuticle layer due to repeated aggressive combing, and brushing as well as UV exposure.
Knowing the thickness (diameter) of hair fibers for any specific group of people is crucial for creating tailored hair care products. This is because hair fibers with different diameters require varying levels of hydration and conditioning.
“Fine, medium, and coarse” are terms used to describe three different types of hair fibers.5
These terms refer to the nature of the fiber, its texture, as well as its diameter.
● Fine Hair – has a small diameter and a smooth outermost cuticle surface. It feels soft and smooth to the touch without offering any friction.
● Coarse Hair – is the opposite of fine hair. Coarse hair has a thick diameter and a rough surface, which makes it feel rough to the touch and indicates a damaged cuticle surface.
● Medium Hair – lies in the middle between fine and coarse hair. It has a medium range of its diameter and has some moderate extent of surface roughness.
These three types of hair fibers differ in diameter, surface properties, moisture content, and cuticle damage. It is important to identify your type of hair fiber to create a personalized hair care routine.
It is important to note that curliness and curl patterns are not the same thing. Fine hair can have a curl pattern, just as coarse hair can be straight and Caucasian.
Furthermore, even straight Asian hair can be textured and considered fine.
To determine their hair type, individuals can follow basic do-it-yourself methods.
● Take a whole-length fiber (maybe a broken fiber from your comb or brush).
● Place it on a white blank paper for better visualization.
● Leave the fiber in its natural form, do not stretch it.
● Take a picture.
● The degree of curliness will be easy to identify. Closely analyze the number of curls along the fiber length. Is it straight, lightly wavy (1-2 curves), or excessively curly (appearing as a coil)? Is it fine, medium, or coarse?
● Take the same fiber and run two fingers along the strand, while trying to assess its smoothness.
● Also, try to assess its diameter.
● As a control (comparison), repeat this experiment using cotton or wool fiber.
Once you know your hair type, you can create a personalized hair care routine tailored to your needs.
We as consumers are increasingly looking for personalized hair care products to address our daily grooming needs as the Hair Care industry continues to rapidly evolve.
To meet this demand, we are also becoming more aware of the fundamentals of our hair, its physics, physical and chemical properties, as well as the ingredients used in hair care products.
Understanding the terms fine, medium, and coarse hair is important to determine the suitable care for each type of texture.
This knowledge can help us select the right products for our hair, and make sure that it is getting enough hydration and nourishment.
Using inappropriate products can lead to dryness, split ends, breakage, and overall unhealthy hair. Thus, knowing the terms can help individuals to make informed decisions about their hair care routine.
1. Mcmullen, R. L.; Gillece, T.; Schiess, T., Physicochemical Properties of Textured Hair. J. Cosmet. Sci. 2021, 72, 711-731.
2. MAO, I., Caucasian Hair, Negro Hair, and. J. Soc. Cosmetic Chemists 1966, 17, 769-787.
3. Franbourg, A.; Hallegot, P.; Baltenneck, F.; Toutain, C.; Leroy, F., Current research on ethnic hair. J. Am. Acad. Dermatol. 2003, 48 (6), S115-S119.
4. Zavik, C.; Milliquent, J., Hair Structure, Function, and Physicochemical Properties In The Science of Hair Care, 2nd ed.; Bouillon, C.; Wilkison, J., Eds. Taylor & Francis Group, LLC: London, 2005; pp 29-35.
5. Marsh, J. M.; Gray, J.; Tosti, A., Healthy Hair. Springer International Publishing: 2015.
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