Hair care for Black women can be extremely turbulent. Over the past few decades, we’ve been tossed back and forth between trending products for luscious curls, must-have routines for healthy hair, and self-appointed hair care experts who shove strict steps to follow for ‘better’ hair down our throats. Yet, with everyone’s hair being different, it’s hard to filter through and find what works best for your own curls, as not all products, routines, or advice found on the internet, specifically TikTok, work for everyone.
Although, the internet hasn’t always been a breeding ground for controversial and overwhelming advice. In the 1990s, Andre Walker, Oprah Winfrey’s hair stylist, invented the hair type chart — a guide to categorizing straight to curly hair types, ranging from 1A (hair that is poker straight) to 4C (tight, kinky coils). The chart redefined the hair industry as we know it, with consumers sorting themselves according to their hair pattern and following the hair rituals suited to their hair type in order to see their curls thrive.
The 1A-4C hair chart is now embedded into our collective hair care psyche. On TikTok, videos about type 4 hair have a combined total of 2.9 billion views on the platform, consisting of how-tos, product recommendations, and styles ‘suited’ to that hair type, and in the main, has been a helpful resource. However, increasingly, Black women online have been asking "what exactly is my hair type?" after feeling like their hair doesn't quite fit in the confines of Walker's hair scale. In a recent video, beauty influencer Taina Pudwill, who says she has 4C hair, claimed "hair type soldiers" made her question her hair type because of its ability to be "slicked back" and was now confused whether she had 4C hair at all. "I think I have a mixture of 4C and 4B but with the hair charts I see online, my hair is leaning more towards 4C," she wrote in the caption.
“Most people have multiple hair types and type does not equal hair need.”
Ebuni Ajiduah , TRICHOLOGIST
@tainatheano What is my hair type?? The hair type soldiers got me questioning my hair type. I think I have a mixture of 4C and 4B but with the hair charts I see online, my hair is leaning more towards 4C. I have high porosity hair which helps it stay softer longer. #type4hair #4chairstyles #4ctiktok #type4hairstyles ♬ love nwantinti (ah ah ah) - CKay
Despite the hair type chart’s popularity amongst hair stylists, brands and product developers, especially when aimed at the Black hair community, many have begun to question whether it is still relevant. Looking back, some of Walker’s advice to those with type 4 hair has been considered as “texturist." In an interview with Elle Magazine in 2011, he said that, unlike 1A-3C hair which is characterized as straight, wavy, and looser hair textures, type 4 kinky hair has limited styling options. “That's the only hair type that I suggest altering with professional relaxing," he stated, also claiming that his advice was “based on how to best achieve strong, healthy hair." As a professional hair stylist who has worked with one of the most influential Black women in the media world, Walker’s comments are detrimental to Black women with kinkier hair textures who want to stay natural — especially given what we now know about the long-term health implications of regularly relaxing textured hair.
Last year, Unbothered questioned whether we still need Andre Walker's popularised hair scale, and hair brands and hairstylists seem to be following in a similar direction. In the article "Do Black Women Still Need The 1A-4C Hair Scale?", journalist Banseka Kayembe highlighted that the hair scale's white and Eurocentric foundations have left Black women feeling like they need to manipulate their curls into a looser texture to make their hair “more desirable." Because of this, it can be difficult to break away from the obsession with hair patterns both online and in salons.
“Customers simply aren’t clued up on porosity, moisture absorption, density and hair width, which are such important factors in helping understand why their hair behaves the way it does."
Badria Ahmed, holy curls founder
With the launch of her London-based salon and trichology center Untype, trichologist and author of The Healthy Hair Handbook, Ebuni Ajiduah wants to free Black women from “wrong and conflicting information” surrounding hair typing and the impact it has had on the way they view their hair.
“Most people have multiple hair types and type does not equal hair need,” she tells Unbothered. “There is so much wrong and conflicting information out there so, through my salon, I wanted to build a space that takes away all the guesswork and undoes a lot of the trauma Black women and children often face when visiting a salon.”
Ebuni goes on to explain that hair typing has often led to confusion among her clients, who felt they were “limited” to what they can do and failed to get “intended results” from following recommended routines solely based on their hair types.
She says: “The more you get to know your hair on an individual level, the easier and quicker it often gets [to style]. I love helping clients who feel stuck because of their hair type and I’m able to give them more freedom and drastically cut down wash day or styling time, reintroducing them to their hair and what it is capable of.
“I would also encourage them to visit the salon for a consultation so we can get them on the express road to the hair they really want.”
There are a few new brands that are ditching the one-size-fits-all approach that the hair type system encourages Black women to adopt. Black-British hair brand Afrocenchix claimed in 2019 that “strict hair typing systems are not scientific” and recommend looking at “hair texture, density, and current condition” for more accurate information about your hair. Meanwhile, curl brand Trepadora has taken a “more simplistic approach to hair/curl typing” by determining whether hair texture is wavy, curly, tightly spiraled or coily.
Holy Curls are going that one step further and ensuring they’re re-educating their customers. The brand’s Curls 2.0 campaign champions the uniqueness of our curls and provides educational sources and a nifty personal curl routine finder to help build a personalized routine based on hair health, with the help of holistic practices and their growing hair range.
On their website, Holy Curls details the importance of porosity, density, and the diameter of your curls in order to determine how best to use their products. They also have in-depth breakdowns for their products that show how to add moisture, strength, and conditioning elements to your hair.
Founder Badria Ahmed explains that she felt that it was Holy Curls’ “responsibility” to bring education to the forefront of the conversation around curl care. “Customers simply aren’t clued up on porosity, moisture absorption, density, and hair width, which are such important factors in helping understand why their hair behaves the way it does,”
“Education has long been missing in the curl care space and we feel that it’s our responsibility to bring this education to the forefront in everything we do and to help drive change. As part of our CURLS 2.0 initiative, we recently launched the Routine Finder on our website which helps to identify a person's complete texture type and guides them in how to use our products step by step for best results.”
Having tried the Holy Curls range, it’s clear that the brand is passionate about educating Black women about the health of their hair, rather than simply promoting a new product. For example, their hair serum, which was released last month, has a simple, step-by-step guide on the side of the product, making it easy to use straight out of the pack. On the packaging, you can also find recommendations on when is best to use the product in your routine based on your hair porosity.
Their nine-step Routine Finder identifies curls based on how the strands feel, absorb water, and how quickly hair dries. As well as feel and appearance, they ask about styling, more specifically, how much heat is applied to your hair, and whether it’s color-treated or chemically relaxed. There’s extensive information offered once you’ve been given your personalized routine and I was able to learn characteristics like ‘high porosity’ and ‘low density’ through informative yet digestible bites of information on their page, including how to use this newfound knowledge.
For Black women who are apprehensive about leaving their hair type behind or feel like the type chart has never really served them, it’s comforting to know that brands are finally bringing re-education and the importance of hair health to the forefront of the conversation around Black hair care.
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