Shampoo & Condition by Number? No Thanks!

by Ebony Clark-Bomani

"What's your hair type?" Many people with textured hair rely on the highly popular hair-typing system, but I do not find it reliable when is comes to determining how to properly care for one's hair. For example, my hair (just looking at it) might be considered 4a in some areas and 3c in least that's my short answer to the hair type question. A good friend of mine has a curl pattern almost identical to mine in appearance, but if you touch our hair you will find that hers is coarser and mine feels more spongy. What works for her hair does not work for mine and vice versa. Just because you share a similar or seemingly identical curl pattern with a curl friend, it does not mean that you're able to use the same products or follow the same regimen. Honestly, I do not use the system for anything other than describing the APPEARANCE of someone's hair texture, or lack, thereof.

TO ME, the best way to determine how to care for one's hair is to take three important factors into consideration. Other than climate/season etc., my top three variables  are: texture, density, and porosity.

Texture usually refers to the shape and diameter (or size) of each hair follicle. Our hair texture can range anywhere from pin-straight to extremely curly. Follicles that are round in cross-section give rise to straight hair. Those out of which wavy and curly hair grows are oval. Very tightly coiled hair is due to the nearly flat, ribbon-like structure of the follicles. The size of the follicles determines if the individual hair strands are coarse/thick, medium, or fine/thin. Large follicles produce coarse/thick hairs. Small follicles produce fine/thin hairs. It is that simple! Equally important to our individual hairs' thickness, the number of follicles on our scalp determines the actual number of hairs crowning our head.

Density refers to how MUCH of that hair you have on your head.  Lots of hairs, whether individually thick or thin, equal thick hair. Sparse hair equals thin hair, even if the individual hairs themselves are thick. On average, our heads are covered with over 100,000 follicles.  Our hair thickness results from a combination of both the size of the follicles themselves and how many of them line our scalp. 


Porosity is the measure of the hair's ability to absorb moisture. This is determined by the condition of the hair's cuticle layer and is rated low, normal, or high. In normal, healthy hair, the cuticle is compact and inhibits the penetration of excess moisture into and out of the hair shaft. When the cuticle is overly compact and prevents the penetration of moisture; it has low porosity. Product and chemical absorption is dependent on porosity as well.  Be highly cautious if applying chemicals (i.e. color), especially if your hair is highly porous. The chemicals are likely to "take" faster than usual and the hair can be over-processed and damaged very quickly. Just as fast as highly porous hair absorbs moisture, it releases just as fast. On the contrary, hair with low porosity can be difficult to relax, perm, or color.

In short, you can have a head full of thin, curly hairs with normal porosity or very few thick strands of wavy hair that's highly porous...the combinations are endless. As you can see, there is so much more to it than "shampoo and condition by number". Stamping a number/letter combination on it, puts your hair in a box. You must take into consideration texture, density, and porosity. Coarse, dry, damaged hair will always need more intense conditioning whether the hair is straight, wavy, coily, or curly. Fine, dry, damaged hair, whether straight or curly will also need an intense conditioning---just not the same kind as it's coarser haired friends. As with everything, it varies from person to person. THESE are the factors that determine what products and regimens work best on YOUR hair. However, if you MUST use the numeric system to categorize your hair, please take the time to know your hair's most important characteristics.

Much love, joy, peace, and happiness!

Ebony Clark-Bomani