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Curl Typing System Cheat Sheet - Descriptions Of All Major Hair Systems

Since 1983 the famous Queen Of Curl - Ouidad - has been educating the world about curly hair.   One of the ways Ouidad has helped people with natural textures to tame their curls is to help them understand their hair type so they can then find the right naturally textured cut, how to shampoo, the best curl products to use and related natural texture hair care tips and techniques.

(Image of Kristen Bell with strick straight strands.  Kristen is known to have fine hair which is naturally straight - DC Media - All Rights Reserved)

Understanding Your Hair Type

A key part of anyone with natural textured hair is to try and understand what type of hair they really have.  Is it naturally wavy with some curls (my own hair), naturally curly with big curls and a few waves, tightly curled without a wave in sight or kinky curly?  Maybe it's a combination of all of the above or none of the above.

Hairdressers Have Used Hair Classification And Typing Systems For Many Years

Every head of natural waves, curls and kinks are like fingerprints, completely unique.  However, without some sort of guidelines it's difficult, especially for the naturally textured novices to find their way.  Natural textures are part of a general hair texture classification system which has been in place since almost the beginning of hair dressing days.

Standard Hairdressing Categories

Hairdressers have always classified hair into basic categories such as type (fine/thin, medium, thick, very thick), texture (straight, wavy, curly, kinky) and length (short, medium, long, very long).  There are other hair classification systems which have been utilized for many years to help the hairdresser understand the best way to cut, style and care for their client's hair.

(Image of Jennifer Aniston - The iconic actress is known to have naturally wavy tresses with medium bend - DC Media - All Rights Reserved)

As the world of naturally textured hair has exploded with a vast number of curl and natural hair experts jumping into the mix, many of the curl gurus and related companies brought their own unique curl typing or natural hair defining systems.  Hair manufacturers have developed products for natural textured people based around curl typing systems.

Mizani's Curly Typing System

Mizani is one of the more notable manufacturers with a more known natural texture typing systems.  However, many manufacturers who specialize in natural texture products do organize their offerings around texture types and profiles.

With the support of world renowned scientists in the United States and France, MIZANI  pioneered the Natural Curl Key™.

(Image of Leela James - DC Media - All Rights Reserved)

After years of research and testing, MIZANI laboratories defined global hair types based on specific-shape criteria and utilizing a scientific approach to measuring features of human-hair strands, including curve diameter, curl index, number of twists and number of waves.

This research resulted in the identification of eight distinct hair types worldwide.  The categories are listed below:

The MIZANI Natural Curl Key™

The MIZANI Natural Curl Key™ is an easy-to-use reference guide that allows professional stylists to identify the hair type of any client and determine its key characteristics and special needs, as well as the most beneficial care and service suggestions.

Type I -     Straight to minimal wave

Type II -   Open Wave.  Loose S-shaped curves

Type III - Windy.  Distinct S-shaped curves with uniform wave pattern

Type IV -  Curly.  Defined, mixed curl patterns: loops to spirals; ringlets to corkscrews

Type V -    Very Curly. Defined curl with S-shapes forming into coils

Type VI -   Coiled.  Loose afro-medium coils close to the scalp

Type VII - Very Coiled - Tight afro-distinct, springy coils closer to scalp

Type VIII - Zig-zag coiled - Extremely tight afro-interlocking coils and zig-zag patterns

(Image of curly girl Melina Kanakaredes - DC Media - All Rights Reserved)

Ouidad's Curl Typing System

Besides creating a trademarked curly hair cutting system and a range of great products (available at and the original curly hair stylist created a system way back before 1983 for defining and typing curls.  Ouidad generally classifies curls into the following categories:  Wavy, Curly, Tight-Kinky and Kids.

[amazon-product text="Curl Talk: Everything You Need to Know to Love and Care for Your Curly, Kinky, Wavy, or Frizzy Hair" type="text"]0609808370 [/amazon-product]

Andre Walker's Curl Typing System

In 1997 Andre Walker took the standard hairdresser texture classes and expanded it into curl typing.  Andre took the definition of curl types to a whole new level with his book Andre Talks Hair.  The famous hairstylist for Oprah classified hair into man categories of Straight (Type 1), Wavy (Type 2), Curly (Type 3) and Kinky (Type 4). [amazon-product text="Andre Talks Hair" type="text"]0684824566[/amazon-product]

Within the Wavy, Curly and Kinky categories he took it  a step further by creating and defining subcategories (A, B, C) within some of the major 1-4 Categories.  While Andre was the creator of the natural texture typing, the Internet took it to even new levels.  Many naturally textured people on the Web took Andre's subcategories of natural curls and kinks and added their own details.

Lorraine Massey's Curl Typing System

Lorraine made waves on the web when she introduced her Curly Girl book in 2001 which was published by Workman Publishing Company.

The beautiful blonde British born curly girl hairstylist identifies three types of curls: Corkscrew, Botticelli, Wavy.

Although Lorraine has her own classification system, when I talked to her about curl typing systems she explained her categories should only be used as a general rule of thumb to help naturally textured people develop the best treatment programs for their tresses.

(Image of Nicole Kiddman - DC Media - All Rights Reserved)

Barbara Lhotan's Curl Typing System

What I have always loved best about Barbara Lhotan in the ten years I've worked with her is how much she loves all types of hair from stick straight to kinky curly.  A senior educator and long time platform artist for Paul Mitchell, she has studied natural textures from all aspects.  Barbara has great respect for Ouidad, having taking some classes from her and meeting her personally.

Barbara's take on Ouidad is that she is "brilliant" with regard to her knowledge of natural textures.  Whenever Barbara and I get together we always talk non-stop about hair, but ultimately we find ourselves talking about natural textures.

(Image of Oprah - Andre Walker's naturally curly haired celeb client who helped inspired his Andre Walking Curl System - DC Media - All Rights Reserved)

Her own curl typing system is based upon the idea that there really is not natural texture type because all natural texture is very unique.  Her advice to me has always been to look at each head of natural waves, curls or kinks and a unique pattern and work from there.

Of course for a hairstylist Barbara's philosophy is excellent but for hair consumers who want to try and learn how to care for their natural texture, it may not be as helpful as having a basic guide system.

L.O.I.S. African American Natural Texture Typing System

This popular curly typing system basically deals with Straight, Wavy, Curly, Kinky and Nappy categories.  It also takes into account how hair type (thin/fine, medium, thick, very thick) can impact the various top categories.  It is helpful in helping those with natural textures which don't easily fit into the Ouidad, Walker, Massey or other Curl Type Categories and Systems.

This system which is very comprehensive and somewhat complex is based around the letters L. O. I. S. which stands for L = Bend, O = Curl, I = Straight and S = Wave.  In addition to Bend, Curl, Straight and Wave is the strand thickness including the categories of thin, medium and thick.

Combining these two main categories are additional detailed definitions of natural textured hair including:

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

Shine - hair that reflects light along its surface.

Sheen - hair that sparkles as if filled with light

African or Black hair (I mean no disrespect but am following common current terms) is difficult to categorize for a few reasons and differences from Caucasian, white or European textures.  The differences include:

-  It may include diverse types of hair and may have coils, springs, zig zags,s-curves or other

-  Unique pattern size ranging from curl spring to chalk size diameter of the curls

-  Wide range in density - from sparse to extremely dense

-  Strand diameter differences from fine, medium and wide to very wide

-  Hair feel ranging from cottony, wooly, spongy to hard and glassy

Fia's Hair Typing System - Straight To Curly

Fia was a contributor to one of the early long hair related forum messageboards and took the time to write up her own theory of how hair should be typed.    Her system was based around Classifiers and included the following:

1.  First Classifier -  Hair Texture - Curliness (or lack thereof)  This include Straight,  Wavy, Curly, Really Curly

2.  Second Classifier - Hair Type - Fine, Medium, Coarse

3.  Third Classifier - Overall Volume Of Hair based on circumference of hair.    Classified as thin, normal and thick)

Other Curl Typing Classification Systems

Although the most popular and common classification systems include Andre Walker and L.O.I.S, there are other less known classification systems besides Ouidad, Curly Girl (Lorraine Massey) and Mizani.  Some natural curl experts have hammered out their own unique curl or natural texture systems.

If you know of other curl typing systems I have not included please email me at [email protected] and let me know.  I am always searching for as much information as possible regarding natural waves, curls and textures.

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