How to perform a hair assessment

To perform a hair assessment, you don’t need any special skills or tools…all you need is clean, product free hair; some shed hair from your comb or brush; an open and rational mind; and the most important thing you must have is the ability to accept the things that you might find out about your hair.

When I originally did my self assessment, I washed my hair with a sulfate shampoo to get it clean and free from ANY type of build up. I know a lot of people are scared of shampoo, so if you are 100% following the curly girl method, then you should be fine using a sulfate free shampoo. If you use products with silicones, you will need to use shampoo, and no, and AVC rinse will not remove the silicone buildup…contrary to what a lot of people believe. Once you have cleansed your hair and scalp, allow your hair to dry as unmanipulated as possible. Don’t put it in a ponytail, bun, puff, pull it back…nothing. Just let it be.

Hair while wet (towel dried to stop the drips)

What you want to do is observe your hair while it is wet and as it dries…that’s it. If it helps, snap a few pictures of your hair at various stages of drying for future reference. You want to ask yourself a few questions as you observe your hair *NOTE: these tests should be repeated once the hair is dry*:

1. Determine if there is a curl pattern present: What does my hair look like while wet? Does it have a distinguishable curl or is it just a huge fluffily cloud?

2. Determine the amount of shrinkage: As it dries, does it shrink up and if so, about what percentage of it does shrink up (i.e. does it go from should length to ear length or even shorter)

3. Determine if your hair holds water:  Is your hair drying very fast (50-75% dry in 1-2 hours) or is it holding a lot of water (still soaking wet after 2-3 hours)

4. Determine if your hair has shine vs. sheen: Does your hair appear to be shiny (a sharp reflection of light) or does it appear to have sheen (a low reflection of light). A good way of thinking about it is this: Shine has a wetter look than sheen. Shine glistens and sheen is a little duller.

Here are a few pictures of my hair taken during a repeat hair assessment that I performed this weekend.

<----about 25-30% wet

About 50% dry (notice the shrinkage setting in!)-->
<---about 80% dry (my roots were still really wet!

Now while your hair is drying, you want to look at the shed hairs that you have collected from a comb or brush and ask yourself a few questions about the hairs *I was unable to take pictures of this process....sorry ladies!  If anything seems unclear, leave me a question in the comments section and I'll try my best to explain it*

1. Compare a strand of your hair to a strand of regular sewing thread: If your hair strand is thicker than the thread then you have thick hair strands, if it's the same size you have medium hair strands, if it’s thinner then you have thin hair strands.

2. You also want to check the elasticity of your hair strands. Take a few pieces of shed hair and wet them. Hold one end of one strand in each hand and pull the hair taut to stretch it. If the strand stretches and then returns to normal after you release it, you have good elasticity. If the hair snaps or does not return to its former length, you have low elasticity. You want to test a few strands individually and take the “average” of the tests. *Note….this should be done with a moderate amount of strength….all hair will snap if pulled hard enough.

3. To determine your hair's porosity, grasp a strand of shed hair firmly between your fingers. Slide the thumb and index finger of your other hand from end to scalp (opposite direction as for texture test). If your fingers "catch" going up the strand, or feel like they are ruffling up the hair strand, your hair is overly porous. If it is smooth, you have normal porosity. If your fingers move very fast up the hair strand and it feels exceptionally slick, you have low porosity.

Once your hair is dry and the first set of tests has been repeated, the final test is to determine the DENSITY of your hair. Density refers to the number of hair follicles that are on your head (and the actual number of hair strands that you have). Thin hair would have a smaller number of hair follicles, and the hair might look “spacey” or another way of looking at it is that you can easily see the scalp even if the hair is not parted (most people with thin hair (or less dense hair) complain of their twists being “scalpy”. Those with THICK hair have a larger number of follicles and medium density is obviously in the middle.

*I found this test below online a while back and couldn’t find the original source to quote or link to, however, I found that a lot of ladies on LHCF, and another long hair care site (I don’t remember the name but it was catering to Caucasian ladies) used the method described below. I believe that it is also a part of the Fia hair typing system (which is different from Andre’s but that’s another post).*

To determine the density of your hair, pull all of your hair up into a ponytail in the center of your head (or as much as possible) and secure with an elastic band. Once the hair is secured, take a piece of thread/string and wrap it around the base of the ponytail, and measure the string where the ends touch. Depending on your measurement would determine how dense your hair is:

1. thin- less than 2 in.
2. medium- 2-4 in
3. thick- more than 4 in

Once you have finished your hair assessment you are now armed with the tools you need to hopefully help you determine some key information about your hair. I hope this post is clear….if not….hit me in the comments section!


Anonymous said...

In regards to the whole coarse vs fine bit, are you using #1, strand size for that?

I tend to look at my relatively quick drying time as an indicator of higher than average porosity, and I wondered what your views were on this.

Great post! Very informative and helpful. said...

Thanks! Yes, the size of the hair strands is related to coarseness...because thicker stands tend to feel "rougher" and less silky.

From what I've been reading...quick drying time is realted to porosity...because the top layer of hair (cuticle) is not smooth and closed and it allows water (ie moisture) to escape the hair strands.

LotsaTangles said...

Hello, just wondering if I could do the assessment while transitioning or would it be more beneficial to wait until I'm 100% natural? (I just started transitioning and only have about 2" of new growth)


Anonymous said...

Wow. Thank you so much for this guide. I cant wait to do this on Saturday. This will at least get me started on the science of it all. So far I have been finding some things that work just by pure trial and error.

Winona said...

I don't see why you couldn't do it on transistioning hair...if anything it will help you figure out how to care for the relaxed hair as you transistion to keep it in tip top shape. But you should prob repeat it once you are 100% natural, because the relaxer will affect things like the porisity and elasticity of your hair.

Good Luck with your transistion!

laryssa said...

Wow, this is by far one of the most helpful, informative pieces I've read on natural hair since going natural over a year ago. What you say is SO on point & very helpful in understanding our hair & why certain products do/don't work. Sadly I had to learn much by trial & error (and wasted $$$). Thanks! :)

Onyxcabelo said...

Excellent post!! Very informative!!

LotsaTangles said...

Thanks!! I'm doing my assessment this w/e!! said...

No problem! I'm writing a follow up on what the results mean in terms of hair care...prodcuts to look for/try and things to avoid. Keep an eye out for it ladies and Thanks!

Nelda said...

Oh yes pls! I am soo looking forward to that post!

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Who is Nappy.Curly.Crown?

I've been natural for 23 of my 29 years on this earth and for the past 5 years consecutively. In those past 5 years, natural hair care has become a hobby and passion of mine. I created this space to help decipher the massive amounts of information about natural hair care, specifically the science of natural hair care. I'm a scientist by trade andprofession and my hope is to make this spot the go to location for information on how to get and keep your natural hair healthy.