We’ve already looked at hair porosity and texture which are the two main properties to determine about your curly hair. When you know these, you can truly start to understand your hairs needs better and therefore make more informed choices about your products. However, there are two other hair properties that you often see talked about in the curly world – density and elasticity. These aren’t as important to know as your texture and porosity but they can still help you with your hair care routine so I’ll explain both of these today.
Simply put, density is just the amount of hair that you have or the number of strands on your head. It is usually a measurement of the number of individual hair strands on a section of your scalp e.g. one square inch. You can have high, medium or low density hair which is often referred to as ‘thick’, ‘medium’ or ‘thin’ (which is why you may find confusingly that you have fine, thick hair – your individual strands are fine but there are lots of them). Hair colour can play a part in density too. Redheads normally have the least amount of hairs, blondes have the most, while black and brown are somewhere in the middle.
Testing Your Density
To accurately test your density you’d need to count every individual strand of hair in an area of your head. An easier and less time consuming way is to simply observe your hair.
- When you hair is dry and un-styled, hanging loosely in its natural shape, look at it from all angles. If you can see your scalp at any point on your head you have low density. Conversely if you see no scalp at all you have high density.
- Put you hair into a pony and smooth it out as much as possible. Measure the width of the circumference of the ponytail.
– If the width is less than 2 inches, you have low density
– If the width is more than 4 inches, you have high density
– If the width is between 2 and 4 inches, you have medium density
- You can also section part of your hair to look at how much hair is there. Section off a small area of hair and look at your scalp – if it’s hard to see and completely covered you have high density hair. If you can see your scalp very easily its low density. If it’s somewhere in between you have medium density.
- Where there is a ‘parting’ in your hair from sectioning it you can also observe the parting. Is your parting very narrow and tight – this is high density. Is it a wide and shallow – this is low density. Again somewhere in between would indicate a medium density.
Why Density Matters
Knowing your hairs density is helpful when choosing products or deciding on hair styles.
- Light Density: Using light products that won’t weigh the hair down are better, you can use mousse over gel as mousse is volumising and will create the illusion of more hair. Try out conditioners and leave-ins that are volumising as these contain thickening agents to make hair seem denser. With styles, if you have most of the volume on the sides of the face, it will give it the illusion of being wider with more volume e.g. round shaped cuts.
- Medium Density: You can play around with a range of products depending on what you prefer – volume or longer weighted curls. Again mousse will give volume while gels and creams will add weight to lessen volume. You can try various styles, longer curls for weight or shorter layers for more volume.
- High Density: Heavier products tend to work better as they help to minimize volume, hold/clump curls together and help them to hold their shape. Gels, creams and butters are all good choices. High density hair looks great with layers – think Beyoncé with her layered golden curls.
This is just a measure of how stretchy your hair is. More specifically it’s a measure of your hairs ability to stretch and return to its original length without snapping. Elasticity determines how well your curls hold their shape as a lack of elasticity will take the ‘bounce’ out of your curls.
All hair is elastic but it changes depending on the health of your hair. Normal elasticity in hair will allow wet hair to stretch to double its length whilst dry hair will stretch to about 20% of its length. You can determine your elasticity by carrying out the following simple test on WET hair:
- Find some individual strands of hair from various parts of your head. Hold the strand and pull gently.
- If you hair stretched and returned to its original length without breaking you have normal elasticity.
- If the hair breaks or it doesn’t return to its original length then you have low elasticity.
What Changes Hair Elasticity?
Low elasticity hair is brittle and breaks easily. Its limp, won’t hold its curl very well and tangles easily. It is usually the result of some form of chemical process or heat damage, for example colouring, relaxers, perms, straightening or blow drying. Being heavy handed with wet hair can also affect the elasticity. Wet hair can stretch further (hence why your hair is longer wet) but if you over stretch it in this state by rough handling or pulling/combing too aggressively you can push it past the point where it can easily bounce back or even break it altogether. If you imagine those gum snake sweets – you can pull them and they spring back pretty easily, but if you pull them too much, the gum becomes deformed and over stretched or they break completely. Your hair strands work in a similar way.
How To Improve Elasticity
The simple answer is to try and prevent the sorts of things that damage your hair elasticity in the 1st place. Be gentle with your hair, especially when it is wet. De-tangle with your fingers or gently with a comb. Making sure that your hair is coated with conditioner when de-tangling is also good – it means you have more slip, you need less force to de-tangle and your hair is stretched less. Try to minimise harmful heat and chemical processes, especially if you’re hair has a low elasticity to begin with. Regular deep treatments and/or protein treatments can help too.