The Difference Between Coarse And Kinky Hair
Photo: SZA Instagram

“I thought that because I have kinky hair by default that my hair is coarse. I’ve been treating my hair like it’s coarse forever because that’s what my mom said I had. She always said I had tough and rough hair. Come to find out, I have fine hair! I think this has a lot to do with why I’m not retaining length because I’m too hard on my hair. Since I found out through a friend who told me my hair was actually not like hers even though it looks exactly the same but feels different, I’ve stopped using my paddle brush because I notice my hair is breaking from it but her’s is not! Can you have kinky hair and still be fine?” – Alicia

This is a common misconception about naturally kinky hair. This has a lot to do with two things-a still wide-swept cultural ignorance of how to take care of our natural hair and because kinky natural hair looks tough when in actuality it’s not; though I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that.

Understanding the difference between coarse and kinky hair is important, but it may surprise you to know that when it comes to texture, it’s never really coarse versus kinky hair because those two attributes are like comparing apples to oranges. “Kinky” describes the curl pattern/type of hair, like curly or wavy and in this case, kinky hair means tightly curled hair or really tight coiled hair or hair with no curls but zigzags instead. “Coarse” or “fine” describes the thickness/texture of hair strands. Having kinky curls does not automatically equal having coarse hair strands. One way to think of “texture” is to imagine how a stretched strand of hair feels between your fingers. Is it bumpy, silky, wiry, etc.? For instance, I have girlfriends who have wavy, coarse hair and friends with kinky, curly coarse hair; they have the same hair texture but different curl patterns or type. In your case, your overall hair texture is kinky (tightly coiled curl pattern) and fine (strand thickness). Based off of the little information i have, I’ll guess that your friend probably has kinky, thick or medium to thick and wiry hair. These overall attributes can look the same to the naked eye but are actually totally different. Some people say that only strand thickness means texture while others say texture = density + thickness of strands + porosity + curl pattern. It can get a little crazy if you let it overwhelm you. Right now as i type this, someone somewhere is creating a curl chart to start confusing more people.

Semantics aside, knowing the texture of your strands and how your hair reacts to products (porosity) I’d argue are the two important factors in everything you do with your hair from the products you’ll pick to how you style your hair. I get hoards of emails asking me to decipher hair types when at the end of the day, the way your hair curls is a minute part of the overall hair care process. The fact that my hair is “kinky” plays about .0000% into my daily styling routine. It’s more about my fine strands (because I have more of them than I have coarse and can’t use very heavy products) and head full of medium density hair that dries out fast because it’s porous. This is also why you find most hair products targeted to the needs of the strand of the hair – dryness/porosity, coarse, fine, oily, etc.

Though all kinky hair whether fine or coarse is the most fragile hair of all hair types because of the way the bonds are formed in the strand, those with coarser strands may find that their hair can hold up to a beat and heat more than someone on the finer end of the spectrum. That’s why it’s always best to know your own hair. Just because someone else’s hair looks likes yours does not mean your hair will react or hold up the same under the same circumstances–like that one friend we all have that can torture her hair and keep all her length (in this case, your friend with hair “like yours”). Many kinky haired women have a mix of fine and coarse strands and many others have kinky hair and just fine strands and within that some women have silkier strands whereas others have cottony to wiry type textures. Are you all googly eyed yet?

Listen to your hair. It’s telling you what to do and now that you know what you are working with, replace your paddle brush with finger detangling and a padded tooth wide tooth comb. Always handle your hair with gentle respect for your strands and wrap your hair in a silk scarf or sleep on a silk pillow case at night to treat your fine strands well. don’t let hair texture foolishness get you sidetracked.

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