For as long as I can remember, I have heard terms like "thick," "difficult," and "coarse" to describe my hair texture, which for many years gave me negative emotions surrounding my then relaxed hair. For many of us that have heard these adjectives, the latter is often given by those who aren't haircare professionals. So while having what many would call "coarse hair" has its challenges—like combating dryness or spending hours detangling and drying my curls—I wouldn't trade my thick strands for anything.
But, the larger question is, what properties make hair technically coarse? Is it as simple as having a lot of hair, or does the hair shaft have specific features? To get some insight, I talked to a few haircare experts to get the scoop on what it means to have coarse hair. We spoke about what to do from showering to styling, as well as what ingredients we should be looking for in our products to ensure our hair texture stays in tip-top shape.
Meet the Expert
- Angela Stevens is an Emmy award-winning hairstylist with over 13 years of professional experience as a licensed master stylist and has worked with Rihanna, Keke Palmer, Rita Ora, Fifth Harmony, and countless others.
- Miko Branch is a haircare pioneer and founder of award-winning brand Miss Jessie's.
- Jawara is an internationally-recognized hairstylist that has worked with superstars like Solange and Cardi B. He is also the contributing beauty editor for Dazed Beauty.
"Coarse hair relates more to the thickness of the hair strand," Stevens tells us. "A general rule of thumb is if one hair strand is thicker than a piece of thread, it's considered coarse. Both straight hair and curly hair can be coarse if the strands are thicker than the normal size. These strands are also typically less pliable and get naturally drier than other hair types."
Branch offers up another technique to confirm that your strands are indeed coarse. "Gather a bunch of hair or do a strand test to see if the strand is wide, strong, thick or has a heavy gauge. If so, then your hair is coarse."
Now, that you've tried one of these methods to confirm your hair is a part of the coarse hair club, what are the best practices to ensure your strands aren't susceptible to dryness, frizz, and breakage? According to stylists, your best hair starts in the shower. Co-washing is often a go-to for those whose coils tend to be on the drier side, as doing so is meant to cleanse without drying out the hair. But Stevens suggests using a clarifying concoction because coarse hair is prone to calcium buildup; she recommends natural DIY recipes with apple cider vinegar or lemon juice to help remove it. If DIY methods aren't in your wheelhouse, keeping a clarifying shampoo without sulfates, parabens, and other drying ingredients on hand is a must.
If you're wondering how often you should be washing your hair, Branch says "this thicker consistency hair type can be washed weekly or bi-weekly with a conditioning cleanser."
The haircare industry is shifting away from products with drying ingredients like sulfates, but what else should those with coarse hair textures avoid in styling products? Stevens has a few simple rules. "I'd suggest avoiding products that have a ton of ingredients that you can't pronounce. In addition, avoid frequently heavy gels and hair sprays. They will make the hair brittle and feel harder." Branch agrees, but adds a couple more ingredients to the list, including "harsh chemicals like bleaches and dyes that strip the hair." If you have color-treated hair, I recommend Shea Moisture Purple Rice Water Strength + Color Care Shampoo. The cleanser has kept my highlights from drying out while keeping my hair and scalp clean.
As far as conditioning goes, Branch says we should be on the lookout for products made with "shea butter, avocado oil, castor oil, castor oil seed, and glycerin."
Now that we've run through our shower routine, how do we lock in moisture as we prep the hair for the styling process? To start, Stevens says, "A microfiber towel is the best way to avoid frizz in the shower. If you don't have one, use a T-shirt to absorb excess water and avoid frizz. Also, using a humectant leave-in conditioner is key before drying the hair."
Post-shower, I typically don't use any combs or brushes. But in the event my curls are especially tangled, having a Denman Brush and a wide-tooth comb nearby is a must.
Now for the fun part! Styling: To get the details on tools and products that work best in tandem with them, I sought the advice of Jawara, who is an expert at working with coarse hair textures. "Coarse hair is the fullest hair," he says. "I think coarse hair is such a versatile thing that we take for granted because some people are trying to assimilate coarse hair as opposed to letting it be what it is."
Speaking of versatility, for those of us with curly strands —we can wear our hair blown out, straightened, and of course, in its natural state. Jawara says that we should build our tools around our desired result. "It depends on what you want your hair to look like," he says. "I know a lot of women and men are into letting the hair dry naturally, but recently I've been into the idea of how the Dyson can work for coarse hair," he adds and says that many people with coarse hair do not know Dyson products work well with a variety of hair textures.
As a 4c girl, I can attest to not knowing that Dyson products work for tight curls. But, thanks to their new technology, we can achieve stretched curls or even a fluffy blowout with limited heat damage as long as we're careful with the setting. Jawara always recommends using the low setting along with a heat protectant (even when diffusing). "Anything that you put on the hair that can serve as a heat protectant," he tells us. But, don't be afraid to seek out products tailor-made for you. Jawara's favorite heat protectants range from drugstore brands like Cantu to professional lines like Aveda.
Whether your hair is officially coarse or not, there are hair tips that anyone can use: Finding the best products and techniques for any hair type takes trial and error. So in the words of Jawara, do some "hair-searching, which is basically you doing research on your hair, and figuring out what works for you."