Worldwide diversity of hair curliness: a new method of assessment

Int J Dermatol. 2007 Oct;46 Suppl 1:2-6. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-4632.2007.03453.x.


Background: For many years, cosmetic scientists have attempted to measure the physical features of human hair, such as its shape and colour, as these can be artificially modified using cosmetic products. With regard to hair shape, previous anthropologic studies have emphasized its variability within and between human ethnic groups. Many studies have broadly distinguished three ethnic human subgroups: African, Asian, and Caucasian. Such a broad classification cannot account for the great complexity of human biological diversity, resulting from multiple, past or recent mixed origins. The verbal description of hair shape ranges from the classic to the more sophisticated, with terms such as straight, wavy, curly, frizzy, kinky, woolly, helical, etc. Although these descriptions evoke a global appearance, they remain confusing as their definitions and limits are unclear. Assessments are therefore required to more accurately define such verbal attributes.

Objective: The work reported here attempts to address the following issues: (i) to define hair types according to specific shape criteria through objective and simple measurements; and (ii) to define such hair types without referring to human ethnicity.

Methods: Measurements of four parameters related to hair curliness (curve diameter, curl index) or kinking of the hair (numbers of waves, numbers of twists) were performed on hair from 2449 subjects from 22 different countries. Principal components analysis and hierarchical ascendant classification were used to identify homogeneous groups of hair and to determine key variables for the assignment of group membership. Finally, a segmentation tree was prepared in order to establish simple rules for predicting group membership of new subjects.

Results and conclusions: This study has shown that it is possible to classify the various hair types found worldwide into eight main groups. The approach involves objective descriptors of hair shape, and is more reliable than traditional methods relying on categories such as curly, wavy, and kinky. Applied to worldwide human diversity, it avoids reference to the putative, unclear ethnic origin of subjects. Briefly, a straight hair type I is just that, and whether it originates from a Caucasian or an Asian subject is not at issue. The hair types defined here also more adequately reflect the large variation of hair shape diversity around the world, and may possibly help to trace past mixed origins amongst human subgroups.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Classification
  • Ethnicity
  • Hair / anatomy & histology*
  • Hair / growth & development
  • Humans
  • Principal Component Analysis
  • Racial Groups