Is Your Hair Actually Thick, or Just Really Dense?

Wondering if your hair is thick or dense? We've got a few answers.

Woman in green shirt with long, thick hair
Photo: Getty

Sure, snapping a hair tie (or two) every time you pull your hair up into a ponytail will make your friends, family, co-workers, and the stranger standing next to you in the public bathroom envious that you have thick, long strands. But, is your hair actually thick, or do you just have a lot of it, and how important is it to know the difference?

"Learning about your hair texture is so critical because then you can determine exactly what products you need for your hair," explains celebrity hairstylist Vernon François, who works with stars like Lupita Nyong'o, Iman, and many more. "This will inevitably lead you down the path to experiencing the best response from the products you use."

As it turns out, just because your ponytail is extra full, it doesn't automatically mean your hair is thick. In reality, it might actually be dense. "One of the biggest myths about hair thickness that people make, especially if they have any ounce of curl, is that their hair is thick, unruly, and unmanageable," says François. "But, what you'll find is that the majority of people that have curly hair, don't have thick or dense strands. So when they straighten their hair, you actually see it is quite fine."

To put it plainly, thick refers to the actual width of a single strand of hair, while density is how closely packed the hair follicles are on your scalp. Hair can have high density, which is when there are a lot of strands growing near each other, or have low density, which is when the follicles are more spaced out on the scalp. Usually, straight strands tend to be denser than tight curls or afro hair.

Usually, you can easily decipher density by simply looking in the mirror. If you can see traces of your scalp when your hair is in its natural state, it's highly likely that you have low density. As for thickness, if you take a single strand between your fingers and feel absolutely nothing, chances are your strands are fine.

And why is it so important to know if your hair is thick and dense? You'll be able to pick the right products to really enhance your hair. "If you have curly hair you can also use products that have too many sulfates which would ultimately dry hair even more and leave it quite lifeless. With straight hair, you can use ion and volumizing shampoo in the wrong way and end up with really greasy hair. So, not knowing how your hair really behaves can often have a negative impact on your hair," explains François.

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