What Is Dense Hair?
Dense hair is when someone has a lot of individual hairs per square inch of scalp. Meaning, they literally have a lot of hair compared to other people. In society in general, people often will refer to dense hair as “thick hair” because if you have high-density hair, it will often (but not always!) appear “thick”.
In the wavy and curly community, we try to refer to it as dense rather than thick, to avoid confusion with individual hair strand thickness. Someone could have a lot of individual hairs, but have very fine individual hair strands, so their hair may not ‘look thick’ despite being dense.
On the other hand, someone may have low density hair but have really thick individual strands, which could also make hair ‘look thick’. So, to differentiate between hair strand thickness and density, we tend to say dense rather than thick.
People often have told me that my hair is ‘thick’ – but my individual hair strands are fine. My hair just ‘looks thick’ because it is dense.
Each hair property can impact what techniques and/or products work well for your hair. In the past I did a blog post about how to care for fine wavy hair, because there are certain ways that fine hair needs to be cared for differently than normal/average or thick hair. In this post, I’m going to cover dense hair.
Eventually, I’d like to cover all hair types, but I will need extra research and perhaps help from others to cover hair types different from my own. I have dense hair though (my hair stylist recently said VERY dense, actually), so I thought I could do this one now.
Not sure what your hair type is? My post how to determine your wavy hair type can help!
The pros and cons of dense wavy hair
With hair, it often feels like everyone wants the opposite of what they have. Density is no exception. People with low density (aka thin) hair often see dense hair as desirable. I think every hair type has its pros and cons, with dense wavy hair being no exception.
The pros of dense wavy hair
Getting a voluminous hairstyle is less difficult.
You can grow your hair longer without the ends looking stringy.
Less concern about showing scalp vs those with low density wavy curly hair.
Less likely to get “stringy” waves or curls.
The cons of dense wavy hair
Have to use more shampoo, conditioner, gel, etc because you literally have more hair. This means you’ll go through products faster and will spend more money on your hair. When I used to dye my hair at home I had to buy two boxes of dye as one wouldn’t give me good enough coverage.
May be harder to get a gel cast.
May be harder to evenly distribute product throughout your hair.
Brush styling will take longer because you have more hair to work through.
Getting well-defined waves or curls may be more difficult? This is just my theory but it seems to me like dense hair tends to be more ‘poofy’ and less defined naturally than lower density hair.
Dense hair takes longer to dry than lower density hair.
May get ‘triangle hair’ or “helmet hair” easier, especially with shorter haircuts. This can lead some to feeling like they ‘have to’ keep their hair longer.
Tips For Caring For And Styling Dense Wavy Hair
Work in sections when applying product. When you have high density hair, it’s tricky to get even distribution of your hair products unless you’re taking time to specifically focus on each section.
Try Smasters. Smasters is a technique of applying more gel when your hair is partway dry. If you find that your hair is partway dry and you can tell that some section is too soft, or perhaps your whole head is feeling too soft – apply more gel partway through before continuing drying. I try to avoid having to add product partway through, but being able to has saved many a wash day for me!
Get layers. Layers are widely recommended for wavy hair in general, but they can be especially helpful with dense hair. They can remove some of the ‘visual bulk’ without compromising length.
Don’t get your hair thinned. When you go to a salon with thick-looking hair, many stylists will want to break out their thinning sheers. It sounds logical to think hair if it looks or feels too thick, right? But if you want to style your hair wavy, thinning sheers can cause problems.
Thinning sheers basically create micro-layers in your hair, and while some layers are good, a bunch of teeny tiny layers can be a problem. Wavy or curly hair will clump together into waves and curls better if we have sections of hair that are all the same length. With thinning, each hair has its own length which can disrupt clumping and cause more of a ‘poofy’ look.
Use a scalp scrubber. Having thicker hair makes it a bit harder to thoroughly clean your scalp due to it being more covered in hair. A scalp scrubber may help you to thoroughly scrub your scalp while shampooing.
Use a long-bristled brush. If you comb or brush, make sure the bristles are long enough to get through to your scalp. I haven’t tried a wet brush yet, but I mentioned to my stylist that I was considering one. She said with dense hair they aren’t the best because they have such flexible bristles that they won’t push through to the scalp if you have too much density.
Diffuse. Dense hair will get less air flow throughout the hair while air drying which can cause it to take longer to dry than lower density hair. Having a lot of water in our hair for too long can be damaging to the hair cuticle. If your hair takes too long to air dry, it can be more damaging than diffusing.
Use more conditioner, not heavier conditioner. This is an area where I’ve noticed confusion with dense hair. Sometimes people with dense wavy hair will feel like their hair isn’t being softened enough or getting enough slip from a conditioner, so they think they should use a heavier conditioner, like one with oils or butters.
In most cases, wavy hair doesn’t do well with heavy conditioners. If you have dense hair and feel like you need something more from your conditioner, I’d recommend trying to use a larger amount of your conditioner first rather than switching to a heavier conditioner.