The issue of incorrect self-classification of hair type, condition and damage...


In our extensive experience in haircare products sensory-panels, we have noticed that subjects often classify their hair differently than the technical classification done by trained hairdressers. This fact is observed for type (curly, kinky, etc.), damage and condition (oily, dry, mixed). This poses a challenge for panels mainly, but also to consumer tests. We often recruit subjects that have to be rejected after hairdressers’ classification; whenever there is no professional classification, we have to rely on the subjects self classification that may or may not be accurate.


Given this discrepancy, Perception decided to conduct a study combining 4 tools:

  • Hairdressers’ classification of the 89 subjects´ hair -> as a baseline technical assessment.
  • Respondents’ self-declared classification of hair, based on a conventional self-completion, tablet-assisted questionnaire -> to compare with both hairdressers’ classification and Implicit Association. n=89
  • Respondents’ classification of hair, based on an Implicit Association (IA) exercise, on a self-completion, tablet-assisted questionnaire -> testing Implicit Association as a tool to complement or replace subjects’ self-declared classification of their hair, and to determine whether it is more in line with hairdressers’ assessment than self-classification or not. n=89
  • In-depth individual interviews with subjects that self-classified their hair differently than the technical classification done by hairdressers -> understanding why this phenomenon of misclassification happens. n=15


Determine how prevalent hair misclassification by subjects is. IA might be more precise than self classification and thus could be used as tool to complement or replace self-classification. Shed light on the reasons why there are discrepancies between self-assessment and hairdressers’ assessment.


Hairdressers’ x self

Misclassification is indeed and issue. By far the biggest discrepancy in classification is about hair damage (only 25% of cases coincide), followed by

Hairdressers’ x IA

Disappointingly, IA did not show to be more accurate than self-classification. Not even in hair damage.


For those subjects whose self-classification was different from hairdressers’

Whenever self classification and hairdressers’ do not coincide, the majority of subjects classify their hair similarly in the self classification and IA exercise. This happens similarly in all 3 criteria tested. This suggests that the majority is convinced of the self classification, rather than trying to disguise a classification they are aware of.

Other -> hairdressers = IA or all 3 classifications different


Qualitative one-on-one interviewing shed light on the reasons why the misdeclaration happens, for those people who do give a different classification than that of the hairdressers.

  • In what regards type, people tend to declare their idealized type, i.e. their declaration is more of a wishful thinking statement than a rational classification. It is an approximation of their ideal hair, an ideal that they may achieve in their best days, but that is not what is found on the daily reality.
  • n what concerns condition, there seems to be an unconscious refusal to admit that one’s hair is dry. Dry hair to them is a proxy for damaged hair, so, even if the subject’s hair is clearly dry, they tend to insist that it is mixed.
  • In terms of damage, the situation is even more intense: it is very hard indeed for them to acknowledge a level of damage for it indicates, under their point of view, a careless or even unhealthy woman. They attenuate the damage as it makes them feel guilty and with low self-esteem.
Overall, the study shows that misclassification is indeed an issue, particularly for hair damage. The reasons for the misdeclaration have to do with self-image and aspiration. A significant portion of women who misclassify their hair are convinced of it, rather than purposefully misguiding; these women most likely have a strong interiorized self-image of their hair’s type, damage and condition that does not correspond to the technical reality, but that is so ingrained that they indeed believe in it. The above mentioned might be the reason why IA did not show to be promising to solve the classification dilemma.


Rodrigo TONI

General Manager

Foi CEO Regional Sudeste Asiático e CEO IPSOS Brasil. Trabalhou na RI/TNS, Nielsen e outras. Especializado em Management no IESE (Espanha) e INSEAD (Cingapura). Especializado em Survey Methodology, SRC, University of Michigan (EUA). Cientista Social (USP) e Engenheiro Agrônomo (USP).