If you are someone who is concerned about hair care and who does all he/she can to grow a full head of beautiful, natural hair, you must have come across a lot of hair care terms, one of them being hair porosity. You must have come across articles defining porosity, articles advising you on what kinds of products/care you should give your hair, and so on and so forth.
So, what exactly is hair porosity? And should the knowledge of this affect your hair care regimen? What I am doing with this article is to teach you all you have ever wanted to know about hair porosity and how it can help you have better, more beautiful natural hair.
So, what is porosity?
In the simplest of terms, hair porosity has to with the ability of your hair to absorb and retain moisture, and how well moisture and oils pass in and out of your hair cuticle. Let’s keep in mind that the cuticle is the outermost layer of the hair.
When you have cuticles that are close together, you have low porosity hair. Cuticles that are less tightly bound means that you have medium porosity hair while cuticles that are more widely spaced means that you have high porosity hair.
While porosity is inherently inherited, there are other external factors that affect how porous your hair is, and these factors include chemical processing, heat treatments and sun exposure.
At the end of the day, understanding your hair's porosity will help you choose the right products and right hair care routine to keep your hair well-moisturised, shiny, strong and supple.
Let’s go back to the basics
To properly understand porosity, perhaps it is best to begin from the very basics. Let’s take a look at the basic structure of your hair.
Your hair consists of three layers, and the first one of these layers is the cuticle. Your cuticle is the outer layer of your hair, and this is a strong, protective layer made up of smaller cuticles overlapping each other. The formation of cuticles is quite similar to how shingles lie on a roof.
The second layer of the hair is the cortex, and this is stronger than your cuticle. In fact, it is the thickest layer of your hair, containing fibrous proteins and the pigment that gives hair its colour.
Finally, we have the medulla, and this is the central part of the hair shaft. This is the softest layer of your hair.
For anyone’s hair to stay hydrated and healthy, water, oils, and other moisturising products must pass through the cuticle (outermost layer) and get to the cortex (the second layer).
In a situation where the cuticles are too close together, water and oils have a harder time penetrating the hair, making it harder for the hair to gain access to the moisture it needs. And in a situation where the cuticles are too widely spaced, the hair has a difficult time holding on to the moisture it gets and staying hydrated.
How to determine your hair porosity
There are several ways to test your hair porosity, and all of them are fairly easy.
Perhaps one of the easiest ways to test hair porosity is by using a glass of water.
To do this test, first shampoo and rinse your hair so that there is no product build-up in the hair. Next, fill a clear glass with water, and once your hair is clean and dry, drop one strand of the hair into the glass of water. Watch the strand to see if the hair floats at the top of the glass or sinks to the bottom.
If the strand floats at the top before it sinks, you likely have low porosity hair. If the strand floats in the middle of the glass, you probably have medium or normal porosity hair. If the strand sinks to the bottom of the glass almost immediately, you likely have high porosity hair.
You can also test your porosity level using the Slip'n'Slide Test. You do this by running a finger down one strand of your hair. If it feels smooth, you probably have low porosity hair. On the other hand, if it feels rough and bumpy, it is probably high porosity hair.
One of the harder porosity tests is the H20 test. To determine your hair porosity level using this test, spray a small section of your hair with water and then wait to see how your hair reacts. If the water remains on top of your hair without getting absorbed, it is probably low porosity hair, and if your hair quickly absorbs the water, it is probably high porosity hair.
The characteristics of low porosity hair
The cuticles are tightly packed and very close to each other. Low porosity hair has a tightly bound cuticle layer and the scales overlap flatly, making it difficult for moisture to get to the hair shaft.
Hair products tend to sit on the hair and don’t get easily absorbed into the hair.
When washing the hair, it’s hard for water to saturate the hair. And once you are done washing the hair, it takes a long time for it to air dry.
Low porosity hair is often very shiny, especially when it's dark in colour.
If you use protein-rich deep conditioning products on low porosity hair, you will get a lot of build-up that leaves the hair feeling stiff and straw-like.
The best hair care for low porosity hair
Go for shampoos and conditioners containing honey and glycerine.
Use sulfate-free shampoo and rinses such as baking soda or apple cider vinegar treatments to get rid of product build-up.
Use protein-free conditioners. Research and studies have shown that these kinds of products are more easily absorbed into low porosity hair and are less likely to cause product build-up.
Use the conditioner when your hair is wet. You may actually want to dilute the conditioner so that it is more easily absorbed.
When you condition your hair, apply heat to help with a more equitable distribution. You can use a hooded dryer, heat cap, or steamer. And if you don’t have any of these, simply put on a shower cap over your hair once you’ve used the conditioner.
Low porosity hair responds well to deep conditioning, so it is advisable to deep condition your hair at least once a week.
As much as you can, steer clear of products with oils, as these have a more difficult time penetrating your hair cuticle. Rather go for lighter, liquid-based products like hair milks that don’t sit too heavily on the hair to leave it greasy or oily.
Make sure that your hair products are evenly distributed throughout the hair. You also want to make sure that you don’t use too much products.
Apply products to hair that is damp, not hair that is fully drenched with water.
Low porosity hair takes well to moisturisers that are rich in emollients such as mineral oil, coconut oil, jojoba oil, and Shea butter.
The characteristics of medium porosity hair
The cuticles are not too close together, neither are they too open, and this allows moisture to easily penetrate. This same characteristic is the reason why medium porosity hair also retains moisture for a longer period of time.
People with medium porosity hair usually require the least amount of maintenance. They have hair that is easier to style and these styles hold for a good length of time.
This kind of hair takes colour well, so you get great results when you dye your hair.
This kind of hair also tends to look healthy, shiny, or glossy, with curls that are full of elasticity and bounce.
When you wash your hair, it doesn’t take too long for it to air dry.
The best hair care for medium/normal porosity hair
Occasional deep conditioning treatments with conditioners containing protein is of benefit to medium porosity hair, but the key word here is occasional. Proteins should not be part of your daily hair care.
Don’t dry condition your hair too often, as too many oils can damage the hair and make it lose its medium porosity as time goes on. It is advised that you only do dry conditioning twice a month.
Use light oils such as jojoba, mongongo, grape seed and argan oil when conditioning your hair.
The characteristics of high porosity hair
Having so many gaps and holes in the cuticle, high porosity hair tends to let too much moisture into the hair. After it has taken in so much moisture and products, it is then prone to frizz and tangles, especially in humid weather. Even simple acts such as shampooing, swimming and bathing can create breakage and more damage due to the inordinate amount of moisture highly porous hair absorbs.
Despite the fact that high porosity hair allows for the absorption of a lot of moisture, it isn’t able to keep this moisture for long because of the larger gaps and spaces in between the cuticles.
It doesn’t take much time for the hair to air dry when you wash it.
The best hair care for high porosity hair
Go for oily shampoos and conditioners containing butters and oils, as these will help moisturise the hair.
Use lukewarm water and avoid hot water when shampooing and conditioning. And then rinse with cold water to close off the cuticle and to avoid frizz.
Deep condition your hair regularly.
Consider protein treatments to treat your hair. This is because high porosity hair is easily damaged. You will notice that your highly porous hair often suffers from splitting, thinning and breakage. Protein treatments is one of the more effective ways of treating these problems.
Use sealers and leave-in conditioners, as these products help your hair hold on to its moisture. Layering these products helps your hair hold on to applied moisture.
Follow up with a heavy hair butter that helps to fill the gaps in the cuticles.
The best way to dry this kind of hair is to air dry it.
Avoid heat if you can. And if you must use heat, first apply a heat protectant product on the hair, and this will help protect your hair from heat damage.
If you live in a climate with high heat and humidity, use anti-humectants products to help seal damaged cuticles and prevent them from absorbing excess moisture from the air.
To reduce hair breakage and prevent hair loss, detangle gently with a detangler or wide-tooth comb.
What causes low or high hair porosity? And can you change your hair porosity?
The manner in which your hair absorbs and retains moisture is largely due to your genetics. So, there is a good chance you’ll have high porosity hair if it runs in your family, same for the two other kinds of porosity.
As we earlier discussed however, genetics is definitely not the only contributing factor when it comes to porosity.
If you continually blow dry, bleach, over wash, or straighten your hair or if you consistently use harsh products on it, your hair gets damaged over time. Your hair cuticles become open and raised, making your hair more porous and making it harder for the hair shafts to retain moisture.
The same thing happens if your hair experiences too much ultraviolet exposure. This is why it is advised that you protect your hair from the sun, by wearing a hat or another type of head covering when you’re outdoors., especially in climates where you get a lot of sun.
As genetics play a huge role when it comes to porosity, you may be unable to change the porosity of your hair.
However, following the suitable hair care regimen for your kind of hair porosity will help to make your hair healthier, more manageable, and easier to style. And when you have healthy, beautiful hair, you get to fall in love with your hair, no matter what porosity it is.
So, take care of your hair. Give it the love and care it needs, and watch it blossom.