Find out what hair porosity is, how you can determine your type of hair porosity, and depending on it, how to properly care for your hair.
A few weeks ago my sister and I were having our usual WhatsApp video call when she mentioned that she had to throw away some hair care products well used by natural hair beauty gurus on YouTube, because the products sat on her hair and made it look greasy.
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Needless to say that I started laughing uncontrollably, whilst letting her know that I had a similar experience 2 years ago following my transition from damaged relaxed hair to natural hair, and that, just like me she has low porosity hair that needs different hair care products.
She then went on to ask me what hair porosity is and what it means for her hair care routine. To answer these questions I decided to do a bit of clinical studies digging on hair porosity, hair health, and hair cosmetics at the National Library of Medicine, the International Journal of Trichology, and the Journal of Investigative Dermatology Symposium Proceedings. I topped up my research by having a healthy conversation with my own hairdresser who was quite happy to share her “insider knowledge” of hair care products.
Together we will find out what hair porosity actually is, how you can determine the type of porosity you have, and, depending on the hair porosity you have, how to properly care for your hair.
WHAT IS HAIR POROSITY?
Hair porosity is the ability of your hair to retain and absorb moisture. Porosity falls into three main categories; low, medium to normal, and high. Low porosity hair has cuticles that are closely bound together, normal porosity hair has cuticles that are a little bit loose, and high porosity hair has cuticles that are too widely spaced.
Some of the experiences you may observe if you have low porosity hair include:
- hair products that tend to sit on your hair with limited to no absorption
- your hair tends to be harder to saturate with water on your wash days
- Your hair takes a long time to air dry
For people with medium or normal porosity hair, you may notice that:
- your hair is easy to style and can hold styles for a good length of time
- your hair is easy to dye as it takes colour well
- your hair tends to look healthy and well hydrated
- your hair tends to air dry within a reasonable timeframe
Some of the traits of high high porosity hair you may experience if your hair falls into that category include:
- a quick absorption of water and other moisturising products into your hair
- your hair tends to break easily, and it looks frizzy and dry
- it doesn’t take much time for your hair to air dry
FACTORS THAT AFFECT YOUR HAIR POROSITY
How your hair absorbs and retains moisture is significantly related to genetics. If people in your family tend to have a certain hair porosity, then chances are that you might end up, like my sister and I, inthering the same hair porosity.
For your hair to absorb all the water and moisturising products it needs to stay healthy, soft and hydrated, the products need to be able to penetrate through the three main layers that make up the structure of your hair, namely the cuticle, the cortex, and the medulla.
The cuticle is the outermost layer of your hair made up of flattened cells overlapping each other like roof tiles or fish scales that protect and strengthen the inside of your hair shaft from damage. The cuticle is responsible for the lustre and texture of the hair. The cortex is the thickest hair layer which contains most of the hair’s pigment, melanin, that gives the hair its colour. The medulla, only present in thicker hair types, is the innermost layer of your hair. It consists of a soft, thin core of transparent cells and air spaces.
If the hair cuticles are too closely bound together like in low porosity hair, it is more difficult for water and other moisturising ingredients to penetrate the hair, which makes it harder for your hair to get the moisture it needs to stay healthy and hydrated.
On the other hand, if the hair cuticles are too widely spread out like with high porosity hair, your hair will struggle to retain moisture and hydration.
Other contributing factors can affect the porosity of your hair. Excessive blow drying, overwashing, bleaching, straightening, and using harsh hair care products can all damage your hair over time. Too much ultraviolet exposure can also adversely impact your hair porosity.
HOW TO TEST YOUR HAIR POROSITY AT HOME
For you to test your hair porosity at home you need a clear glass of water and a clean strand of hair. First, start by washing off your selected hair strand to remove product buildup. Fill a glass with clean water. Then, drop the strand of hair into the glass of water.
If your strand of hair floats on top of the water for a prolonged period of time before very slowly sinking to the bottom of the glass, it indicates that you may have low porosity hair. If your hair tends to float in the middle of the glass of water, it means that you likely have normal or medium porosity hair. If your hair strand quickly sinks to the bottom of the glass of water, you likely have high porosity hair.
HOW TO SELECT AND USE THE RIGHT PRODUCTS FOR YOUR HAIR POROSITY
According to hair care experts, there are a few steps you can take to improve the health of your hair, and make it more manageable and easier to style.
To ensure your hair gets the moisture it deserves, it is worth washing and conditioning your hair every 7 to 10 days, depending on how you have styled your hair. I tend to wait for 10 days before washing my hair even when I have a protective hairstyle.
If you have low porosity hair, pre-poo your hair with either organic fractionated coconut oil or cold pressed pure almond oil that are light enough to easily penetrate your hair strands before you shampoo. Pre-pooing can not only help moisturise the hair, it also makes your hair softer, shinier, and easier to style after shampooing. Use a non-sulfate shampoo such as Pantene Gold Series Sulfate-free Shampoo for dry, damaged hair that easily cleans your scalp and your hair strands whilst retaining moisture.
Apply a protein-free conditioner containing vegetable glycerin or honey that tends to be more easily absorbed into your hair and may be less likely to cause product buildup. Garnier Ultimate Blends Hair Food Banana 3-in-1 Dry Hair Mask Treatment and Shea Moisture Low Porosity Protein Free Conditioner are my two go-to products. Apply conditioner on damp hair. Use low to medium heat when conditioning your hair. A hair steamer, a heat cap, a hooded dryer, or a simple shower cap you put over your hair when conditioning it are definitely worth the investment.
For those of you with normal or medium porosity hair, pre-poo your hair with a light to medium oil such as organic extra virgin argan oil before you shampoo it. Using a paraben-free shampoo and conditioner such as Moroccanoil Hydrating Shampoo and Moroccanoil Hydrating Conditioner is the way to go. To maintain your hair health, apply a deep conditioning mask that detoxifies and moisturises like Moroccanoil Intense Hydrating Hair Mask or African Pride’s Moisture Miracle Moroccan Clay & Shea Butter Masque. For the latter product, the moroccan clay draws out product buildup whilst the shea butter adds in moisture.
If you have high porosity hair, pre-pooing with a product such as Don’t Despair, Repair!™ Strengthening Treatment Oil by Briogeo before shampooing is advisable. Go for products that list butter and oil as ingredients in your shampoo and conditioner to help moisturise your hair. Again, Briogeo Don’t Despair, Repair! Super Moisture Shampoo and Don’t Despair, Repair Deep Conditioning Mask are solid options for you to explore.
Apply a leave-in conditioner and a sealer to lock in moisture. Always use a heat protectant product on your hair when conditioning or styling your hair with a blow dryer, a hair straightener or any other source of heat to protect your hair from heat damage. Opt for lukewarm water instead of hot water when shampooing and conditioning.