Cleansing, moisturizing, styling, and caring for your hair in general often feels like a game of trial and error. With so many hair products on the market, it can become frustrating trying to discover what works for your hair and yields the best results. One way to solve this problem is to determine your hair porosity.
Hair porosity is not discussed very often, but it can reveal a great deal about how your hair responds to products. This information can then help you cater to your hair regimen by knowing exactly what products will work best for you. This article walks you through three simple tests you can take to discover your hair porosity. From there, you can go about properly caring for your hair’s porosity type.
What is Hair Porosity and how is it measured?
Hair porosity is a method of characterizing hair by its ability to absorb and retain moisture through its cuticle. The cuticle is the most external layer of the hair shaft. Consisting of long, flat, dead cells in a tile-like arrangement, the cuticle forms anywhere from five to 10 layers. These layers can be further classified as the cysteine-rich layer (also known as layer A), the exocuticle, and the endocuticle. With this characterization, hair can be labeled as having normal porosity, high porosity, or low porosity.
Genetics plays a significant role in hair porosity. However, not making moisturization a priority or moisturizing hair incorrectly can damage the cuticle and dramatically impact your hair. This is the case for a lot of people because they simply do not know their hair porosity type. You can measure your hair’s porosity by using one or more of the following tests:
The Sink or Float Test
Fill a bowl with room temperature water and drop a few strands of your clean hair into the water. Make sure your hair is clean, as any hair product on the hair will affect your results. Monitor what your hair does in the water for 2 to 4 minutes.
- Normal Porosity: If your hair sinks slowly to the bottom of the bowl, then your hair has normal porosity.
- High Porosity: When your hair sinks to the bottom of the bowl immediately, then your hair has high porosity.
- Low Porosity: If your hair does not sink and just floats on the surface of the water, then your hair has low porosity.
The Glide Test
Isolate a strand of your hair in your hand. Starting at the end of the strand, slide your fingers up the hair shaft toward the roots. If the hair feels smooth between your fingertips, then your hair has low porosity. If the hair feels rough or bumpy between your fingertips, then your hair has high porosity.
The Spray Bottle Test
Separate a small section of your hair and tie or pin the rest of it back. Spray that section of hair with a mist of water from the bottle.
- Normal Porosity: If the water sits on your hair for several minutes and is then absorbed into the hair, then your hair has normal porosity.
- High Porosity: When the water disappears quickly into the hair, then your hair has high porosity.
- Low Porosity: If the water beads up and sits on the hair, then your hair has low porosity.
What Your Hair Porosity Means and How You Can Care for It
Normal porosity hair absorbs and retains moisture with no problems. It appears healthy and shiny with volume. It holds styles well with bounce and is not difficult to color. Hair with normal porosity requires very little maintenance. All this means the cuticle is receptive to moisture and is able to hold it in.
To care for normal porosity hair, or rather maintain it, follow these steps:
- Continue to deep condition the hair at whatever frequency presently used.
- Try to avoid changing up hair products too often.
High porosity hair often has cuticles that are open as a result of damage or excessive hair processing. As a result, hair with high porosity absorbs a lot of moisture quickly but cannot retain it. Such hair looks dull and feels dry to the touch. It also tangles easily because the cuticles snag on one another. When wet, high porosity hair dries quickly and when dry, it is frizzy in appearance.
To care for high porosity hair, follow these steps:
- Cleanse the hair with egg washes to restore protein to the hair cuticles, fill its gaps, and strengthen the hair. Avoid doing egg washes too frequently, as introducing too much protein to any hair type can produce stiffness and cause unnecessary breakage.
- Use hair products that contain aloe vera gel or coconut oil. Aloe vera strengthens the hair, keeps it healthy, and prevents hair loss while coconut oil locks in moisture.
- Focus on restoring and healing damaged cuticles by utilizing deep conditioning products that are made from heavy products or creams in order to prolong their penetration.
Low porosity hair means the hair’s cuticles are closed and moisture struggles to enter the shaft. Since low porosity hair is resistant to moisture, it also cannot easily absorb hair products. These products could be for moisturization, straightening, or coloring. Some other indications of hair with low porosity include water beading up on the hair, hair taking a long time to dry, and hair that looks healthy but lacks volume or elasticity.
To care for low porosity hair, follow these steps:
- When cleansing the hair, use apple cider vinegar, baking soda, or clay to remove excess build up without leaving any residue behind. This is important because any excess build up on the hair will make it that much more difficult for beneficial hair products to penetrate the hair.
- When selecting hair products, seek products with lighter oil bases like almond oil, argan oil, and grapeseed oil. Moisture-rich oils also worth trying are jojoba oil, shea butter, and coconut oil.
- After applying hair products, apply heat to open the hair cuticle and allow for better product absorption. You can accomplish this by using hot water, blowing a hair dryer over your hair, or heating a towel in the dryer and then wrapping it around your head.
More Important Info on Low Porosity Hair Characteristics
It is not uncommon for individuals to have more than one porosity type within their hair. In which case, it may be best to treat all your hair as if it has low porosity. Again, this involves developing a hair care regimen that addresses the specific needs of your low porosity hair. That is, condensed cuticles that have difficulty absorbing and retaining moisture unless the cuticle is adequately opened. So, consider investing in a hair steamer or heated hair wrap, or simply treat your hair as much as possible in the shower where indirect, steamy heat is present.
Hair with low porosity typically needs deep conditioning more than other hair porosities, so deep condition your hair regularly, cover it with a plastic cap, and use heat (i.e. warm water or blow dryer) while conditioning. This will open the hair cuticle to allow moisture in and retain it. After one or two deep conditioning sessions you should notice some remarkable changes in your hair including strands that feel stronger when heat styling, smoother when brushing or combing, and softer to the touch. Just be sure to rinse the deep conditioner out with cool water to close the cuticle and seal in the moisture delivered by the treatment.
The Right Product
It is a good idea to look for hair products with clarifying properties. Build up on low porosity hair only makes it that much harder for moisture to penetrate the cuticle. Clarifying hair products, which will mostly be shampoos, will contain ingredients like apple cider vinegar, baking soda, bentonite clay, or Rhassoul clay. Although their names may sound harsh, these agents are quite gentle on the hair and do not rob the hair of its moisture or nutrients. Some other products to add to your regimen are called humectants. Humectants specialize in drawing moisture from the air into the hair and scalp (or skin). These include honey, propylene glycol, panthenol/vitamin B5, and glycerin.
If any of this information seems difficult to follow or incorporate into your hair regimen, then do not hesitate to have a consultation with a salon expert who can recommend hair products that meet your hair porosity needs. He or she can also walk you through how to properly deep condition or add heat to your heat treatments to open the cuticle and cool it down to close it afterwards. Giving your hair what it needs when it needs it is key to having beautiful, healthy hair.
NaturAll Club. (2017, October). How to care for low, medium, and high porosity hair (plus three porosity tests you can do today!). Retrieved from https://naturallclub.com/blogs/the-naturall-club-blog/its-not-all-about-hair-type-porosity-and-natural-hair-care
Natural Hair Queen. (2018). Tips about low porosity natural hair you may not know. Retrieved from https://www.naturalhairqueen.net/low-porosity-natural-hair/
Tosti, A., Juliano, A., Bloch, L.D.,…& Canales, M. (2017). Cosmetic approach for healthy and damaged hair. Clinical Approaches and Procedures in Cosmetic Dermatology, 1. DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-20250-1_26-1