If you’ve been paying attention to the hair influencers, hair magazines and/or blogs you’ve likely heard about hair porosity. While curl pattern was the most talked about hair attribute a few years ago, hair porosity has quickly shot up in popularity with more and more women trying to understand it. . . and for good reason. Hair porosity tells you more about your hair’s health and gives clues about what products you should use or techniques you should try to improve it.
So what does it mean to have high porosity hair? Essentially, it means that your hair cuticle (the outer protective layer of your hair shaft) has flaps that are open slightly, allowing product, moisture, and other things to enter and exit the hair strands easily. You can think about the cuticles like the shingles on a roof. When the cuticles are tightly packed forming a harder to penetrate barrier, the hair is said to be low porosity. On the contrary, when the hair cuticles are lifted, the hair is high porosity.
Why understanding your hair’s porosity is important
Your hair can be high porosity for a number of reasons, including genetics. On one side of the spectrum you may have a natural predisposition and on the other side of the spectrum it may be the result of chemical processing or environmental stressors. Regardless of why you have it, knowing that you do is important for many reasons:
- Understanding your hair porosity gives you important clues about your hair health.
While genetics have a large influence on your hair’s porosity, how you treat your hair and what it is exposed to can also change your natural level of porosity. If your hair is not naturally high porosity, then anything that causes damage or breaks in your cuticle can result in giving you high porosity hair. So anything that changes the natural texture or color can impact your porosity. Chemical processing (relaxing, perming, coloring), styling treatments (especially those used frequently) such as heat styling and blow drying can all damage the cuticle and render your hair high porosity over time. So if you determine you have high porosity hair, it is an opportunity to reevaluate what treatments or styling methods you are using and whether or not they are good for your hair’s health.
- Knowing your hair porosity helps you pick the right products for your hair.
While a lot of hair products say they are “made for all types and textures,” realistically this isn’t true. It can’t be true. All hair isn’t the same and so one single product cannot work optimally for everyone. Porosity is probably the most important attribute that impacts what types of products and more importantly what ingredients will work for your hair.
- Knowing your hair porosity helps you use the right techniques for your hair.
Hair care is not just about the products you use, but the techniques you employ. The challenges of having high porosity hair (and thus how best to care for your hair) are different than those experienced by people with medium or low porosity hair. So knowing your porosity can help you zero in on techniques and routines that are better suited to give your healthiest hair.
Before we get into the signs of high porosity hair, there are some people who like to test their hair instead of looking at the clues their hair is giving. If you are one of those people, go ahead and give the hair test a try. Personally, we think it is a good idea to use the test in combination with comparing your hair against the signs of high hair porosity to help give you confidence in your assessment.
Key Signs of High Porosity Hair
- You are ALWAYS adding water, moisturizer and conditioner to soften/moisturize the hair AND you experience little product build up. Because cuticles are slightly lifted with high porosity hair, that means moisture can enter and exit the hair shaft very easily. High porosity hair requires that you add moisturizer regularly because the barrier that is there to help hold in moisture is damaged.
- Your hair dries very quickly. Related to the point above, if after washing hair, you find that your hair starts drying before you even finish getting dressed, that could be because the cuticles are allowing that desirable moisture (the best kind, water!) to escape.
- Your hair SOAKS UP product easily. Lifted cuticles mean quick product absorption for two reasons. First, the lifted cuticle makes it easier for the product to get into the hair shaft, and at the same time because the cuticle barrier is damaged, that moisture can easily be lost putting you on what seems like a neverending hamster wheel of moisturization.
- Your hair tangles easily. While we cannot see lifted cuticles they do impact how smooth the outer layer of your hair shaft will be. With high porosity hair, lifted cuticles can easily catch on other hair strands and lifted cuticles making tangling a real issue.
- Your hair lacks elasticity. Elasticity and porosity are very closely linked. Your hair’s elasticity is essentially the strength of your hair shaft (it’s ability to stretch without breaking). This strength stems from the cortex or the middle layer of the hair strand. With a damaged cuticle, high porosity hair’s shaft structure is compromised which can result in a weakening or the inner layers. Additionally, many of the treatments that result in high porosity hair, directly impact the hair’s cortex (the part of the strand that is responsible for giving your hair its color and structure), such as coloring or relaxing.
- Your hair is frizzy. Some people will list hair that isn’t smooth as a sign of high porosity. Technically, this is true, but is a hard clue to discern. Cuticles are invisible to the nake eye. Similarly, they are difficult to feel if you are not a hair stylist who deals with and evaluates hair daily. A better way to tell if your hair isn’t smooth is based on sight vs. touch. If you are always dealing with frizz and work hard to achieve a smoother look or texture, then damaged cuticles may be the culprit.
Signs that you COULD have high porosity hair
- You deal with chronic breakage. While breakage CAN be an indication of high porosity hair, it isn’t an absolutely definitive clue. Breakage plagues women with high porosity and low porosity hair for different reasons – so breakage alone isn’t enough to identify porosity. However, if you experience chronic breakage in combination with some of the signs listed above, then you can be pretty confident that lifted cuticles are likely to blame.
- Your hair lacks luster/shine. We struggle with this one because there is a wide spectrum when it comes to hair’s natural shine or sheen. Further, that spectrum is even more complicated when considering anyone with textured hair. The best way to use this clue is to do it comparatively. If your hair appears to have less luster than months or years ago, they may help you identify that you have high porosity hair.
Understanding your hair’s porosity helps you take a huge leap forward in figuring out how best to care for your hair and improve its health and appearance. However, porosity is just one of a number of attributes. For a comprehensive evaluation of your hair profile AND personalized product and routine recommendations take the MMARA Healthy Hair Quiz.