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Hair Porosity: What it is and Why is Matters

It seems like everywhere you go people are talking about hair porosity. It first started with countless videos on hair with low porosity and then a number of videos on hair with high porosity popped up. But in most of these videos, you encounter the same formula. The maker of the video shares her own personal experience, discussing her hair porosity and this is typically followed by sharing or a review of the products that she uses to help achieve her hair goals. In some instances, she may also share her entire hair care routine.  

Now we’re all for sharing information and helping other sisters learn through our own experiences, but these videos fall short in a big way. They are all about someone else, not you! You can spend hours watching video after video or reading blog post after blog post and still walk away wondering, “but what does this have to do with me?” Well, this post is here to fill that information gap by giving you information on all types of hair porosity, how to test your own hair to better understand your porosity profile and best of all, provide recommendations on products types or routine hacks that will help you better achieve YOUR hair goals. They don’t call it a journey for nothing, it may take trial and error to really get it right, but this article should at least help to get you started.

What is hair porosity?

Hair porosity is basically how easily moisture passes in and out of your hair shaft.

You can’t really understand hair porosity without understanding hair structure. If not you’re not into science, don’t worry we don’t go too deep, but it is important to understand what each strand of hair is composed of because it will help you understand your own hair, hair issues and what to do about them.

Each strand of hair on your head consists of two or three layers (depending on your hair texture: the cuticle, the cortex and the medulla. The cuticle is the outermost protective layer of overlapping flaps similar to a shingled roof. Those flaps can slightly open and close enabling moisture and other properties to get inside the hair shaft. The second layer is the cortex. The cortex is tremendously important as it dictates your hair’s texture, color and strength. For people with thick or coarse hair, they may also have a third innermost layer called the medulla. Not everyone has hair with a medulla and for those who do have it, they may have it only on some portions of hair and not others. If you have fine or medium hair, chances are you don’t have a medulla. The medulla is a soft and fragile center to the hair shaft often compared to marrow of bone, but scientists aren’t really sure of the medulla’s purpose, so don’t feel bad if you don’t have one! Having a medulla or not having one doesn’t have an impact on how hair reacts to styling or products.

Now with that understanding, let’s get back to porosity. Hair with high porosity has cuticles with flaps that are more open allowing moisture to easily enter or leave the hair shaft. Hair with lower porosity on the other hand has tightly packed cuticle layer that does not allow moisture to easily enter or leave the hair shaft. Hair with medium porosity has cuticles that maintain a balance of moisture of the hair shaft. Because medium porosity is said to be balanced, you don’t hear much about it, but it is important to know if you have hair with medium porosity so you can maintain it. Poor treatment amongst other things can easily throw porosity out of balance, leaving you with less healthy hair.

Say what? Your hair porosity can change?

Yes, you read that right. There are a number of factors that impact hair porosity including genetics, chemical processing or products used in your hair care routine, aging and environmental factors. So you see, your hair’s porosity is or can be more dynamic than static. While some symptoms of high or low porosity might be considered a drag, there is nothing inherently good or bad about either. Porosity just is and the more you know, the more you can adjust your products and hair care regimen to help you achieve the balance that will lead you to optimal hair health.

So this is all great, but how do you know what to do if you don’t know where you are starting, right?

There are a number of hair porosity tests that will give you a better sense of where your hair sits on the porosity scale.

Float Test: Pull a few strands of hair from your hairbrush (or from your head) and place in a cup filled with water. If after a few minutes your hair floats, you likely have low porosity hair. If the hairs sink to the middle or bottom of the cup, you likely have medium or high porosity hair, respectively.

Drench Test: Another way to figure out your hair’s porosity level is to simply drench your hair on your next wash day. As the water hits your hair, notice if your hair absorbs the water and drenches quickly, if it takes some time or if it takes a lot of time and water to fully saturate your hair. If your hair drenches quickly, you likely have high porosity hair. The longer it takes to saturate the more likely you are to have hair with low porosity.

Drying test: After washing your hair, you can also take note of how quickly your hair dries. If your hair dries naturally very quickly (some measure by whether or not your hair dries faster than your body) you are likely to have high porosity hair. If your hair takes a long time to dry you more likely have lower porosity hair.

So after testing you should have a better sense of where your hair sits on the porosity scale. You’re about 10 steps ahead of your pals still watching videos on YouTube.

If you have low porosity here there are a few tips on how to maintain and manage your hair. Since your hair is lower porosity your hair tends to be dry and is likely sensitive to protein. These steps can help you refine a hair care regimen that helps your hair flourish.

Low Porosity Hair Tips:

Shampooing and Conditioning

  1. Don’t skip shampoo. While dry hair will prompt you to want to only use moisturizing shampoos, low porosity hair is prone to build up, so you need to get a clarifying shampoo in the mix. How often you use one shampoo vs. another is different from person to person, so test starting with switching shampoos with every other wash and see how your hair responds. Adjust accordingly.
  2. Apply moisture at every step. You can use a pre-poo, deep conditioner, or even add some water to your conditioner to promote penetration. Since low porosity hair is protein sensitive, you want to focus less on protein and more on moisture (protein can cause the hair shaft to be overly stiff and break).
  3. Use products with humectants (honey or glycerin) that help to draw moisture into the shaft around the clock.
  4. Use heat when conditioning to lift the cuticle slightly and allow moisture to penetrate. For example, when conditioning your hair, pop a shower cap on and sit under the hooded dryer for 20 minutes. Don’t have a hooded dryer at home? Wet a towel with warm water and wrap it around your head.

Styling and Maintenance

  1. Use lighter oils and creams, water based moisturizing products. Because low porosity hair is resistant to taking in moisture, using heavier products can create a lot of build up further weighing down your hair and blocking moisture from entering. Yes, more product can lead to dryer hair.
  2. Sleep with either a silk or satin hair cap or wrap and/or satin pillowcases to help maintain moisture. Cotton may be soft, but it can leech moisture by absorbing your hair’s oils.

On the flip side, high porosity hair tends to be more deficient in protein, leaving the hair shaft weak and likely to break. Hitting the right moisture-protein balance is the key to improving your hair’s health and look. The following tips will help to manage your high porosity hair.

High Porosity Hair Tips:

Shampooing and Conditioning

  1. Select moisturizing shampoos to infuse moisture even as your cleanse.
  2. Deep condition regularly with hair masks or ingredient rich conditioners. Aim to leave conditioner in for an extended period of time. Some sleep with conditioner in, but that isn’t always necessary. Try to keep your conditioner in for at least 30 minutes per treatment.
  3. Use protein treatments to help strengthen the hair shaft. As a general rule of thumb, intense protein treatments should be applied once a month. Other products which include much smaller dosages of protein can be used more regularly depending on how your hair reacts to it.

**Hitting that Moisture-Protein Balance: Some people or blogs will tell you to use products that have both protein and moisturizing elements to help save on steps or products. This may work for you. If you test products and hit a home run, you can continue to use them. However, for many, these products may not be the holy grail in hair care you seek. Again, everyone’s hair is different and what everyone’s hair needs is different. These types of products leave you with little knowledge or ability to manipulate how much moisture or how much protein your hair is getting. So may want to consider using separate products (moisturizing only and protein only) so you can tweak until you get to your optimal mix.**

Styling and Maintenance

  1. Use heat styling minimally. For high porosity gals, heat will only further raise the hair cuticle and cause greater damage – this even includes water temperature when washing!
  2. Dry hair with a cotton t-shirt or microfiber towel. These fabrics cause less friction against the hair protecting your hair cuticles.
  3. Master and rock low manipulation hairstyles allows you to again reduce friction and frequent handling of your hair.
  4. Use heavier oils and creams which can help weigh down or close your hair cuticles, sealing in moisture.
  5. Seal your locks with the LOC method. L.O.C. stands for liquid, oil, cream. Since moisture leaves the hair shaft easily because cuticles are more open than ideal, this method uses liquid to moisturize, oil to seal in moisture and cream to close the hair shaft – helping your hair get moisturized and stay moisturized longer. You’ll want to find products that use emollients such as mineral or plant oils and shea or coconut butters since they help to soften hair.
  6. Sleep with satin or silk night caps and/or pillowcases help to protect the hair from friction that can cause breakage and helps your locks maintain moisture.

Finally, if you have medium porosity hair, your hair is likely to have a good moisture-protein balance. However, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to pay attention to your hair. Continue what you’re doing and monitor your hair health over time. If your hair health does change, it is more likely to become high porosity. If that happens, follow some of the tips for high porosity hair care already mentioned. But for now, protection and maintenance is the name of the game for you.  

Alright girl, there you have it. You have some key information to get you on your way. So now we’re dying to ask. Where does your hair fall on the porosity scale and what is the first tip you are already trying or want to try?

 

 

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