Prior to going natural in 2019, I didn’t know the first thing about curls. My hair had gone through relaxers, keratins, and perms and I had all the hair products to protect it from heat damage or to maintain a sleek shine. But with the big chop, understanding how my curls behaved, fell, and stayed hydrated was a lesson in trial and error — something I’m still perfecting today. Although knowing your curl pattern and how to hydrate it is beneficial, another feature to consider is your whether you have low porosity hair, high porosity, or somewhere in between.
Following natural hair bloggers, I had heard about hair porosity but I didn’t realize how much it could affect the overall outcome of wash day and curl definition. “Hair porosity is your hair’s ability to absorb and hang on to hydration and moisture,” says Devin Graciano, hair stylist and head of product development at Goldie Locks. She believes it’s important to test and understand your hair’s porosity level to accurately choose the right hair products for your hair’s current condition and in order to find the best practices when styling your hair to ensure your locks remain healthy.
Understanding hair porosity is great for all hair types but especially necessary for curls, where coils and spirals make it difficult for product and moisture to travel from root to tip. Ahead, TZR spoke to a few hairstylists to get the full scoop on determining your porosity and finding a routine to satisfy your hair’s unique needs. They are even taking out the guesswork by sharing their favorite products for each type.
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What Is Hair Porosity?
“Although heat damage, sun exposure, and bleach can alter the porosity, the root cause of your porosity level is largely due to genetics,” Jenna Spino, stylist at Maxine Salon in Chicago, tells TZR. Essentially, each strand has an outer shell of cuticles that act like doors to open and seal in moisture. “Hair cuticles are like shingles on a roof or fish scales that sit perfectly on top of one another,” says Graciano. The higher the porosity, the more those scales are lifting, and in damaged hair some of those scales are missing completely.
The way your hair absorbs and retains moisture can be placed into three categories: low, normal, and high. Firstly, there is no porosity that is better than another — it’s just a more detailed way to learn how to manage your hair. Low porosity has cuticles that are very close together; while high porosity has cuticles that are spread out. If you find your hair is somewhere in between, you have normal porosity.
How Can You Determine Hair Porosity?
There are a couple different ways to test your hair porosity. The simplest approach is with a clear glass of water and a couple strands of hair (because naturals tend to have multiple curl patterns throughout the head, it’s best to do this with a couple strands of hair). Start by dropping the strands of hair into a glass of water. If it floats, you have low porosity; if it sinks immediately you have high porosity. If it starts off by floating and then sinks over time, you have normal or medium porosity.
According to Micaella Mosley, curly hair expert and founder of Mila Rose Hair Care, an alternative method to the water cup involves washing your hair and seeing how long it takes to dry. If your hair takes a full day to dry then you have low porosity. If your hair is almost immediately dry after washing it, then you have high porosity. And lastly, Michelle O’Connor, expert stylist and Matrix artistic director suggests the cuticle test: Take a strand of hair and gently brush against it in the reverse direction to feel the bumpiness of the cuticle. The bumpier the cuticle, the higher the porosity.
Tips For A Low Porosity Hair Routine
Signs of Low Porosity
Low porosity struggles with retaining moisture resulting in dry or tangled hair. “Low porosity is vulnerable to missing key hydration simply because it does not have access to enter the hair shaft and deliver those nutrients,” Graciano tells TZR. Therefore, you might notice product or shower water beading up on top of your hair. This is because cuticles are shut so tightly that the moisture cannot absorb.
How To Hydrate Low Porosity Hair
To combat hydration issues, you’ll want to avoid oils like castor oil or coconut oil as they are made to seal the cuticle — working against your efforts to lock in moisture. Spino also suggests staying away from protein rich conditioners as they can cause excess product buildup. Instead, look for “conditioners with honey or glycerin as they are natural attractors for moisture in the air and will better absorb into your hair,” says O’Connor. For styling items, invest in products that won’t weight your hair down, think leave-in conditioners and sulfate-free shampoos.
As someone who goes through phases of low porosity, I find that steam treatments or at-home hair steamers help to lift the cuticle so products and moisture can seep in. Graciano agrees, saying, “If you’d like to increase your porosity in a nonabrasive manner you can utilize heat, and steam with your conditioner and or hair mask treatments to expose the cuticle a bit more than where it was without steam.”
Tips For A Normal Porosity
Signs of Normal Porosity
With a looser cuticle, normal porosity is the easiest hair type to maintain as moisture penetrates with ease. “Medium porosity has a cuticle that is somewhat open or exposed like the scales have lifted allowing for key hydrating and moisturizing elements to penetrate the hair without escaping too quickly,” says Graciano.
How To Hydrate Normal Porosity Hair
You can opt to either deep condition with a mask once a week to balance all the natural oils or ultra-hydrating conditioners on wash day to eliminate product buildup and replenish moisture. As for daily maintenance, a hair serum or oil can be used for hydration and protection of the hair strand without layering itself and causing weight.
Tips For A High Porosity Routine
Signs of High Porosity
According to Graciano, high porosity could result from the ammonia in permanent hair color via bleaching, lightening, and other aggressive chemical treatments — preventing it from holding water. “The hair cuticle is lifted and while hydration and moisture can enter, it is hyperextended too much, which results in hydration and moisture leaving just as quickly as it entered,” Graciano tells TZR.
How To Hydrate High Porosity Hair
High porosity hair will need more acidic products to bring that hyperextension back down. Try deeper conditioners like the Goldie Locks Hair Mask that are not only hydrating but help seal the cuticle to keep moisture in. In addition, for daily use work in an oil like Trademark Beauty Argan Oil Daily Elixir to restore moisture and further prevent dryness.
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