My hair is really thick. Thick enough that hair stylists, colorists, and blow dry bar stylists tend to cringe when I sit down in their chairs, resigned to the fact that the appointment will probably take twice as long as usual. I always assumed this was why my hair takes forever to dry, too — but recently, I learned that I actually have low-porosity hair, which makes strands more likely to hold onto water. It only took a few product swaps — and some expert advice — to cut my dry time in half.
In case you don't know, porosity is the hair’s ability to absorb and retain water, and it's defined by the state of the hair cuticle. “If your hair has low porosity, that means that you have smaller cuticles and that it [resists] moisture,” Ashley Streicher, a celebrity hair stylist for Mandy Moore and Sarah Paulson (and R+Co’s newest Collective member), tells The Zoe Report. High porosity hair, on the other hand, is quick to absorb moisture — and quick to lose it, too.
“Porosity levels differ from person to person depending on certain variables,” Ebony Bomani, the lead stylist and product educator for The Mane Choice, tells TZR. “Genetics is one of them.” She adds that highly-textured hair types, like curls and natural coils, are likely low porosity, as is Asian hair. There are three main ways to assess your low porosity: “It takes forever for water and products to penetrate, the hair resists chemical processes, and — the most annoying one — it takes forever to dry,” Bomani says.
Low porosity is a funny thing that way. First, the cuticle blocks water (so beads of moisture will initially roll off the top of your head in the shower), then, once it’s in, the cuticle won’t let go of it. When hair finally does dry, strands can feel brittle and fried — because even though hair was moisture-logged, it wasn’t actually moisturized. “Also, low porosity hair can be prone to product buildup,” Streicher says (since the cuticle is bloated with water, conditioners and stylers just sit on the surface instead of absorbing). This is all due to the fact the layers of the hair cuticle lie flat, like shingles on a roof, making it difficult for water or product to get in and out.
To add insult to injury, hair that’s always a little damp — like mine, which typically takes around three or four hours to air-dry — is more prone to breakage. Just compare it to your fingernails being soaked at the salon pre-mani: Water softens the protein (which hair is made of, as well) to make them easier to clip and file.
Unfortunately, blasting strands with a blow dryer isn’t the answer — my hair can’t take the heat damage (and neither can yours, probably). Instead, rehabbing low porosity hair comes down to technique and timing, with a few key products thrown into the mix. “Use slightly warmer water when shampooing to raise the cuticle layer,” Bomani instructs. “Also, incorporate deep conditioning steam treatments to lift the cuticle and shove that moisture in.” For example, apply The Mane Choice Heavenly Halo Soy Milk Deep Hydration Mask and use a heated cap (like Bondi Curls Thermal Heat Cap) to make hair more receptive to its hydration.
Both pros note it can be helpful to look for hair products made with humectants, like glycerin and honey, to lock in moisture (not water); and to avoid protein treatments (those will only strengthen the outer cuticle — which low porosity hair doesn’t need).
As far as stylers, products “lower in molecular structure are more effective when it comes to quickly absorbing into tightly-closed cuticles," Bomani tells TZR. Ditch the heavy oils, like pure coconut oil and castor oil — they won't soak in, so hair will look greasy — in favor of lightweight options. Argan oil and black seed oil are both low porosity approved (I personally bulk-order Kardashian Beauty’s discontinued Black Seed Dry Oil wherever I can find it, usually on Amazon, because it’s so good).
Finally, don’t apply products to your hair when it's soaking wet; let your hair dry a bit first. As water evaporates, it makes space for the active ingredients in your hair care products to penetrate.
For me, the most effective product I’ve found to balance my low porosity hair is the four-step Aquis Hair Prime System — it’s taken my air dry time from three or four hours to just an hour and a half. The first step is a hydrating pre-wash treatment, which you spray onto dry hair; it essentially fills the cuticle with hydrating ingredients before excess water can work its way in. Then comes a shampoo that cleanses without stripping, followed by... no conditioner. I’ll admit, I was worried about skipping the conditioner, since curly hair is notoriously dry. But after a few days of Aquis, I’m a no-conditioner convert — barring the occasional deep conditioning treatment, of course.
Step three involves twisting wet strands into the Aquis Rapid Dry Hair Turban, which is made out of the brand's proprietary moisture-wicking material, Aquitex, as opposed to traditional terry cloth or cotton. It's been shown to cut drying time in half and cut down on frizz — and I'll attest to that. Finally, a spritz (or five) of leave-in conditioner fortified with amino acids and lightweight oils provides all the moisture my curls need. I’m certifiably obsessed, if you couldn’t tell.
Ahead, 12 ways to keep low porosity hair healthy, hydrated, and dry in no time.
Shop Low Porosity Hair Care
Bomani recommends this mask from The Mane Choice since it's lightweight but deeply hydrating, thanks to umutanga oil and soy protein.
Stock up on "protein-free daily conditioners with humectants," Streicher says, like R+Co's Television Perfect Hair Conditioner. It contains glycerin to help hair stay moisturized and babassu seed oil to keep strands soft.
Both Bomani and Streicher claim that honey is a must for low porosity hair. SheaMoisture's 10-minute mask is the perfect way to incorporate the ingredient into your regular routine.
Say what you want about the Kardashians, but their hair care line was straight-up incredible. I still swear by this Black Seed Dry Oil years later, and constantly keep an eye out for it on Amazon and eBay. (No shame.)
SheaMoisture has a whole line of products targeted at low porosity hair, including this baobab- and tea tree-infused shampoo. Both ingredients add much-needed moisture.
Pair this protein-free conditioner with the above shampoo for an entire hair care routine that takes your cuticle into consideration.
When strands are damp — not soaking – reach for R+Co's High Dive Crème. Streicher swears by its lightweight argan oil blend to keep hair hydrated.
Packed with glycerin (for hydration) and sunflower seed oil (for conditioning), this five-minute mask is a must for keeping low porosity strands in check, says Bomani.
Looking for an oil that won't leave your low porosity hair looking greasy? Experts suggest swapping out your go-to coconut oil for argan oil.
Aimed at preventing breakage, Carol's Daughter's three-piece system is perfect for those whose coily hair tends to take a little extra time to dry. It features monoi oil (a natural conditioner that's powerful but not heavy), bamboo water (more hydrating than regular water), and vitamin B5 (to heal the hair cuticle).