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All About Hair Porosity

Posted by Adria Marshall on

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One of the most important characteristics of your hair is its porosity. Your hair's porosity will determine:

  • The best products to use
  • How you should wash & condition your hair
  • How you should style your hair

In this post, we'll discuss:

  • What porosity is
  • How to determine your hair's porosity
  • Your next steps

What is Hair Porosity?

In a nutshell, hair porosity is the your hair's ability to retain moisture. Without getting too sciency, each hair strand is covered by cuticles (think roof shingles). Hair with low porosity has cuticles that naturally lie flat, trapping in moisture (once it gets in!). Hair with high porosity has cuticles that are naturally raised, making it easy for moisture to get into the hair shaft but just as easy for it to be removed. Naturals understand how important it is to retain moisture, that's why understanding your hair's porosity is so vital. We need to get the moisture inside of the cuticle and keep it there for our hair to be moisturized and healthy.

How to determine your hair's porosity

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If you Google "Hair Porosity Test", you'll be rewarded with 3-4 ways to determine your hair's porosity. My favorite test uses a single strand of clean hair and a cup of lukewarm water. 

1. Take a single strand of hair (from your shower floor, brush or straight from your head) and gently clean it - I use a sulfate shampoo or hand soap to make sure that all product has indeed been removed.

2. Fill a small cup with lukewarm water.

3. Place the hair strand in the cup of water and wait 5 minutes.

If the strand of hair is still floating on the water's surface, you have low porosity hair. 

If the strand of hair is hanging out in the midst of the water, you have medium (or normal) porosity hair.

If the stand of hair sinks to the bottom, you have high porosity hair.

How it works: Remember that your hair shaft is covered with cuticles. Low porosity hair has cuticles that are naturally closed and doesn't easily allow water into the hair shaft. Therefore, the hair floats on top of the water during the strand test. High porosity hair has cuticles that are naturally opened and readily allows water inside the hair shaft. Therefore, during the strand test, the hair accepts the water in the cup and sinks to the bottom. Medium (or normal) porosity hair does allow water into the hair shaft, but not as much as high porosity hair. That's why in 5 minutes, the hair is sinking but not as quickly as a strand of high porosity hair would. 

Your Next Steps

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OK, so now you know your hair's porosity! What's next? What's next is that you are now armed with the ability to choose products and methods that cater to your hair's porosity.

Tips for those with Low Porosity Hair

1. Really clean your hair. This means that you should be wary of co-washes and especially conditioner-only cleansing. Low-porosity hair has closed cuticles, doesn't allow products inside the hair shaft readily and therefore, is prone to build up. You need to be using a cleanser that will keep the hair shaft clean as a whistle. This doesn't mean that all co-washes are off-limits nor that all shampoos will do the trick! There are quite a few co-washes on the market that will get your hair squeaky clean! Just keep your focus on ridding your hair of build up and you'll be all set!

2. You can skip the cold water rinses and oils. Again, this is entirely up to you. Low porosity hair will naturally close it's cuticles, so often the extra steps of sealing with cold water rinses and oils are not necessary.

3. Avoid heavy butters. These are just going to sit on top of your hair. You'll probably be left with white residue and notice little to no additional moisturization. Low porosity hair prefers lighter products that can easy penetrate the hair shaft instead.

4. Similar to Tip #2, use warm water to your advantage. Warm water keeps the cuticle open! Use it when rinsing out your shampoo to allow all of the dirt and build up to exit stage left and to prepare your hair shaft for the deep conditioning goodness to come. Apply your leave-in conditioner while your hair is still warm so that it can sink into your hair shaft.

5. Deep condition with heat. Low porosity hair needs help keeping the cuticle open so that moisturing ingredients and protein can better penetrate. Using heat does the trick every time.

Tips for those with High Porosity Hair

1. Easy in - easy out. High porosity hair contains raised cuticles that allow moisture to come and go as it pleases. This means that you should opt for more co-washes and conditioning rinses and forego the heavier cleansers. Your hair has enough trouble staying moisturized as it is, no need to continuously remove the little bit of moisture that it has!

2. The colder the water the better. Cold water seals the hair cuticle and your hair needs all the help that it can get! After deep conditioning, rinse in cold water to close those cuticles shut and trap in the moisture.

3. Seal the Deal. Follow up your deep conditioning and leave-in with an oil to keep all of the goodness trapped inside. Oil and water don't mix so use this to your advantage!

4. Butter me Up! The heavier the butters the better. Anything to keep that moisture trapped inside the cuticle will help improve your moisture game.

Tips for those with Medium Porosity Hair

So you have medium porosity hair...well aren't you special? ;) Seriously, just about any products and methods should work well for your hair depending on your liking. 

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  • I read this and did the test and I have low porosity hair and wanted to ask about which products are best for my hair? Can you give names of products to wash, condition, leave-in and style? Thank you!

    Marcie on
  • What about mixed porosity? I have a U shaped med porosity area (think male pattern-ish), that surrounds a low porosity crown, with hi-po only at my temple area!

    Tee on
  • These tips are awesome! I’ve never given much thought into which hair porosity type I am. But after doing the float test, and learning I’m low porosity, I realize I’ve been using the wrong products the whole time! Not using shea butter on my precious strands again.

    Khalida on

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