Learning how to handle your curly hair is quite the journey – from curl typing, to learning about ingredients, the amount of information out there can be overwhelming. But there’s nothing quite as misunderstood or confusing as hair porosity.
What on earth are people referring to when they talk about curly hair porosity?
According to Devachan SoHo Stylist, Jessica Fitzpatrick, “Porosity is the hair’s ability to absorb and retain water and water-soluble products.”
Aka, hair porosity refers to how easily your hair absorbs moisture.
There are different porosity levels, and this can affect which products you choose to style your hair. But before we get into all of that – let’s take a step back – and first explain how hair absorbs moisture.
When you think about a strand of hair, each one has multiple layers. The outer most layer is called the cuticle layer – made up of smaller cuticles (that are similar in shape to a shingle). The cuticles lay together like a roof (or even a pinecone). Water and other moisturizing products help to fight frizz by passing through the cuticle layer and getting to the actual hair strand.
If the cuticles are really close together, it’s harder for water to penetrate the hair – aka it can be harder to keep hair hydrated.
According to Jess, who also happens to be a DevaCurl Educator, most people group hair porosity into three categories: low, normal (medium), and high.
“If your hair has low porosity, that means the cuticles are very compact and not as susceptible to receiving hydration. Low porosity hair characteristics include dry hair, and in some cases, it’s hard to keep this hair texture wet, because water can bead up and roll right off the strand. Product can also sit on top of strands.
If your hair has normal, (medium) porosity, your cuticles “float” open and close easily to allow enough hydration in and also the ability to contain the hydration. With this porosity type, water tends to sit on top of strands initially but then absorbs. This type requires the least maintenance, as the hair holds styles well with volume and shine.
If you have high porosity hair, your cuticle “floats” open and tends to stay more open. There may also be gaps between the cuticle layers. High porosity hair characteristics can include curls become soaking wet quite easily, but hair also tends to tangle faster (because the cuticles get caught). It’s also more susceptible to breakage because of gaps in the cuticle layer. Signs of high porosity hair also include a long dry time, and when if left with too much moisture, when it finally does dry, the hair can appear to be very weighed down.
So how do you determine how porous your hair is? There’s porosity tests for that.
The most commonly known test is the Float/Strand Test.
Here’s how to test your hair porosity:
With clean hair, place a few strands of loose hair into a bowl of water and over a few minutes observe how the hair reacts to the water.
If the hair sinks to the bottom rather quickly, you may have high porosity hair. If the hair seems to float in the middle of bowl of water, it has normal porosity. If the hair floats on top and doesn’t sink much, it may have low porosity.
There’s another easy porosity quiz called the Water Test (And this one happens to be Jess’ personal fave).
With clean hair, section off a small panel of hair and tie the rest back.
With a spray bottle of water, spray the section down and observe the way the hair responds to being saturated.
If the hair becomes saturated rather easily, it may be highly porous. If the hair seems to slowly absorb water, it has normal porosity. If the hair doesn’t seem to stay wet, it may have low porosity.
Something to keep in mind with these tests – there are many factors that can alter the porosity of a strand. Product build-up (especially silicones, heavy oils, heavy butters, etc.) on the hair could lead you to believe that the hair has low porosity as the build-up is preventing the hair from absorbing moisture.
If the hair is chemically processed (lightened, relaxed, keratin treatment, etc,) or thermally damaged, it could cause the strands to have high porosity.
So how do you avoid this?
When choosing hair to test, note that there is generally more product build-up and thermal/ chemical damage around the face-framing hair and the part line panels of hair.
Jess also says you should be mindful of where you are in your healthy hair journey. Keep in mind that our hair grows half an inch a month, meaning shoulder length curly hair could be anywhere from 4-6 years old depending on curl type. What has your hair been exposed to in those 4-6 years? If you’re just beginning your healthy hair journey, your hair has probably been exposed to a lot of silicone-build up, thermal exposure, and maybe chemical damage.
So once you’ve finally figured out your hair porosity, now what?
The Basics of Caring for Low Porosity Hair
With low porosity hair, remember, cuticles are compact so you want to avoid heavy butters or oils that do not absorb into the cuticle. Those products will just further dehydrate the hair – no thank you.
A low porosity hair routine should consist of water-soluble products to reduce build-up.
When conditioning low porosity hair, apply conditioner to hair that is already wet, then work it into the hair in sections, while continuing to add water. Diluting the conditioner this way, helps it get more easily absorbed by the cuticle.
Keep in mind, you may want to stay away from protein heavy treatments and conditioners since protein tends to sit on top of low porosity strands, and can cause them to feel more brittle. Instead, opt for more hydrating and moisturizing treatments (like Heaven in Hair and Melt into Moisture).
You can and should do the same with stylers. Apply them in sections with plenty of water, cream based stylers will likely be your best bet.
To finish, use a hooded-dryer or steamer – as these methods utilize heat, which keeps the cuticle open, allowing more hydration to feed into the hair. But the key here is to slow down the drying process as much as possible – the longer your hair is wet, the longer it has the opportunity to absorb more moisture, which in turn, lets your wash and go last longer.
The best low porosity hair products are ones that provide rich moisture!
Jessica recommends: No-Poo Original, One Condition Original, No-Poo Decadence, One Condition Decadence, Heaven In Hair, SuperCream, Styling Cream, Curl Maker, B-Leave In, Beautiful Mess, Arc Angel, and Melt into Moisture. Build-up Buster will help reduce product build-up as well.
The Basics of Caring for Normal Porosity Hair
If your hair has normal (medium) porosity strands, your cuticles “float” open and close easily – which means your strands easily accept and retain moisture. While your curls could be in the “just right” category, your hair needs can range – you might need more moisture, hold, or protein. Exactly what it needs can vary, especially with seasonal change. Balance your routine with a mixture of moisture and hold until you find what works for you!
Jessica recommends: No-Poo Original, One Condition Original, Low-Poo Original, Styling Cream, Curl Maker, Frizz-Free Volumizing Foam, WaveMaker, Light Defining Gel, Ultra Defining Gel, Arc Angel, Set It Free, and Melt Into Moisture.
The Basics of Caring for High Porosity Hair
Now, as we know, high porosity hair tends to wet easily and become easily weighed down with products that attract moisture. So if you have this hair type, it’s best to avoid humectant products with a lot of glycerin. These products attract water into the hair and weigh it down.
Instead, focus on hydrating the hair with a silicone free conditioner and include a protein- based deep conditioner into your weekly or bi-weekly routine to help strengthen your strands.
The best high porosity hair products are ones that provide moisture but are lightweight!
Jessica recommends: No-Poo Original, One Condition Original, Low-Poo Delight, One Condition Delight, Styling Cream, Curl Maker, Frizz-Free Volumizing Foam, WaveMaker, Light Defining Gel, Ultra Defining Gel, Arc Angel, and Deep Sea Repair.
Have you done a porosity test? What was your result and what products have you loved? Share with us in the comments below!