Hair porosity is a buzzword that’s been going around the curly and natural hair community for quite some time. If you’ve been struggling with dry, damaged hair but aren’t sure why, you may be neglecting to care for your hair according to its porosity level.
Most naturalistas tend to have hair that’s on the drier side to begin with—but knowing your hair’s porosity can go a long way in helping you understand how best to care for your hair, which products and ingredients to use or steer clear from, and what techniques are best for your hair.
Hair porosity refers to the hair’s ability to absorb moisture. There are 3 types of hair porosity: low porosity, high porosity, and medium porosity.
In this article, we’ll talk all about low porosity hair, including how to test your hair to figure out whether it’s of low porosity, and how best to care for it for healthier natural hair.
What is low porosity hair?
Low porosity hair has a difficult time absorbing moisture, due to a tight, flat hair cuticle which prevents moisture from entering into the hair. Think of your hair strand like a shingled roof. Usually, all the layers of shingling tightly overlap to avoid flooding. When rain hits the roof, the water simply slides off without absorbing through the roof. Low porosity hair is identical. The cuticle layer is bound tightly like those roof shingles, and when water hits, it cannot easily penetrate through the cuticle.
But it’s not all bad! Just like moisture has a hard time getting inthrough the cuticle, it has just as hard a time getting out. This means, if you have your low porosity hair care regimen down, your hair strands will lock in moisture much better than other porosity types. Yay!
What are the characteristics of low porosity hair?
You can identify if you have low porosity hair by the following characteristics:
Little or no elasticity
If you were washing your hair, you would expect elasticity and bounce. Unfortunately, if you have low porosity hair it may break easily if you stretch it, due to its low elasticity.
Products Just Don't Sink In
We already know that low porosity hair can’t readily absorb moisture. Similarly, hair products are just as difficult to absorb (but we have some tips on how to help with this below). You may find that the product tends to sit on top of the hair strands for a long time, rather than sinking in. Say you apply a hair oil to your ends—you may find that your ends feel or look oily, and may even feel the oil on your fingers after a few hours.
Wash day takes forever
It’s a double edged sword. Because the outermost layer is tightly bound, it can take a long time for your hair to get fully wet. Similarly, once washed, you may find that you wait hours for your hair to fully dry without the help of a blow dryer.
Dry ends and prone to tangling
Moisture is the key to healthy hair. And when your hair can’t absorb moisture easily, this leads to dry, tangle-prone hair.
We also know that dry hair loses its curl definition, so if you’ve noticed that your natural texture is losing its curl pattern, it could be because you have low porosity hair that isn’t being cared for properly.
How do I know if I have low porosity hair?
There are a few ways to test your hair to determine its porosity level.
1. The hair strand float test
This is the fastest and most popular way to figure out your hair porosity. Make sure you have clean hair before doing this test, or else product buildup on the hair strand may give you incorrect results.
Fill a bowl with cold water, then take a strand of hair, drop it in the bowl, and watch how the hair reacts. If it sinks to the bottom quickly, that means you have high porosity hair. If it sinks somewhere to the middle, that means you have medium porosity hair. If it remains floating, it means you have low porosity hair.
Note, that once the water warms up, all hair types will eventually sink to the bottom as the hair cuticles eventually open up and let moisture in, so it’s important to keep an eye on how the hair behaves as soon as you drop it in.
2. Test with spray bottles
Take a spray bottle and spritz some water over dry hair. If the water beads up on top of the hair strands, it means it’s not being absorbed properly and your hair has low porosity. If it sinks in, you have highly porous or normal porosity hair.
3. Use the Slide Test
The last test will help you understand whether your hair has a tight outer layer. Take a strand of hair between your forefinger and thumb, and slide your fingers up the hair shaft toward your scalp. If it feels smooth, that means there are tight cuticles that lay flat—a characteristic of low porosity hair. If you feel a bunch of bumps, it means the cuticles are raised and you have high porosity hair.
Low Porosity Hair Care
Although allowing moisture in is difficult for low porosity it just takes the right hair care routine and products for your hair type. Once you’ve learned how to properly lock in moisture, your curls will be healthier, shinier, and bouncier. We promise! Here are a few ways to care for low porosity hair:
1. Clarify Your Hair
If you rarely clarify your hair, you can't even begin to notice how much product accumulates on the hair strands and scalp, making it even more difficult to absorb the precious moisture that your hair needs. Make a conscious decision to use a clarifying shampoo regularly to minimise product buildup and keep a healthy scalp. You can also rinse your hair with apple cider vinegar, which will leave it nice and shiny.
2. Deep Condition With Heat
Generally, deep conditioners have excellent penetration that is much more effective when applied to the hair after shampoo and conditioner. To help the hair further absorb moisture, wash your hair with warm water. Then, apply a deep conditioner and put a shower cap on for about 15-20 minutes, or use a hooded dryer or heat cap to trap in heat. Heat makes the hair cuticles lift, allowing for moisture to more easily penetrate through.
3. Give Humectants A Try
Humectants pull in moisture from the air right into your hair strands. They’re essentially moisture magnets! Look for products with ingredients like glycerine, honey, aloe vera, and agave.
Pre-poo is the process of applying a moisturising treatment to your hair before you actually wash it. You can create your own pre-poo at home by combining sweet almond oil, jojoba oil, and grapeseed oil. Apply it to the hair, let it sit for a few minutes, then wash as normal.
5. Moisturise Your Hair Mid-Week
Mid-week moisturisation plays a significant role in the hair's elasticity for soft, healthy hair. Otherwise, your hair may start to feel dry and fragile. Try a coconut milk leave-in conditioner or rose water hair spritz during the week, or add some aloe vera to spray bottles with filtered water. If your hair is especially dry and tangled, be sure to finger detangle, and to use a wide-tooth comb from the bottom up to slowly and carefully work through knots.
6. Wash your hair with a sulfate-free shampoo
Sulfates can cause the hair to dry up even further, leading to dryness, tangling, and even hair loss. Opt for alcohol and sulfate-free shampoos and conditioners with natural ingredients to prevent further dryness.
7. Use Protective Styles
Protective hairstyles like twist-outs, braids and Bantu knots are a great option for moisture retention if you’re all-natural. These help trap moisture in while you air dry. As a bonus, you’ll have beautifully defined curls when you undo the styles.
8. Use the LCO method
LCO (Liquid, Cream Oil) means applying your hair products from lightest to heaviest. Remember, low porosity hair means the hair cuticle is tightly packed and doesn’t let large molecules in. This means a lightweight water-based product will have more of a chance to penetrate first, then your medium weight cream product, then finally add an oil to trap everything in.
9. Use lightweight, water-based products
You may think that because your hair has trouble absorbing moisture, you should go for the thickest, most moisturising oil or cream possible. In reality, this is the wrong way to go about things. You want to choose lightweight products to penetrate through the stubborn, very tight cuticles and deep into the hair shaft. This means choosing moisturising products that list things like water, extracts, and milks in their top 5 ingredients.
10. Avoid silicones
Silicones are those ingredients that make your hair look super shiny upon washing. The problem with this, is that they’re synthetic ingredients that coat your hair, basically making your hair impenetrable to moisture! Over time, you’ll notice your hair gets drier, more brittle, and may grow slower. Look for hair products without these synthetic ingredients so your hair strands have a chance to breathe.
11. Avoid proteins
Although proteins are great for high porosity hair, they’re not the best for low porosity hair. Low porosity hair is protein-sensitive, and it can cause the hair to toughen and harden, making it more repellent to moisture, and more brittle and dull.
Get healthier hair with these tips
Low porosity hair is certainly difficult to manage, especially if you have natural hair, but it’s not impossible. Now that you know how to properly care for your hair according to its porosity, give these tips a try and let us know if you see a difference in your hair’s health. If you have any other tips for low porosity hair, drop them in the comments below. We’d love to hear them.