One of the best parts about the current world of hair care is that there are so many ways to get customized items that fit your specific hair needs: ultra-moisturizing products for curls, repairing products for damage, and volume-boosters for fine hair. And while you might understand your general hair profile, with things like length, color, density or texture, there’s one question about your locks that you might not be able to answer: do you have low porosity hair? To which most people would probably follow up with “well…what is low porosity hair? Or porosity in general?”
Porosity refers to hair’s ability to absorb and retain moisture. If your hair soaks up moisture easily and takes an especially long time to dry, you have high porosity hair. On the other hand, if your hair takes a long time to get fully wet and dries relatively quickly, you probably have low porosity hair. These differences are largely determined by the cuticle: this outermost layer of your hair controls the movement of moisture in and out of your follicles. If the cuticles of your hair are raised with more gaps, making it easier for water to flow in and out, you have high porosity hair; if your cuticles lie flat, making it harder for water to enter or escape, you have low porosity hair. Generally straight hair tends to be more nonporous than its curlier counterpart: the more bends and curves in your hair mean more opportunities for the cuticle to lift and allow moisture to both enter and escape. But this isn’t set in stone, as you can absolutely have lower porosity curly hair and vice versa with straighter strands.
While genetics play a large part in determining the porosity of your hair, the way you treat your hair can affect it as well. Physical chemical damage to hair are very common: things like getting your hair colored, relaxed, or even rough or tight styling can all damage the cuticle, making it more fragile. And when the cuticle is damaged, these increased openings mean your hair’s porosity is increased.
There’s a simple and easy way to test your hair’s porosity at home: starting with clean, dry hair, grab a loose strand and drop it into a glass of water. If sinks to the bottom (since it’s taking on moisture), you have highly porous hair, and those with low porosity hair will see their strands floating on the surface. Of course it’s also possible to have a balance of porosity in your hair, and in this case you’ll see the strand initially float, then slowly start sinking down to the bottom of the glass.
If you’re still unsure after the glass test, check out some of the most common characteristics of low porosity hair to see if your locks fit the bill:
photo by @nicolebradleyy
If these factors led you to realize that you have low porosity hair, you’ll need to find the perfect hair care regimen to care for it. Let’s discuss some of the best hair products and daily routines to help your hair look its best.
We’ve discussed that one of the key signs of having low porosity hair is when product fails to absorb well and easily builds up on your strands. Because of this, it’s important to avoid applying too many products at once. You might be tempted to slather on oils and creams to boost hydration levels, but you’ll probably just be left with a big clarifying project to tackle the next day. Washing your hair with warm water will help to get the cuticle to open up, making the strands more receptive to moisture, and applying products on damp or wet hair will also help with overall absorption. Be sure to check out our past blog posts on how to use hair oil and how to moisturize your hair to properly care for your strands.
The first step in caring for low porosity hair is to tackle the potential buildup from hair products and natural oils that just sit on the surface. A nice clarifying shampoo will help to remove any buildup and clear off the surface of your hair shaft and scalp to be more receptive to further products and care. When you’re not using a clarifying shampoo, your hair will benefit from a lightweight hydrating shampoo that will gently cleanse while introducing moisture into your thirsty strands. To go with your shampoo, a lightweight hair conditioning treatment is necessary for low porosity hair to hydrate it without weighing it down. If you’re still noticing a little dryness during the day, applying a leave in lightweight hair oil will have a similar effect on your strands — it’s also great for taming frizz and flyaways and adding natural-looking texture without leaving any unwanted residue.
Since low porosity hair involves a stubborn cuticle layer that won’t open easily, you might want to try the hair steaming technique to get it to cooperate. Exposing your hair to moist heat creates a humid environment, helping your hair absorb moisture more easily. There are a bunch of different steaming caps and products for you to choose from — no matter which you try, remember to not let your steaming session exceed 30 minutes.
Similar to the steaming technique, the greenhouse technique is another great way to help bring moisture into low porosity hair. Start by lightly spritzing your hair with water, adding a little oil if needed. Then cover your hair with a shower cap, and let it sit, ideally overnight. When you go to remove the cap, you’ll probably notice a warm scalp and softer-looking hair. What you’ve done is trap the heat escaping from your head, which creates a warm, moist environment like the steaming technique that will help your cuticle let moisture into your hair.
Most hair routines could benefit from a deep conditioning treatment, but especially those with low porosity hair. Deep conditioners are better at penetrating than normal conditioners, so they’re a great choice to try and give your hair an extra boost of moisture. Try to use a deep conditioner one to two times a week, and increase frequency as necessary if you’re not noticing an improvement.
Every hair type comes with its individual care needs, and those with low porosity hair just need to look for clarifying and moisturizing hair products to penetrate their stubborn strands. It’s not about bombarding your hair with a ton of super rich and heavy products, just mixing at-home remedies like hair steaming with lightweight moisture to get your cuticles to gently open up. If you have low porosity hair and have other tricks and techniques you’d like to share (I’d love to hear how the greenhouse technique has worked for you), be sure to let us know in the comments below.
By Lauren Hannel, staff contributor
cover photo by @goldandglowco