As a somewhat experienced natural (three years in the making), I have experimented with a plethora of natural hair products. I am starting to understand my hair a lot better, but of course, there have been some bad hair days sprinkled in.
I’ll never forget the day I was at the airport going through TSA when the agent looked at my passport picture, showing myself with a long mane, and then at me with my current short hair and said “So you chopped it all huh sis?” Beaming with delight and confidence I said, “Sure did.” To my surprise she said, “You should look up porosity.” She then handed me back my passport and yelled for the next in line.
My new hair stylist also recently told me that the front ends of my hair have a different porosity than the hair at the back of my head. At the time of the TSA situation, I had no idea what hair porosity was. So I looked it up.
What is hair porosity?
Porosity refers to how well your hair absorbs and holds moisture. Most naturals, like myself, only consider curl patterns when curating a hair care regime, but porosity could be the answer to all our bad hair days. Basically, each individual hair strand is made of multiple layers. The outermost layer is called the cuticle. This layer opens up and allows oils and water to pass in and out of your hair. How porous hair can be is generally based off of genetics but can be greatly affected by coloring, heat styling, or relaxing the hair.
>Any person with curls will tell you that treating and styling curly hair is no easy task. Understanding your porosity level (note: your hair can have many different levels) is essential in understanding what products to use. Generally speaking there are three tiers — low, medium, and high porosity. To help you decipher how porous your hair is and what products to use, we put together the below breakdown.
How to tell how porous your hair is
To test how porous your hair is, use the float test.
Take a couple of strands of hair from your comb or brush and drop them into a bowl of water. (Remember to start with freshly washed hair as the oil can affect results.) Next, let hair sit in the cup for at least five minutes. If your hair floats, you have low porosity. If it sinks, you have high porosity.
Another option is the slip n’ slide test.
Take a strand of hair and slide fingers toward the scalp. If you feel bumps along the way, this means that your cuticle is lifted and you have high porosity. If your fingers slip smoothly, then you have low porosity hair.
Low Porosity Hair
Low porosity hair has a cuticle layer that is too tightly together, making it difficult for moisture or anything to enter the hair shaft. Typically you have low porosity if your hair takes a while to dry or if products sit on your hair instead of penetrate.
You’ll want to avoid using too many creams because the likelihood of buildup with multiple creams, shampoos, and conditioners, is high. If product is sitting on your hair, it makes it harder for moisture to get through, which ultimately leads to dryness.
We recommend using lightweight formulas, indirect heat (hot water or heated deep conditioners) to open cuticles to let moisture in. Bonus tip: utilize a weekly clarifying shampoo to remove residue.
Medium Porosity Hair
Hair with medium porosity is the sweet spot — often requiring slim to no maintenance. The cuticle layer is looser, allowing moisture to get in and preventing too much from escaping. Hair with normal porosity tends to hold styles well, and can easily be colored or permed.
Over time, however, these heat processes can change hair from normal to high porosity. To keep medium porosity, you’ll want to look for products for normal to dry hair as there is no need for a lot of conditioning.
High Porosity Hair
If you have chemically processed hair or live in a big city with lots of pollutants, you most likely fall into the high porosity category. The cuticle here has numerous gaps and holes, letting in too much moisture that instantly tangles or frizzes once dry.
Essentially, getting the moisture in your hair is no problem — however, keeping it, takes work. The key to high porosity is hydrating with moisturizing cleansing conditioners and leave-in conditioners, strengthen the cuticle with protein treatments, and locking in moisture with a gel or styler.
For more hair-related content, check out these articles.
Photo via Frederick Benjamin