Now that we’ve defined hair texture and density, let’s look at porosity. Knowing this information will arm you with the proper information so you know exactly how to moisturize your hair.
Moisturized natural hair = healthy hair.
Healthy natural hair = growth retention.
Growth retention = length.
If long natural hair is what you’re after, this is where you need to begin.
What is Porosity?
Hair porosity is simply how well hair can absorb and retain moisture. Have you ever purchased a moisturizing product promising to give you all-day moisture, only to find that you hair still feels dry? So you purchase another? And then another? Only to have the same result with each product? It may not be the products, but your hair’s ability to hold that moisture in, which then affects the product’s ability to work? What about when you go to wash your hair and you have to stand under the shower head forever, practically doing back flips in order to get your strands wet? This is your hair.
The more porous your hair, the easier it is for moisture to exit the hair shaft. Your hair will dry quickly, frizz easily, and tangle at every turn. Highly porous hair is generally more damaged – the hair is separated from the cuticle; this can be because the hair is over-processed or just in need of more moisture. The less porous your hair, the harder it is to retain water, or moisture. Your hair will take longer to wet, and then stay wet forever, and there is little volume or elasticity even though it has the appearance of being full and healthy. For lower porous hair you can almost forget color or other chemical absorption; and straightening is nothing short of a miracle. Of course, if you have normal porosity, your hair will both allow moisture in and keep it in with no problem.
But What Does This Mean?
It means that your process for moisturizing your hair will depend heavily on your knowing your hair’s density. It means that this information is much more important than identifying your hair’s curl pattern because this is what can help you maintain healthy moisturized hair. And it means that no two heads are the same, which is why a product will not have the same effects on every head of hair. It is knowing how to use the products that will determine how your hair reacts and how your style turns out.
High Porosity Hair (HP Hair)
Higher porosity strands will quickly absorb all the moisture you throw at it, but it will also lose that same moisture just as easily. It is necessary to layer products so that HP hair can soak up as much of it as possible; it is necessary to know how to layer these products so that HP hair keeps the moisture it absorbs:
- Because moisture-nirvana is hard to come by, HP hair will benefit mostly from co-washing, as shampoo strips the hair. The hair cannot have too much moisture. Ever. You do not have to cut out shampoo altogether if you’re not comfortable doing that, but try reducing washes to just once a month, and utilizing conditioner-washes more often. This will open your natural hair routine with moisture.
- Rinse with cool to cold water to help close the cuticle and retain moisture – this helps since HP hair has an open-cuticle that allows moisture to escape so easily. In fact, this hair should just avoid heat, altogether.
- Deep condition HP hair regularly with nice creamy moisturizing treatments.
- Moisturizing conditioners are important – rich and creamy. Avoid conditioners with high levels of silicones, as they can be drying and require detergents and sulfates to get them off the hair. Experiment with these to see how much your hair can take, if at all. This will be washed out but is still important to the process.
- Apply a leave-in conditioner. Leave the liquid leave-ins on the shelf for lower porosity heads… get you a nice thick leave-in for your HP hair.
- A nice thick water-based moisturizer should come next. Water is, after all, nature’s best moisturizer.
- Follow that with a nice heavy butter or oil to seal it all in. Think shea butter, olive oil, castor oil.
Be careful of how you mix and match these products – some mixtures or layers can cause product flaking, and that is just not cute!
Detangle, detangle, detangle! HP hair tangles easily and needs tender loving detangling care. BE GENTLE – us your fingers or detangle with a w-i-d-e tooth comb. Using lots of conditioner and oil will help your fingers and/or comb slip right through with minimal breakage. This is called ‘dry detangling’.
Remember to include frequent protein treatments to the HP hair routine – it will help strengthen weaker strands and decrease breakage. Once a month mild protein treatments should be perfect. Try some homemade protein recipes.
Low Porosity Hair (LP Hair)
Lower porosity hair requires less product despite the fact that it’s harder to get the moisture in. With LP hair, the secret is in the timing of the product placement:
- Work. In. Sections. Period. Because LP hair is slow to absorb both water and products, working in sections ensures that every strand is touched.
- Cleanse LP hair more frequently to avoid buildup. Buildup is bad. Of course, if you’re using less product, lighter more natural products, or products with no sulfates or silicones, you should be good. Co washes are good, but clarifying treatments like Apple Cider Vinegar rinses are even better.
- Use hot water to wash, hot water to rinse, and hot water in your spray bottles whenever possible. For LP hair forget cool/cold water rinses – you don’t need them and they will not help get that moisture in. Closed cuticles are not a good idea for this hair!
- Heat also applies to conditioning treatments: hot oil treatments, steam, hair dryers for deep conditioning – heat is good for moisture absorption. (I’m not saying to use more blow dryers and flat irons, here!)
- Use light liquid-based products – LP hair doesn’t require thick creamy products to get the job done. In fact heavy products will weigh down the hair and cause it look ‘greasy’ or oily by sitting on the strands.
- Apply products on soaking wet hair to get the best results – LP hair will absorb more while wet. Drenched. Dripping. You know… wet. No matter what the instructions say, damp hair is not how you want to apply products on LP hair. (The wetter the hair, the less product you need – also important for lower porosity hair)
Step away from the hairsprays and mousse, and drop any gels containing alcohol. LP hair needs water, water, water. Water-based ingredients will get the job done, best – they will moisturize your strands without weighing down the hair.
Did I mention, water?
LP hair should also be sealed to keep the moisture in; but instead of a heavy butter or cream, pick up a light oil. Jojoba, avocado, almond, and grapeseed oil are good light oils. My favorite is coconut oil, but this can be iffy since coconut oil is considered both a heavier oil and an oil that penetrates the strands – you have to experiment and see if your hair likes it.
Medium, or Normal Porosity Hair (NP Hair)
For the lucky neutrals out there, normal, or medium porosity strands are easy to moisturize and easy to keep moisturized. Your hair routine will require simply a nice wash (or light cowash), light conditioner that can also act as a leave-in, and an oil to seal. NP hair can experiment with more exotic oils and conditioners, but overall should keep it simple.
So How Do I Know My Hair’s Porosity?
You test it, of course! This is science, afterall…
The Float Test
This is the most common test for porosity. It uses good old H2O:
- Get a glass or clear container of lukewarm water.
- Pluck a hair strand so you get it from the root.
(I like to take a strand from the front, middle, and back of my head since I have different textures throughout)
- Place your strand in the water and watch…
If the strand immediately SINKS to the bottom of the glass or container, you have HIGH porosity hair.
If the strand FLOATS on the top of the water, either taking forever to sink or not sinking at all, you have LOW porosity hair.
(My hair floated on top the water for 3-4 days until I got tired of seeing it and threw the water with the hair outside!)
If the strand sinks at a normal pace – not too fast, not too slow – you have NORMAL or MEDIUM density hair.
Do the Slide
- Grab a strand or few of your hair and hold it taut.
- Slide your fingers from the ends toward the scalp…
Is your hair SMOOTH? Then you have LOW porosity hair.
Have a ROUGH slide? Then your strands are HIGH porosity.
Spray Bottle Test
- Mist a small section of your hair with water.
If the water sits on your hair, it is LOW porosity.
Even more annoying when it beads up and runs right off your hair onto your clothes – this is my low-porosity life!
If your hair sucks the water right in, it is HIGH porosity.
If the water sits for a minute or two and then is absorbed, it is NORMAL porosity.
Styling and Porosity
Basically, high porosity hair should maintain protective styles that will allow them to retain moisture and avoid as much manipulation as possible. Think twists and twist outs, buns, updos, wigs or extensions.
Low porosity hair can rock wash & go’s since it requires sopping wet hair to style, anyway.
Normal porosity hair,… well… you have a plethora or choices since you can do just about anything!