Knowing your hair’s porosity is the single most important factor when it comes to buying products that will work and caring for your curls. When most people start their curly journey, they frantically try to determine what curly type they have. In my last post, I spoke about why your curl type doesn’t matter. Hair Porosity does! Think of your hair porosity the same way you would think of skin type: oily, combination and dry. You don’t shop for skincare products based on skin colour or face shape, you shop according to your skin type. Same principle applies when it comes to shopping for your hair care, shop according to your porosity. There are three types: low, medium and high porosity.
What is Hair Porosity?
Determining your hair’s porosity is the key to discovering what products will and won’t work for your hair. But what is it? Porosity refers to you hair’s ability to absorb and retain moisture, and the cuticles of the hair shaft determine this. For the most part hair porosity is genetic, but factors like heat, chemical and environmental damage can all have an impact. Hair porosity does not depend on race, climate, hair length or curl pattern.
Top Tip: When looking for fellow curlies to follow on social media, look out for those who have the same hair porosity as you. There’s a better chance the products and techniques that work for them, will work for you too.
How to Check your Hair Porosity?
There are a couple of ways you can find out what your hair porosity is. The first two I’ve listed are the most common ones, but I find the last two are the best indicators, and most accurate. The best way to visualise what your hair shaft is like, and to explain the cuticles and porosity, is with a pine cone. A closed pine cone represents low porosity hair. The cuticles are closed, sealed tight, making it harder for water, oils and products to penetrate. An open pine cone represents high porosity hair. The cuticles are open and therefore water, oil and products can easily penetrate it; but it can also lose moisture easily because the cuticles are open.
The Float Test
Fill a glass with water – room temperature is fine. Then take one or two clean, dry strands of hair and place into the glass of water. If the hair floats on top of the water, it’s low porosity. If it sinks, it’s high porosity. If it sits half way down or sinks slowly, it’s medium porosity.
The Slide Test
Grab a strand of hair on your head, and hold taught at the end. With your other hand, slide your thumb and finger up the hair shaft. If it feels smooth, it’s low porosity. If it’s bumpy, it’s high porosity.
The Wet Test
I find these next two tests are usually the best indicators of hair porosity. How long does it take for your hair to get fully soaking wet? If it gets really wet really quickly, you have high porosity hair. If your hair takes a while to get soaking wet, or you find a light mist, beads or droplets of water sit on top of your hair, you have low porosity hair.
The Dry Test
Again, this is a much more accurate way to determine hair porosity. How long does it take for your hair to dry naturally? If your hair dries quickly, you have high porosity. If it takes hours and hours (mine has been known to take days to dry sometimes!), you have low porosity hair.
Low Porosity Hair Characteristics
- Hair takes a long time to get fully saturated.
- Hair takes a long time to dry.
- Products tend to build up on the hair, rather than absorb into the hair shaft.
- Natural oils don’t readily penetrate, but rather sit on your hair.
- Difficult to chemically and colour treat, especially highlights.
- Hair is usually considered healthy, and very shiny.
- Less prone to breakage and split ends.
- Prone to product build up.
- Regular clarifying washes required to remove product build up.
- Hair can look healthy but doesn’t always have much elasticity or volume.
- Lightweight products such as gels and mousses work better than rich creams and butters.
- You need heat to help open up the cuticles, so moisture and product can penetrate the hair shaft. – Thermal heat caps are essential for deep conditioning!
- Apply products to wet hair, when the cuticles are open, for best results.
- Use lighter oils such as argan, grapeseed and jojoba.
There is a theory that low porosity hair types should avoid protein. Personally I don’t find that to be the case. My low porosity hair really likes and responds well to protein.
Medium Porosity Hair Characteristics
- Hair is usually full of bounce, volume and elasticity.
- Requires very little maintenance.
- Easily absorbs and retains moisture inside the cuticle.
- Holds styles well and can be colored with good results.
High Porosity Hair Characteristics
- Hair easily and quickly absorbs water.
- Hair dries quickly.
- Requires more products.
- Hair often looks and feels dull and/or dry.
- Can’t retain moisture.
- Hair is often frizzy.
- Hair gets tangled easily.
- More prone to breakage and split ends.
- Heavy products such as creams and butters work well.
- Use heavier oils like coconut and black castor oil.
- Regular deep conditioning, with both moisture and protein.
- Avoid using heat where possible.
- Do cold water rinses to close the cuticle.
- Use sealing products to seal the cuticle
Update: Your hair density can skew the wet and dry tests. You may have low porosity hair, but not much of it. So it gets wet and dries quite quickly. Similarly you can have high porosity hair but loads of it, so it takes longer to get fully wet or dry. All curly hair types experience frizz, low porosity hair is not immune to it. If your float and slide tests results suggest low porosity, but your hair is dull, dry and frizzy, you may need to do a deep conditioning treatment. Heavy creams and butters can weigh down high porosity hair too, especially if you have fine hair strands, or not much hair.
Hopefully my ultimate guide to hair porosity has been helpful and now you know what hair porosity you have. Next time you see someone on social media with the ultimate curl goals. Before you ask what products or techniques they used, make sure you ask them what their hair porosity is too.
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Thermal heat caps are amazing for deep conditioning treatments, especially for low porosity curlies. Read this post for my easy step by step guide on how to make your own.
Or this post on why your curl type doesn’t matter.