Knowing your hair porosity is one of the most important factors when it comes to buying products that will work. Especially when you’re starting the Curly Girl Method. When most people start their curly journey, they frantically try to determine what curly type they have. In a recent 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, normal and dry. You don’t shop for skincare products based on skin colour or face shape, you shop according to your skin type. The same principle applies when it comes to shopping for your hair care. Shop according to your porosity. There are three types: low, medium (aka healthy) and high porosity.
What is Hair Porosity?
Determining your hair porosity is often key to discovering what products will and won’t work for your hair. So knowing which type you have can save you money, time and frustration. But what is it? Porosity refers to you hair’s ability to absorb and retain moisture. 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. Porosity does not depend on race, climate, hair length or curl pattern.
Things to note about Porosity Tests
If you have thin or thick hair it can cause a little confusion when it comes to porosity tests. Because thick hair will naturally take longer to get wet, and then dry. And thin hair will naturally get wet quickly, and dry quicker. All curly hair types experience frizz, low porosity hair is not immune to it. It’s part of having curly hair, regardless of your porosity type.
If your hair is dull, limp and lifeless with little curl definition, that’s often a sign you need to clarify. If your hair is dry and frizzy, you may need to do a deep conditioning treatment. Rather than simply meaning you have high porosity hair for example. Heavy creams and rich butters will weigh down any hair type. Especially if you have fine hair strands, or not much hair, no matter how well the product is formulated.
Porosity can also change, due to a few different things. Both for the better, and for the worse. For example, if you colour, highlight or chemically treat your hair, it’s almost always going to become high porosity. Because of the damage these processes do to the hair shaft and cuticle. The goal, or most ideal porosity, is medium porosity. Hair that is healthy, and cuticles that can open up to absorb moisture and hydration. But then close again, to protect the hair shaft and retain that moisture and hydration. This post is to help you determine what porosity you have, using the tips and characteristics as a starting point. Let’s get started!
Low Porosity Hair Characteristics
- Hair takes a long time to get fully saturated because it naturally repels water.
- Hair dries quickly. Again, because the hair repels water.
- Difficult to hydrate.
- 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 usually making low porosity hair quite dry and coarse.
- Difficult to chemically and colour treat, especially highlights. Low porosity hair doesn’t take colour well.
- Hair can appear dull or shiny, it depends if there’s buildup.
- Prone to product build up because products can’t penetrate the hair shaft.
- Less prone to breakage and split ends.
- Regular clarifying washes are required to remove build up – see this post for more info on clarifying.
- Hair doesn’t tend to have much elasticity or volume.
- Lightweight products such as gels and mousses work better than curl creams and butters.
- Gentle clarifying shampoos/lo poos are great for low porosity hair.
- You need heat to help open up the cuticles, so moisture and product can penetrate the hair shaft.
- Regular deep conditioning using thermal heat caps are essential for deep conditioning! You can purchase Curly Cailín Heat Caps from my Etsy shop.
- For best wash day results, use warm/hot water and apply products to soaking wet hair, when the cuticles are open.
- Use light oils such as argan, grapeseed, mongongo and jojoba.
Low Porosity Protein Myth!
There’s a theory that low porosity hair types should avoid using products that contain protein, or doing protein treatments. That’s simply not true, and misinformation. Our hair is made of protein, all hair is. Every hair type needs protein! That’s like saying short people don’t need to drink water, but tall people need to drink lots of it. We all need to drink water, we are all made primarily of water. Same with hair and protein, all hair needs protein, because it’s made of protein.
Medium Porosity Hair Characteristics
- Hair in it’s most natural, healthy state is medium porosity.
- Usually full of bounce, volume and elasticity – provided the right products and techniques are used. See this post if you’re struggling with root volume.
- Hair doesn’t take too long to get wet, or too long to dry.
- Requires less maintenance and effort choosing which products will/won’t work.
- Easily absorbs and retains moisture inside the cuticle.
- Easier to maintain a healthy protein moisture balance – see this post if that’s something you’re struggling with.
- Holds styles well and can be colored with good results.
- Lightweight products work best, but you can use curl creams provided they’re not loaded with cheap quality, heavy oils and butters.
- Lo poos work great on medium porosity hair, or light weight cleasnsing co-washes.
- Occasional clarifying washes are good practice, but not required as regularly as low porosity hair.
- Hair looks and feels healthy with lots of shine.
- Minimal breakage and split ends.
- Use light oils such as argan, grapeseed, mongongo and jojoba.
High Porosity Hair Characteristics
- Hair easily and quickly absorbs water because it’s so highly porous.
- Hair takes a long time to dry. Often taking hours, or even a day or so if drying naturally.
- If your hair is coloured, highlighted or chemically treated, the damage caused during these processes causes hair to become high porosity.
- High porosity hair absorbs and takes colour really well, because it’s so porous and thirsty, it drinks the colour up.
- Can’t retain moisture so hair is often dry.
- High porosity hair loves and needs protein.
- Hair is often frizzy – check out this post on how to beat halo frizz.
- Hair gets tangled easily.
- Most prone to breakage and split ends.
- Regular deep conditioning, with a balance of moisture and protein. Moisture because hair porosity hair is dry, protein to repair the damage and heal the hair. See this post all about protein moisture balance.
- Do cold water rinses to close the cuticle.
- Cleansing co-washes are great for high porosity hair, with occasional clarifying, lo poo shampoos.
- Use sealing oils and products to seal moisture into the cuticle after styling.
- Well-formulated shea, coconut and mango butters can be good for high porosity hair.
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 your porosity. One of the most common ways is the float test using a cup of water. But it’s so inaccurate, I don’t recommend it. I find the wet and dry tests are the best indicators, most consistent and most accurate. The best way to visualise what your hair shaft is like, and to explain the cuticles, 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 the cuticles remain open, meaning hair can easily dry out and tangle. Medium porosity is the most healthy, and natural state for hair porosity. The cuticle opens to absorb water, oil and products. But also closes back down to protect the hair shaft.
The Wet Test
I find these next two tests are usually the best indicators of hair porosity. It works best on hair that has been recently clarified, to make sure there’s no build up, or heavy oils and butters that may prevent the hair from absorbing water the way it should. To make the test easier to apply and determine the results, take one small section of hair and wet it. If it gets really wet really easily, and it quickly becomes heavy with water, you have high porosity hair. Because high porosity hair loves water and drinks it up. If your hair takes a long time to get wet, and almost repels the water, you have low porosity hair. Or if you use a spray bottle and lightly mist your hair and beads or droplets of water sit on top of your hair, you also have low porosity hair. If your hair doesn’t repel the water or doesn’t take a long time to get wet. Nor does it get soaking wet really quickly, then you have medium, “normal”, healthy porosity hair. That’s what I have.
Top tip: Grab a friend, partner or child that can operate a phone. Let’s face it, they can pretty much operate a smart phone before they can feed or dress themselves these days! Anyway, give them the phone, and get them to record you taking a section of your hair and wetting it under the shower head. A few seconds or minute or two is all it takes. Then watch the recording back. It’s hugely helpful to be able to actually see how your hair is absorbing or repelling the water to determine if you have high or low porosity, or somewhere in between (medium porosity).
The Dry Test
Again, this is a much more accurate way to determine porosity, and probably the most easiest and quickest way to tell which porosity you have. This is also where the most confusion, and misinformation on the internet and social media is about hair porosity. Including the original version of this post, which is why I’ve updated it. To reflect what I have since learned, and now know about porosity. It also makes much more sense! Again, the density of your hair can also contribute to drying time. Because thin hair will naturally dry much faster than thick hair, especially if it’s short. If your hair dries quickly, you have low porosity hair. Because low porosity naturally repels water, it dries faster. Often drying so quickly, you can see it shrinking and drying in just a few minutes. If your hair takes ages to dry, you have high porosity hair. Because high porosity hair loves water and drinks it up. Soaking it up like a sponge and holding onto that water for as long as it can. It can often take hours for high porosity hair to dry naturally, sometimes all day!
The Slide Test
I would never use this test as the only way to test hair porosity. More so just a way to confirm it, from the other two tests. Grab a strand of hair on your head, and hold it 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.
Hopefully my updated guide to hair porosity has been helpful and now you know what hair porosity you have. Click here to subscribe if you haven’t already, and you can follow me on Instagram or like my Facebook page. Feel free to comment below or send me a message on social media if you have any questions or need help/advice with your curls. Gabriella xoxo
Thermal heat caps are amazing for deep conditioning treatments, especially for low porosity curlies. You can purchase a Curly Cailín Heat Cap on my Etsy Shop.
Or this post on protein moisture balance. What protein overload, over moisturised hair and hydral fatigue is like. And how to get your curls to bounce back.