What is hair porosity?
Hair porosity in the curly world seems to be such a confusing topic with lots of misinformation being shared. I myself was confused about it for a long time but after a lot of research, I finally understand it. So I created this guide to help you finally understand your hair's porosity.
Reviewed by Laurie Cain, Curl Specialist and Hair Stylist.
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First, forget everything you “know” about porosity and read through this whole post. Also, forget about the hair float porosity test because that is simply inaccurate. I thought I knew my hair's porosity based on that float test but it did not make sense because the results did not match the characteristics of my hair.
What is porosity?
I'm going to explain hair structure before going into porosity specifics.
Porosity is how easily something absorbs liquid.
Each strand of hair has a cuticle which is composed of scales that point down towards the ends of your hair. Picture an upside down pinecone to get a visual.
In healthy hair, these scales open to allow moisture in, and close to seal in moisture. How your hair's cuticles open and close is what determines your porosity.
How to determine your hair's porosity
To determine your hair's porosity you need to observe how quickly your hair gets wet.
High porosity hair will absorb water quickly because the cuticles are open, and therefore, your hair will get wet very quickly.
Low porosity hair takes a long time to get wet and repels water because the cuticles are almost closed.
Medium porosity falls in between. Keep reading for more details on each porosity type.
High porosity hair
High porosity is the most common type of porosity. This hair type has a loose cuticle that opens easily and does not close as tightly as lower porosities. High porosity can be your hair's natural porosity or it can be caused by processing.
Characteristics of high porosity hair:
- gets wet quickly
- hair is very stretched out when it is wet
- absorbs products easily
- often struggles with volume since the hairs can stick together and water and products weigh down the hair easily
- usually dries quickly since the cuticles are more open, allowing water to escape easily
- but it can also dry slowly because it absorbs so much water, and especially if you have high density hair
- more prone to dryness since the cuticle doesn't seal in moisture as well as low porosity
- easily over moisturized, again because the cuticle is open, and it can absorb too much moisture from products
- prone to tangling because of the loose cuticle layer
How to care for high porosity hair
- You want to make sure you deep condition on a regular basis, but don't overdo it. I thought I needed to deep condition weekly because that's what other curlies did but my hair could not handle it. After a few weeks, it was limp, stretched out, and dull. I cut back to once a month and my hair was happier. Also, don't leave it in for too long. 5 minutes is enough for my hair so play around and find what works best for yours.
- Use a leave in conditioner.
- Be careful with heavy products which can weigh down your hair, especially if it is really thin. Oils and butters are great for moisturizing but too much can be too heavy for high porosity hair.
- Incorporate protein regularly. You can do protein treatments or use styling products with protein in them. I like to do rice water rinses 3-4 times per month to keep my moisture protein balance in check.
- Use a low poo or low suds shampoo and clarify on a regular basis to avoid buildup.
Read my post about my favorite high porosity hair products for fine curly hair.
Medium porosity, or normal porosity hair is in between high and low because the cuticle is less open than high porosity but more open than low porosity. This hair type retains moisture more easily and requires less product and maintenance.
Characteristics of medium porosity hair:
- does not get wet immediately but only takes a few minutes to absorb water
- doesn't dry quickly or slowly
- still looks curly when wet but the curls are stretched out a bit
- can be prone to build up, dryness, and over moisturization
How to care for medium porosity hair
- Deep condition regularly and use heat to help the cuticle open and absorb moisture. Keep an eye on your hair's moisture level to avoid over conditioning. You may need to deep condition weekly or monthly.
- Keep protein in your routine to maintain balance, but it doesn't need to be in your daily routine.
- Clarify on a regular basis to avoid buildup.
- Use a co-wash or low poo.
Low Porosity Hair
Low porosity hair has tight cuticles so it tends to repel moisture. Low porosity is more common in type 4 curls.
Characteristics of low porosity hair:
- takes a long time to get wet, sometimes even repelling water
- often looks almost exactly the same when it is wet
- does not absorb products
- is difficult to process
- can have a shiny appearance
- less prone to tangling
- very prone to build up since products sit on top of the hair
- can dry slowly or quickly
- prone to dryness since it does not absorb moisture like other porosities
How to care for low porosity hair
- Deep condition when needed, and use heat to allow the cuticle to absorb moisture. This hair type will hold onto moisture longer so you may not need to deep condition as often.
- Clarify often to avoid buildup. Since products are not absorbed easily this hair type gets buildup the easiest.
- Be careful with protein. Low porosity hair likely needs less protein than other porosities so don't overdo it.
- Avoid using heavy products with thick oils and butters which can cause build up.
- Use low suds shampoo instead of co-washing which can cause buildup.
Both low and high porosity hair can be damaged with heat or chemical processing. In damaged hair, the cuticle does not work correctly.
Characteristics of damaged high porosity hair:
- damaged with heat styling and chemical processing
- gets soaking wet very fast
- absorbs products easily
- extremely dry
- can dry very fast or very slow because of the damaged cuticle or amount of water that has been absorbed
- has lost its former curl/wave pattern
- easily over-moisturized and weighed down because it absorbs too much moisture.
- tangles very easily
- very prone to frizz
- prone to breakage from being dry, over-moisturized, tangled, and weak
How to care for damaged high porosity hair
- Damaged cuticles cannot be fixed so you must cut off the damaged hair.
- Protein treatments help fill gaps as a temporary solution.
- Sealing your hair with oils and butters can help it retain moisture.
- Regular deep conditioning treatments will help moisturize hair. This hair type will probably need to deep condition most often since it does not retain moisture.
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Have you ever done a rice water rinse for your hair? It's supposed to provide protein which helps strengthen your hair but I haven't found any scientific evidence of that, just lots of anecdotal evidence. So I decided to give it a try and see what happens. My first thought after doing it was that I can't believe I waited so long to try it! I'm very prone to over conditioning so it's important for me to incorporate protein on a regular basis to balance my hair. Here's what I did: I boiled 1/2 cup of rice in 2 cups of water (small amount because I have very little hair) for a few minutes, strained it, and used the leftover rice water to “rinse” my hair in the shower. I kept it in a bowl and took an extra bowl into the shower. After shampooing and conditioning, with my head upside down I poured the rice water over the top of the back of my head and let it drip into the other bowl. My hair absorbed a lot of it so instead of continuing to pour back and forth, I just massaged the hair on the back of my head and placed the ends into the other bowl that had caught the rice water then pushed up towards my scalp and squished it in. I clipped my hair up, finished my shower, then rinsed my hair and applied conditioner again. I styled as usual after with @evolvh This video is how my hair looked after styling. I can tell my curls are a bit tighter, have more volume, and are holding the curl pattern better so I'm definitely going to keep doing these. . . . #curlycommunity #curlygirlsrock #curlygirl #curlyhairjunkies #curlygirlmethod #cgmethod #naturallycurly #naturalwavyhair #curlyhairtips #ricewaterrinse #curlyhairdontcare #curlyhaircare #teamcurly #cleancurls #curljunkie #loveyourcurls #curlsforthegirls #curlsfordays #wavyhair #curlcommunity #curlfriends #cleanbeauty #greenbeauty #curls #curlyhairproblems #curlyhairroutine #budgetcgmethod #curlygirlcommunity #texturetuesday
Characteristics of damaged low porosity hair
- hair used to be a lower porosity
- damaged by chemical processing
- extremely difficult to get wet and repels water
- doesn’t absorb anything without a lot of effort
- dries quickly because it doesn't get very wet
- extremely dry and breaks easily
How to care for damaged low porosity hair
- Deep condition often with heat. Leave the deep conditioner on for a long time, but not overnight.
- Cut off the damaged hair.
Some things to consider:
Hair porosity can change and you can have multiple porosities at once.
Once you know your type, analyze your current issues and try out different things to help balance your hair.
How much hair you have will also affect some of these characteristics. Having lots of hair affects your drying time and amount of product needed.
My hair is high porosity, thin, and low density. It gets wet quickly, dries in a normal amount of time, and isn't prone to dryness. It needs some protein, light conditioner, and very lightweight products. It is more prone to over conditioning than it is to dryness. It gets weighed down very easily.
I figured all this out after lots of trial and error. So although it may not be what you want to hear, you have to play around with your routine and products to determine what's best for your hair.
If you want to learn more about embracing your naturally wavy or curly hair, you can join my FREE email course and download my FREE pdf guide, THE QUICK START GUIDE TO MASTERING YOUR CURLS, full of everything you need to know to get started and bring back your beautiful waves and curls.
You can also read my other popular posts on curly hair:
- Curly Girl Method Routine for 2B 2C 3A Hair
- How To Do A Rice Water Rinse Protein Treatment To Revive Curls
- Budget Friendly and Clean Curly Girl Method Approved Products
- Curly Girl Night Routine To Protect Your Curls At Night
- 14 Hacks For Curly and Wavy Hair
- Curly Girl Method Before and After – 1 Year Progress Update
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