CURLY HAIR POROSITY: WHY IT MATTERS + WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

The curly community has been talking about porosity for ages. But unless you’re a stylist or colorist, you probably don’t know the ins and outs of the term – or why it even matters. Today, we’re going to break down everything you need to know about porosity. From what it is, to different types (high porosity vs low porosity), to how it affects your hair every day.
WHAT IS POROSITY

Porosity refers to how well your hair is able to absorb moisture. This in turn affects how dry your hair is on a day to day basis.

The outer layer of your hair strand is called the cuticle. If you were to zoom in on a single strand with a microscope, you’d find that the cuticle layer resembles fish scales (or a pine cone, or roofing shingles). It essentially is a bunch of small scales that wrap around your strand and can either lay flat or be lifted slightly off the strand. The porosity of your hair depends on how lifted that layer is. Hair with a tight cuticle layer (aka one where the scales are flat) is considered low porosity. Hair with a highly lifted cuticle layer is considered high porosity.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO HAVE HIGH POROSITY HAIR?

If you have high porosity hair, this means that moisture can easily penetrate your hair, but it’s also likely to leech out. That means when it’s wet, it easily absorbs water, but also air dries quickly and often feels and looks dry. In order to have a good styling result, this hair type usually requires you to use more product.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO HAVE LOW POROSITY HAIR?

If you have low porosity hair, moisture has a hard time getting into your strands. But once it’s in, the moisture can be retained. This hair type takes longer to get wet, but also takes longer to air dry. Often times, this hair type struggles with product build up because product sits on top of strands, instead of penetrating them.

HOW TO TEST POROSITY

There are a few at home tests to help you figure out your hair’s porosity.

The most common test is called the float test, here’s how to do it:

Take a glass of water and place one strand of your hair in the glass. Let it sit for a few minutes. If the hair strand floats, you have low porosity hair. If the strand sinks you have high porosity hair.

Another common test is called the water test. Here’s how to do it:

Take a small section of hair and spray it with a misting bottle. If the water sits on top of your hair, you have a low porosity hair type. If it gets immediately absorbed, you have a high porosity hair type.

HOW DOES HAIR COLOR AFFECT POROSITY?

When you color your hair, the chemical process forces the cuticle to open in order to allow color deposits. Unfortunately, sometimes your cuticle stays permanently open. Which means that a color service can change your porosity. After getting your hair dyed, your hair can have a higher porosity, and the more you do it, the more porous your hair can become. Ultimately this can lead to more dehydration and frizz. To combat the effects, you can alter your styling habits.

LOW POROSITY HAIR PRODUCTS + STYLING TIPS

Since low porosity hair has a fairly sealed cuticle, you’ll want to begin any styling session with warm water. The heat will help lift up the cuticle layer. Then you can condition, and re-seal the cuticle with a rinse of cool water.

It’s best to apply products to hair that is wet, and not soaking, to ensure the product is able to penetrate (if your hair is soaking, the water may be filling up your strands and blocking product). Be sure to opt for a hydrating styler, it’s ideal if you use ones with smaller molecules as these will penetrate easier. Some examples of ingredients with smaller molecules include coconut oil, jojoba oil, sugar-derived squalene, water, panthenol, sodium-pca, or amino acid ingredients.

If you have low porosity hair and are trying to deep condition, your best bet is to use heat – with the help of a heat cap or hooded dryer, to ensure penetration of the conditioning molecules.

HIGH POROSITY HAIR PRODUCTS + STYLING TIPS

For high porosity hair, the main goal is to get product to penetrate and then seal it in. It’s recommended that as you condition, you should tightly press the conditioner into your hair. (By press we mean glide your hands down your curls to ensure the hair seals as much as possible.) Then seal your strands with a cool rinse.

Apply product to soaking wet hair, pressing as you go to seal the cuticle further. If you’re using multiple products, make sure the last one you apply can act as a sealant. Your best bet is a product with a silicone, oil, or wax ingredient to lock in the moisture. Our pick is One-Minute Transformation.

For this particular hair type, regular hydration is key. It’s best to deep condition more frequently, and to regularly rehydrate your hair between wash days. Pro tip: mix conditioner and water in a mister bottle to give your hair a boost.

Be sure to also minimize heat styling as this too can force your cuticle to re-open.

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