You may have heard the phrase 'hair porosity' thrown around in the curly community, but the term can often leave you feeling confused, unsure how to factor the news into your hair journey.
Porosity determines how easily moisture moves in and out of your hair. Or, in other words, its ability to absorb and retain moisture. That may not sound like a big deal, but it affects how your hair responds to every product you use.
Rather than wasting your precious time and money on products that don't work with your hair, you can use a simple test to discover your hair’s porosity.
With a little help from natural hair expert, Dionne Smith, and Cantu, we're here to reintroduce you to your curls, so you can start to LOVE your hair and get the most out of your routine.
Meet the Expert
Dionne Smith is an award-winning celebrity hair stylist with over 20 years' experience at the top of the industry. Specialising in afro, coily and curly hair, she boasts an impressive client portfolio, including Venus Williams and Mel B. Dionne currently works with Cantu as their Natural Hair Education Expert and has kindly offered her leading knowledge of hair porosity for this article.
What is hair porosity?
Porosity is determined by how the cuticles lie on your hair follicle. The flatter the cuticle, the more difficult it is for moisture to move in and out of the hair. On the other hand, raised cuticles create teeny tiny holes that allow water to move in and out of the follicle with ease.
Although highly porous hair takes moisture in easily, it also escapes quickly, without a barrier to trap the hydration. Low porosity hair may be harder to hydrate, but once it’s in, the moisture's there to stay. In between the two, medium or normal porosity hair has a slightly raised cuticle, meaning the strand can absorb and hold moisture fairly easily.
High Porosity: moisture is easily absorbed but quickly lost.
Medium/Normal Porosity: moisture is fairly easy to absorb and retained quite well.
Low Porosity: moisture is difficult to absorb, but easy to retain.
Hair Porosity Test: How porous is my hair?
There are two ways to work out your porosity: the slip test or the water test. Although the slip test requires zero effort, the water test gives clearer results, so take your pick.
The Slip Test
Slide your finger and thumb up and down a single strand of dry hair. If your fingers move easily and quickly, it’s low porosity. If you feel bumps or resistance when moving towards the scalp, it's high porosity. If it’s somewhere in the middle, it’s normal porosity.
The Water Test
- Shampoo and rinse your hair to remove any product
- Fill a glass with water
- Remove a single strand of hair and place it in the glass (don’t push or prod, just place it gently on top of the surface)
- Wait for three minutes
If your hair sits on the water’s surface, it’s low porosity. If it’s floating somewhere in the middle of the glass, it’s normal porosity. Sunk to the bottom of the glass? - You guessed it, high porosity.
Low Porosity Hair
Flat-lying cuticles make it a bit of a mission to move moisture in or out of your follicle. But it’s not all bad news, low porosity hair is great at retaining moisture, meaning your locks will feel luscious for days after deep conditioning. What’s more, your hair is naturally shinier, silkier and healthier-looking than the other categories.
If your hair is low porosity, you probably have a pretty good hair routine, filled with heat evasion, silk bonnets and finger combing - for which I commend you.
A few signs of low porosity hair are:
- Products tend to sit on top of the hair strand, leaving a white residue
- Takes forever to straighten
- Takes hours to dry
- Stays moisturised for days after washing
How to help low porosity hair:
One of the best ways to open your cuticle is with heat. I know that goes against the heat-free lifestyle us naturals try to lead, but it can really benefit your locks. Hot water or a heated cap can help to open the cuticle, letting moisture move into the hair. With the bonnet, it's best to apply heat after you've put the product on, so the goodness can be absorbed - just make sure you use a high-quality heat protectant, like the Cantu Thermal Shield Heat Protect 5.1.
Low porosity hair also benefits from formulas that are packed with emollients (moisturisers), such as Shea Butter, Jojoba Oil, Coconut Oil, and Mineral Oil. Your hair will also love products rich in humectants, such as Glycerin or Honey, which naturally attract and hold moisture into your hair. Choose lighter, liquid-based products that are more easily absorbed, so they won’t just sit on top of the follicle.
Best products for low porosity hair:
Medium Porosity Hair
You've hit the jackpot! This is where you want your hair to be and where it’s easiest to achieve big, bouncy, healthy-looking curls. If you fall into the other two categories, you can follow our tricks and tips to land yourself in this sweet spot.
High Porosity Hair
A sinful haircare regime filled with straightening, blow-drying and bleaching causes high porosity hair. Environmental, heat and chemical damage raise the cuticle, creating more gaps and holes for moisture to escape from.
A few signs of high porosity hair are:
- More prone to frizz and dryness
- Dries (worryingly) quickly
- More prone to breakage
- Easy to straighten
- Needs to be moisturised regularly
High porosity hair lets too much moisture in and out of the follicle, making it frizz easily. Due to the large amount of moisture that highly porous hair can take in, swimming and even shampooing can cause breakage and damage. If you want to swim in the sea or dive in a pool, put your hair into a protective style. Personally, I apply a leave-in conditioner and moisture seal before putting my hair into french plaits. This locks in the moisture and stops your hair from tangling, matting or snapping.
How to help high porosity hair:
It's important to regularly use leave-in conditioners and masks to hydrate your thirsty strands, because they lose moisture so easily. This can help to combat frizz, restore shine and rebuild strength in brittle strands.
Oils and sealants will become your new best friends, as they coat the strand with a barrier to lock in moisture. Another trick is to use cold water for your final rinse to lower the cuticle and trap hydration. Apple Cider Vinegar can also help to close the cuticle, thanks to its low pH.
Best products for high porosity hair:
Dionne's Top Haircare Tips:
Dionne, an award-winning natural hair expert, shared some of her top tips for understanding porosity and textured hair. With over 20 years' experience in the industry, she knows everything there is to know - so you really are learning from the best.
- Make sure you tailor your regime to your hair type. Not only does that include your curl structure, it also includes your porosity. This will help you get the most out of your products and your routine.
- Both porosity types should avoid drying shampoos, dodging sulphates at all costs. These shampoos can strip the strands of moisture and hydration, two components that are essential for any hair type. You want to remove build-up without stripping your hair, using moisturising shampoos like the Cantu Cleansing Cream Shampoo.
- Make sure to treat your hair to a deep conditioning treatment every 7-14 days. Hair masks are an effective way to combat dryness for all porosity types, infusing the strands with lasting moisture. Dionne recommends the Cantu Deep Treatment Masque, a Shea Butter infused formula that combats breakage and helps to enhance elasticity.
- Keep heat to a minimum. Heat can damage your curl's natural formation, strip your hair of moisture and cause damage. If you really need to use it, make sure you use heat protection.
If you still want more, why don't you have a mooch around our Afro & Textured Hair section? There's so much choice that you'll feel like a kid in a candy shop.