What Is Hair Porosity? How Does It Affect Hair Care?

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You know that hair may vary from straight to coily, thin to coarse. And that’s not all. Hair can also be categorized according to how porous it is.

But what is hair porosity? Is it really important?

If you’re always fighting frizz and dryness and it seems that no hair care product seems to do your hair any good, it’s time to consider if your hair actually allows the product to work.

And for that, hair porosity is a big factor.

You see, the effectiveness of a product depends on how well your hair absorbs the ingredients. 

Read on to understand what is porous hair and how to determine hair porosity.

What Is Hair Porosity?

Porosity refers to any object’s ability to absorb and retain moisture. Something is considered porous when it has pores or holes where liquid can get through (like a sponge).

Hair porosity’s definition is no different. Hair is also porous because it has tiny gaps where moisture can enter.

However, porosity can differ for every hair type and person.

It is categorized into 3 levels:

What Causes Different Hair Porosity Types?

The porosity level may differ for every person. Furthermore, someone may have different levels of porosities in their head.

There are several factors as to why this could be.

People have specific porosity types because of the hair texture they’re born with. That’s why genetics is the major factor in your hair’s porosity level.

Straight hair tends to be less porous, while wavy or curly hair has higher porosity levels. Then there’s coily hair that also has low porosity.

Aspects that Change Hair Porosity

Apart from genetics, there are also external factors that change your hair’s porosity. As time goes by and your hair becomes exposed to these factors, its porosity level changes.

Studies show that these factors cause hair to be more porous.

Hair Structure and Hair Porosity

To understand hair porosity better, you need to learn about the structure of your hair.

The hair shaft (a strand of hair) is divided into three regions:

  • Cuticle
  • Cortex
  • Medulla

The cuticle is the chemically resistant outermost layer of the strand. It’s made of flat, square cells that overlap each other. To picture this easily, think of roof shingles or fish scales.

This part protects the cortex and is responsible for hair porosity. We’ll talk more about it below.

The next and thickest layer is the cortex. It’s built with long, spiral cells that are packed with protein and melanin. This is where your hair’s pigments or color is contained.

Lastly, we have the innermost layer, the medulla. This part only exists in coarse or gray hair, and moisture can be found here. However, scientists are still uncertain about its purpose in the hair. In other mammals, the medulla regulates body temperature.

But let’s go back to the hair’s cuticles. We’ve mentioned that hair porosity has something to do with this layer of your hair shaft.

To be precise, your hair porosity level depends on the condition of the cuticles or how they are arranged on your strands.

Porosity LevelCuticle Formation
Low porosityThe cuticles lay flat and are tightly packed, leaving very few gaps in between.
Medium porosityThe cuticles are slightly raised and are not too close to each other.
High porosityThe cuticles are lifted and wider apart. Under a microscope, the strand will look like a Christmas tree.

Now that you know what the cuticles look like in each porosity type, let’s see how these conditions affect the porosity of your hair.

Characteristics of Low-Porosity Hair

Since low-porosity hair has tightly packed, flat cuticles, there’s little space for moisture and other cosmetics to get through. But when moisture gets in, it will stay there for a long time.

Because this hair type resists products, it can be hard to style and process.

Conditioners and styling products can’t be absorbed well and will just sit on top of the hair.

Moreover, the chemicals from coloring or bleach won’t be able to penetrate the hair shaft easily. This can result in patchy color results.

Other signs of low porosity hair:

  • Dull
  • Hair feels dry
  • Prone to frizz
  • Prone to product buildup
  • Takes long to wet and dry
A woman combing her dry hair with a frown in her face in a white background

Characteristics of Medium Porosity Hair

Because of the way the cuticles are formed in medium- or normal-porosity hair, there’s a steady and moderate flow of moisture.

Moisture and other product ingredients can be moderately absorbed by the hair shaft, but they won’t be able to exit as fast.

This type is what we consider normal (and also lucky) porosity. With this porosity level, dryness is not a problem.

What’s more, the hair copes well with styling, coloring, and other chemical processes.

More traits of normally porous hair:

  • Holds style
  • Manageable
  • Healthy and glossy
  • Doesn’t take too long to dry
  • Accepts chemical treatments well

Characteristics of High Porosity Hair

Highly porous hair has no problem getting moisture. The problem is keeping it in.

Because of the large gaps between the cuticles, it’s hard to keep this hair type hydrated and nourished.

Some people are born with naturally highly porous hair. This is pretty common with curly hair.

However, having straight hair doesn’t mean your hair has low porosity, especially if you’re always letting your hair undergo chemical treatments.

How would you know if your hair has become highly porous?

  • Dry and dull
  • Prone to frizz
  • Easily gets wet
  • Lacks elasticity
  • Quickly absorbs products
  • Tends to be overprocessed by chemical treatments

How to Check Hair Porosity with a Hair Porosity Test

You can’t just guess your porosity type based on your hair texture. As we’ve said, just because you have straight hair doesn’t mean your hair is less porous, much like curly hair doesn’t always have high porosity.

So how would you know your hair porosity level? You don’t need to zoom in ten times on your strand to figure it out. There are popular hair porosity tests that you can try at home.

These tests are not guaranteed to give accurate results, but they’ll give you an overall idea of your porosity level.

YouTuber Healthy Afro Hair shows the tests you can try.

Here’s a quick guide on the porosity tests shown above.

Absorption Test

Wet your hair in the shower. If it takes a long time for the hair to fully absorb water, your hair has low porosity.

On the other hand, the faster your hair gets soaked, the higher its porosity.

Hair and Body Test

Once you’ve saturated your hair with water, wait and see whether your hair or body dries first.

If your hair dries first, you have high porosity hair. If your skin dries first, you have normal or low porosity.

Float Test

infographic about floating hair test on porosity hair

Get some strands from various areas of your clean hair. Drop the strands in a clear glass filled with water.

Wait for 5 minutes and observe the strands. If they sink to the bottom, your hair is highly porous, but if you find the strands floating in the middle, the porosity is normal.

With low porosity hair, the hair floats at the top.

Strand Test

This one is the easiest. Grab a tiny section of your hair and place your fingertips at the end of the section. Then slowly move your hands up toward the roots.

Feel the texture of your hair. Bumpy, rough hair most likely means it’s high porosity, and smooth hair likely has low porosity.

Moisturizing Product Test

Apply a moisturizing cream to your hair. If you can still see most of the product sitting on your hair after a few minutes, then your locks have low porosity.

If the moisturizer fully absorbs into the hair and feels dry within a few hours, your hair is highly porous.

If the moisture stays beautifully all day, then your porosity is at a medium level.

Hair Care for Different Porosity Types

Hairstylist doing the hair treatment to a smiling woman in a salon

So why is determining the porosity of hair important? It’s because your hair care regimen should depend on your hair porosity.

No matter how effective a product is, it won’t work on your hair if it’s not getting into the hair shaft.

Moreover, each level of porosity requires different treatments. What works for high-porosity hair may be bad for low-porosity hair, and vice versa.

Let’s see some hair care tips for each porosity level.

How to Care for Low-Porosity Hair

For hair with low porosity, the goal is to get moisture and other nourishing ingredients into the hair.

The first thing you need to do is open up the cuticles, then fill your hair with products that can be easily absorbed by the strand of your hair.

  • Do the maximum hydration method.
  • Use a residue-free shampoo.
  • Use water-based or lightweight products.
  • Apply heat or use a steamer when deep conditioning.
  • Avoid silicones and protein-rich products.
  • Do a pre-poo treatment.
  • Try the LCO method (liquid/leave-in, cream, oil).

This way, you can help your hair absorb moisture and prevent product buildup.

Maintaining Medium Porosity Hair

If you have a normal level of porosity, you can enjoy the perks of having healthy hair.

But that doesn’t mean you can go ahead and ignore your hair. While it’s healthy, medium porosity hair still needs TLC.

Your goal in this hair regimen is to protect your hair from damage so that the porosity level won’t go any higher.

  • Use a mild, sulfate-free shampoo.
  • Clarify your hair once a month to remove the product and oil buildup.
  • Deep condition every week.
  • Use lightweight products.
  • Avoid excessive use of heat-styling tools like flat irons, curling wands, and hair dryers.
  • Don’t over-process your hair with coloring, bleaching, or perming.

Caring for High Porosity Hair

The regimen for highly porous hair is focused on filling the hair strands with moisture and sealing them so that hydration and product ingredients will stay in the hair cortex long enough for the product to work.

  • Condition your hair regularly.
  • Use protein treatments and deep conditioners.
  • Use aloe vera or apple cider vinegar to seal the cuticles.
  • Do the LOC method (liquid/leave-in, oil, cream).
  • Refrain from heat styling and chemical treatments.

FAQs About Know Hair Porosity

Is Low or High Porosity Hair Better?

Low porosity makes your hair water-resistant, so the strands can’t absorb moisture. The opposite of that is high porosity hair, which welcomes all moisture but easily lets it escape.

While these porosity levels are different, they have one similar problem: dryness. This makes neither of them better than the other. You need to take good care of both hair types and ensure that they get the moisture they badly need.

What Increases Hair Porosity?

Hair can be more porous if it becomes exposed to damaging hair activities like heat styling, chemical treatments, bleaching, and dyeing.

Not only that but environmental factors like extreme weather and heat from the sun also affect how porous your hair is.

Why Hair Porosity Matters in Hair Care

It’s essential to know your porosity level as this will help you treat your hair better. Remember that each type of hair porosity has different needs and will require different hair products.

Whether you have high, medium, or low hair porosity, each type of hair porosity have proper hair care treatments for beautiful, moisturized locks.

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Author

  • Rachelle Velasco

    Rachelle, is a sought-after freelance hair and makeup artist, shines particularly in the world of hair color. From subtle ombres and balayages to vibrant hues and intricate root work, she crafts unique styles tailored to individual preferences. Beyond her artistic talents, Rachelle also holds a Bachelor's degree in Elementary Education, showcasing her diverse skill set and dedication to learning.

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