Most people who embark on their curly hair journey get sidetracked by the search for their curl pattern. But today, you’re going to learn about something that’s infinitely more important — hair porosity. And let me tell you, if you have low porosity hair, your wash day is about to get complicated!
In the past couple of years, the natural hair movement has educated people of all textures about their hair needs. However, none of that means anything if you can’t apply the tips you’re seeing online. So how exactly does porosity affect your hair care routine? Before I tell you the answer, you should have a basic understanding of what porosity even is.
What Is Hair Porosity?
Porosity refers to your hair’s ability to absorb water or moisture from products. It’s mostly determined by the shape of the external part of your hair shaft.
Your hair is mostly composed of the protein keratin, which is fairly dense and strong. The inner layer of the hair shaft is called the cortex — that’s where all of the nutrients and pigments are. Inside the cortex, you’d find the medulla, which is a soft pillar inside the hair shaft. However, the thing that determines the porosity of your hair is its outermost layer — the cuticle.
The cuticle layer consists of overlapping cells most people compare to fish scales or roof tiles. Normally, those cells lay pretty flat on top of each other, protecting the core of the hair shaft from outside elements. However, bleaching or otherwise damaging your hair can cause those cells to rise and leave the hair shaft exposed to the elements.
In a sense, low porosity hair can seem like a pretty desirable trait. And that’s true, to a point. At least it’s not an indicator of damaged hair like high porosity is. Still, it does require some special attention. So how do you know if you have it?
How Do You Figure Out Your Porosity?
There are several tests you could do to determine your hair porosity. However, the glass test will probably give you the most conclusive results. All you need is a glass of water and a few loose strands of your hair. When you have both ready to go, drop the hair into the water and wait a few minutes.
Remember, porosity is all about how your hair reacts to water. Therefore, hair strands with the most open cuticle layer will drop to the bottom of the glass after soaking in the moisture. Meanwhile, low porosity hair will stay near the top of the water.
If you have bleached ends, you may get to see both ends of the porosity spectrum in action. Your ends will drop to the bottom while your roots float near the top. But really, most people’s strands should land somewhere in the middle, indicating medium or normal porosity. Now, if you don’t have access to a glass of water, you may be able to feel your porosity with your fingers.
Take the end of a small strand of hair and stretch it out, then pinch above your fingers with your other hand. Slowly drag the fingers that aren’t pulling the strand of hair taut up along the hair shaft. If the strand feels jagged, the cuticle layer is open, which means you have high porosity hair. If it’s relatively smooth, the cuticle layer is closed, so you’re dealing with low porosity.
Signs That You Have Low Porosity Hair
At this point, I’m going to assume that you have confirmed that you have low porosity hair. But what does that mean for your everyday life? Well, in practice, it means that:
• Your hair takes a while to get wet and even longer to fully dry
• Water tends to bead on your hair instead of absorbing into it
• Most products don’t fully penetrate your hair shaft either
• Any hair dye you apply is gone within a few washes
• You struggle to keep your hair moisturized
Since low porosity hair is so reluctant to receive moisture, you may also experience product buildup. If you keep putting ineffectual products on your hair, it will eventually weigh it down and cause any texture you have to go limp. Essentially, you’d lose all of your curl definition.
Even worse, product buildup can also affect your scalp health, making your head dry and itchy. And, as the icing on top, the buildup may also be visible on your hair strand, in the form of a pale coating or flakes. Luckily, you can turn this around by learning how to work with your hair type.
10 Low Porosity Hair Care Tips That Will Make Every Day a Good Hair Day
1. Avoid Sulfates and Silicones
Keeping sulfates and silicones out of your hair care routine is probably the first thing you learned when you decided to embark on your curly hair journey. Sulfates are harsh salts that exist in all cleaning solutions, but the SLS and SLES (sodium lauryl and laureth sulfates) are by far the worst of the bunch. They should certainly not go anywhere near your scalp or your moisture-resistant hair.
On the other hand, silicones are usually found in conditioners and shampoos that claim to have moisturizing properties — even though they’re anything but hydrating. Instead, the silicones in your hair products (namely, dimethicone) coat each of your hairs in a thin plastic-like film, providing shine and some protection from the elements. However, not even high porosity hair could absorb these compounds, and even if it could, it’s not like silicones have any nutritional value.
What’s more, most of the silicones in hair products are non-soluble so you won’t be able to wash them away with just water. You’ll need sulfates to get them out of your hair — which will additionally dry it out! So the only thing you can get from products with silicones in them is buildup that will prevent your hair from absorbing any other products you apply after your shower.
2. Use Clarifying Shampoos
Since low porosity hair is prone to product buildup, you’ll have to use a clarifying shampoo at least once a month. Even though the official Curly Girl Method advocated co-washing for curly hair, not everyone can go without using harsher cleansers every once in a while. So when you notice that your curl definition isn’t what it used to be, don’t be afraid to bring out the big guns.
After using the clarifying shampoo of your choice, you could also apply a homemade bentonite clay mask. Just mix several tablespoons of apple cider vinegar with bentonite clay and water. If you want to make the treatment even more effective, add a spoonful of your favorite hair oil too.
Of course, if you’re looking to rid yourself of buildup, an ACV rinse won’t hurt either. Combine one part apple cider vinegar and distilled water to cleanse and condition your hair and scalp. You don’t even have to rinse out the ACV — the odor will dissipate when your hair dries.
3. Feel Free to Use Heat on Your Hair
Heat is another thing most people with textured hair avoid. However, it can be incredibly beneficial for low porosity hair.
The cuticles that protect your hair shaft are like the pores on your skin. Applying heat to either will open them, allowing the hair — or skin — to absorb whatever you put on it.
So you get to go against the “no heat” rule and wash your hair with warm water. After you shampoo, using warm water on your hair will open up the cuticle layer, which will let the conditioner do its thing.
Heat can also help during the styling process. When you rinse out your conditioner, your hair should still be warm from the shower. That’s the best time to apply your leave-in conditioner, curling cream, and gel or mousse. When you scrunch everything in, do a wet plop into a plastic shower cap.
With your hair wrapped in plastic, the heat will dissipate more slowly. However, you could also add more of it by sitting under a hooded dryer or using a steamer or a thermal cap.
4. Deep Condition Your Hair Regularly
Since low porosity hair doesn’t take in moisture easily, you’ll have to apply moisturizing masks every two weeks. Instead of your regular conditioner, apply a deep conditioning treatment that suits your hair type. Section off the top half of your hair and use the praying hands method to apply the mask to the bottom layers before doing the same on top.
After waiting a while, you can also detangle your hair and finger coil it. When the product has been evenly distributed, plop your hair into a plastic shower cap. You should also use heat to help the process along.
I recommend using a double-layer thermal cap that has flax seeds between the inner and outer layers. You pop it in the microwave for about a minute and put it on over your shower cap. It should feel pleasantly warm and not too tight. Keep the cap on your head for as long as you’re able and then rinse the treatment off.
5. Opt for Water-Based Products Rather Than Oil-Based Ones
Since your hair cuticle is naturally pretty closed, oil molecules won’t be able to get in there even if you use heat. The same goes for products like shea and cocoa butter. Instead, make sure the primary ingredient in all of your hair care products is water.
When you use any kind of heavy conditioning product, you should water it down before application. And even then, you’ll need to open the cuticle layer if you want your hair to absorb it.
6. Find a Protein-Free Conditioner You Love
Protein is difficult for low porosity hair to handle even on the best of days. So when looking for a daily conditioner, try to find a protein-free one. Avoid products with wheat, oat, soy, or vegetable proteins, keratin, and collagen. To prevent buildup, stick to shampoos and conditioners that are full of humectants like glycol, glycerin, honey, or panthenol.
7. Use the LCO Method (As Opposed to the LOC Method)
There are two main ways to go about applying the products you use after washing and conditioning your hair. The LCO method is ideal for low porosity hair because you get to apply oil as the last step in your styling routine.
The first thing you’ll need to apply is the L — which stands for liquid or leave-in conditioner. After spraying a section of hair with water or applying a fluid leave-in conditioner, you’ll go in with your cream products. That’s the C in the name of the method!
Remember, a little bit goes a long way, especially when your hair is reluctant to absorb hydration. Lastly, you’ll go in with the O — an oil of your choice. The oil will seal in the moisture you got from the previous two steps.
8. Stick to Light Oils
Of course, your low porosity hair won’t absorb just any oil. Heavy ones won’t be able to penetrate your hair shaft, so they’ll just sit on top of your hair. Unfortunately, that means you won’t be able to use the most popular oils for curly hair, like castor oil, olive oil, and coconut oil.
Still, you’ll have some great alternatives. Grapeseed oil, sweet almond oil, and jojoba oil should all be light enough to moisturize and seal your hair. You could even use fractionated coconut oil, which is more fluid than the regular kind.
But keep in mind that coconut oil isn’t for everyone. It can sometimes have an effect similar to protein overload, leaving your hair brittle and crunchy. So it may take some time to find an oil your hair loves.
If you’re looking to prevent product buildup, you could apply some of your products before washing your hair. Using oils as a pre-poo treatment is a great way to get all the benefits oils can give you without suffering through the buildup.
After you distribute the oil of your choice all down the hair shaft and onto the scalp, put your shower cap on. Thanks to the greenhouse effect, your skin will heat the air inside the plastic cap, allowing the oil to penetrate your hair shaft. However, you can also use a thermal cap here.
You can keep the oil on your hair for hours — even spend the whole night with it on. When you decide to take it off, just wash your hair as usual.
10. Do Protein Treatments Occasionally
Most people with low porosity hair make getting moisture their priority. But like anyone else, you’ll still need a balance of both moisture and protein to keep your hair healthy. After all, our hair is 90% keratin, and breaking the protein bonds in your hair is precisely what leads to damage.
Avoiding protein while doing deep conditioning treatments regularly can result in moisture overload. Unless you like having limp curls, that simply won’t do! Of course, putting too much protein on your hair can have the opposite effect.
A little bit of it can make your hair stronger and emphasize its natural texture. That’s why your hair looks so amazing after you do a rice water rinse! However, too much protein can make your hair brittle and prone to breakage. To be safe, don’t do protein treatments too often — every 6–8 weeks should be fine.
When you go looking for protein masks, make sure they have hydrolyzed proteins. That’s the only kind that will be able to go inside your hair strand. And even then, you’ll have to use heat to open the hair shaft before applying the protein.
More Natural Hair Care Tips
If you want to make your hair the best it can be, you’ll have to follow other natural hair care tips as well. Don’t use heat to straighten your hair and only detangle it when it’s sopping wet and slippery from your conditioner. Overall, just be gentle with it!
Even when you’re sleeping, protect your hair with a satin headscarf, bonnet, or pillowcase. When you don’t want it in your face, keep it all in a loose pineapple on top of your head or use the Medusa clipping method if you don’t want to stretch out your curls.
Ultimately, learning about low porosity hair isn’t about your texture at all. Even straight hair can be moisture-resistant. However, these tips should help you figure out what your hair needs and how to provide it!