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Why Knowing Your Hair Porosity Is Essential for Your Hair Health

Photo by Jacob Lund/Adobe Stock Images

Do hair products tend to take forever to absorb into your hair? Does it take ages for your strands to dry? Are your curls perpetually parched and prone to frizz? All of this has to do with your hair porosity–a.k.a. how well your hair is able to soak up and hold in moisture.

Determining your hair porosity is key to creating a hair care routine that will keep those locks healthy, properly hydrated, and frizz-free. But how can you know what hair porosity you have? Below we share more about the three hair porosity types, how you can find out which one you have, plus we dive a little deeper into how to care for each porosity type.

About the Expert:

Chi Ohtsu is a hair professional with 20 years of experience and a senior stylist at Self Salon in Brooklyn, New York.

What is hair porosity?

Simply put, hair porosity refers to how porous your hair is. Your hair's porosity can fall into one of three categories, low, normal (medium), or high porosity. While hair porosity levels are primarily genetic, they can be altered if the hair is damaged.

While curlier hair tends to have a higher porosity, this isn't always a given. "Curlier hair tends to be drier because of how difficult it is for scalp oils to make their way through the coils from root to tip, but this doesn’t always mean that all highly textured hair has the same porosity," says Chi Ohtsu, a senior stylist at Self Salon in Brooklyn. "Think of hair porosity the same way you would think of skin type such as oily, combination, normal, and dry."

The primary aspect that determines your hair's porosity is how tightly the hair cuticles are layered along each strand of your hair and whether those cuticles are clamped down or raised. The hair cuticle is the outermost layer of the hair. Picture these tiny cuticles like shingles on a roof. For water and hydrating hair products to reach the cortex and innermost layers, they need to be able to penetrate through the hair cuticles.

How to test your hair’s porosity:

The easiest and most common way to test the porosity of your hair is by conducting a "float test". Pull a few hair strands from your comb and drop them in a bowl or glass of water. Allow the strands to sit for a few minutes. If the hair stays on top of the water you have low porosity hair. If the strands float in the middle of the bowl you have normal or medium porosity hair. If the strands sink to the bottom you have high porosity hair.

Low porosity hair:

In low porosity hair types, the hair's cuticles are tightly packed and tend to overlap each other. Because there are few gaps, water, oils, and other hair products have a harder time getting past the outermost layer of the hair to properly hydrate the hair cortex and innermost layers of the hair shaft.

Aside from doing a float test, you might have low porosity hair if you notice that products tend to take a long time to absorb into your hair (or don't properly absorb at all). You may also be prone to experiencing buildup as much of the hair product you apply will likely sit atop the hair. You may also have low porosity hair if your hair takes a long time to get fully wet or fully dry.

To combat the buildup, Ohtsu says, "They better use clarifying shampoo once in a while. It will break down the protein structures that would allow the humectants and moisture to penetrate the hair fiber deeper, giving the hair more elasticity, softness, and shine. Also, use protein-free products."

Medium porosity hair:

Medium porosity hair is the often sweet spot when it comes to hair porosity. With cuticles that are slightly raised and neither too compact nor too spaced out, this hair type absorbs moisture easily and is able to retain it for a good amount of time. If you don't have much trouble with product buildup, if your hair tends to air dry relatively quickly, and if it takes on hair color well, you may have normal porosity hair.

When caring for medium porosity hair, the main goal is protection. While the structure of the hair does allow hydration in, it also allows some to seep out. Moisture loss in normal porosity hair has the potential to become more drastic (teetering more on high porosity hair) if healthy hair is damaged from heat styling or color processing.

Ohtsu recommends that people with medium porosity hair do a deep conditioning treatment once a week to maintain proper product absorption. Try using something like the BRIOGEO HAIR CARE Don’t Despair, Repair!™ Deep Conditioning Mask.

High porosity hair:

High porosity hair is the most porous of these three hair porosity types. "It allows moisture to be absorbed into the hair shaft easily, yet it isn’t able to retain moisture for long because the cuticles tend to have gaps or spaces between them," says Ohtsu.

The cuticles are spaced the furthest apart and are even more raised than normal porosity hair. Because it loses hydration quickly and easily it has a tendency to be prone to dryness and frizz. If your hair is prone to breakage, often lacks shine, and air dries very quickly it may be high porosity. It's common for natural hair and people with type 4 curly hair to have high porosity (although it's not always a given). You may also currently have high porosity hair if it's damaged from heat or hair color treatments.

High porosity hair needs an incredible amount of hydration. As this hair type can stand up to the heaviest hair care products, products like rich curl creams, shea butter, natural oils (like coconut oil or jojoba oil), deep conditioners, and leave-in conditioners are all fair game. You'll also want to be super particular about your shampoo and conditioner choice. Make sure the formulas steer clear of sulfates, parabens, silicones, and sodium laureth sulfates. Instead, look for shampoos and conditioners with hydrating oils and butters and potentially also protein treatments like keratin that will help to strengthen each strand. Before blow-drying or heat styling, Ohtsu suggests always using a heat protectant to protect from heat damage.

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About the author
Cortney Clift
Cortney is a New York-based freelance writer who has written about beauty and wellness for more than six years. She was previously the senior writer and special projects editor at Brit + Co where she covered a wide range of news and lifestyle topics.
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Article Last Updated December 3, 2020 12:00 AM