Figuring out what works for your hair takes a lot of trial and error, but if you’ve reached a point in your hair care journey where even the most popular products don’t seem to be doing their job of keeping your strands strong, healthy, and hydrated, perhaps it’s time to examine your hair’s porosity type.
Hair porosity, also known as hair’s ability to retain moisture, is a useful thing to keep in mind when it comes to the products you put into your wash, style, and everything in between. And with all the hair care lines on the market, who doesn’t need some extra cleanliness?
Meet our experts: Cary Williams, Ph.D., Los Angeles-based trichologist, celebrity hairdresser, and creator of Goddess Locs. Candice Witherspoon is a New York-based hairdresser and perm specialist.
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If you’re ready to dive into it all, keep reading as the experts explain everything you need to know about hair porosity, including what it means and how to determine your porosity.
What is hair porosity?
In short, porosity is used to describe your hair’s ability to absorb and retain moisture.
“[Porosity] important because knowing the condition of your hair will help you choose products that will either help replenish the lack of moisture in your hair or deal with dryness and breakage issues, says Williams. how you should create your hair care regime, because the right balance of moisture in your hair will determine its overall condition.
What are the types of hair porosity?
There are three different types of hair porosity, each of which is determined by the condition of the cuticle layer of the hair strand:
Low porosity: Low porosity hair is not very porous, which means it is difficult for moisture to penetrate the hair strands. The cuticular layer of the hair is so tightly packed that your hair may need help to let moisture in. To that end, New York-based hairdresser and curly hair specialist Candice Witherspoon suggests steaming every two weeks with a hair mask or deep treatment.
In addition, Witherspoon recommends Amika Hydro Rush Intense Moisture Shampoo and Conditioner, Innersense Organic Beauty Hydrating Mask, and Sienna Natural Plants Power Protein Moisture Repair Moisturizer for this hair type. Some of the formula’s key ingredients include fatty oils such as avocado and shea butter, chamomile, charcoal, peppermint oil, Egyptian Abyssinian, natural lanolin, and grape seed oil.
Normal porosity: This kind of porosity is considered a golden spot. This means that the hair can take in and retain moisture in a healthy way, and the cuticle scales are not too tight or damaged.
For normal porosity, Witherspoon recommends Innersense Organic Sweet Spirit Leave-In Hair Cream, Miribel Naturals Powerhouse Protein Cream, Charlotte Mensah Manketti Hair Oil, and Amika Dream Routine Night Hydrating Hair Mask.
High porosity: When it comes to hair with high porosity, the cuticle scales are usually damaged due to chemical treatments such as straightening, perming or coloring the hair. It can also be due to the use of heating appliances or excessive styling. Cracks in the cuticle mean that while moisture is easily absorbed, it also has a hard time retaining it.
Williams advises imagining a sponge when trying to understand this type of hair. It absorbs water quickly, but the holes make it difficult for it to retain water. And after a while it dries up and becomes brittle. She also notes that products with silicone help temporarily retain moisture.
Uncle Funky’s Daughter Squeaky Deep Cleaning Shampoo and Aveda Botanical Strengthening Recovery Kit are Witherspoon’s top recommendations for highly porous hair. Prominent formula ingredients include anti-moisturizers such as coconut or olive oil, apple cider vinegar, babassu oil, amino acids such as silk, milk and wheat, and aloe vera due to its revitalizing properties.
How to check hair porosity
There are several ways to test your porosity, although they are not reliable.
The most popular test is the liquid glass method. To do this, you must take a few strands of your hair (preferably strands that have fallen naturally from different parts of the head) and throw them into a full glass of water. If it sinks to the bottom, you have high porosity hair. If it floats, you have low porosity hair. If it is in the middle, you have normal hair porosity.
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This test may not give you definitive answers, Williams says, because different parts of your hair can have different types of porosity, unless you’ve treated your entire head. In this case, you will find that your hair can be very porous.
Note: To get accurate results, make sure your hair is clean and free of any products.
Alternatively, you can try an elasticity test with wet hair (again, don’t pull your hair out of your head to do this) to see if your hair breaks easily when you pull it gently. If so, it means that the hair cuticles are closed together, making it difficult for water or any other product to hydrate the hair shaft – in other words, you have low porosity.
“Porosity tests are not needed. I would not recommend doing this as part of a regular process,” says Williams. “I would advise those who are concerned about the health of their hair to simply consult with a licensed stylist they trust.”
However, if you Indeed want to test the science, Witherspoon recommends doing it whenever the season changes, as you’ll likely need to make some adjustments to your daily routine throughout the year.
Sabrina is an assistant editor for Women’s Health. When she’s not writing, you can find her running, practicing mixed martial arts, or reading.