I posted this on Instagram recently:
and quickly learned that I was not the only one.
Seems like there’s always a new thing for us naturals to care about.
One minute it’s your hair type, then you need to learn the inversion method for hair growth, next you might start water-only washing for hair health. It’s hard to know what to file away as valid and what just might be concocted by a hair company tryna make a buck, or hopeful natural with no clear foundation on anything remotely scientific.
So what about porosity? Does that really affect my hair care routine?
My answer is yes and no.
Let’s start by defining what porosity is?
The cuticle of your hair’s strands is comprised of dead cells that create a hard shingle-like outer layer of protection. These “shingles” overlap like on a roof or siding on a house.
Porosity measures how easily your hair absorbs and holds onto moisture through that cuticle layer.
- If the cuticle lays flat and tight you have low porosity hair (meaning low absorption of moisture through those impenetrable “shingles”).
- If the cuticle is slightly raised but not too much you have normal porosity hair.
- If the cuticle is raised you have high porosity hair (meaning high absorption of moisture).
Now, let’s look at characteristics of each porosity level.
Low porosity hair
- has a tight and flat laying cuticle
- is harder to moisturize but easier to keep moisturized once the moisture is in the strand
- doesn’t absorb products and chemicals well, they tend to sit on the hair
- benefits from the use of heat to open the cuticle layer, allow moisture in and soften the hair (like during a deep conditioning treatment)
- prefers light-weight oils, leave in conditioners and products
- can appear shinier or “sheenier”
- takes a long time to dry
- does not respond well to protein treatments because the strand is already relatively strong so additional fortification makes the hair feel brittle
Normal porosity hair
- has a slightly raised cuticle layer
- is easier to moisturize
- is easier to keep moisturized once the moisture is in the strand
High porosity hair
- has a raised cuticle layer
- is easy to moisturize but hard to keep moisturized
- benefits from the use of cold to close the cuticle layer, strengthen the hair shaft, and seal moisture in (like during a cold water rinse)
- prefers heavier oils, butters, and products
- can feel or look dry
- dries quickly
- responds well to protein treatments
- often results from over processing and is damaged, but not always
Ok so now let’s find out how to determine your hair’s porosity level.
There are several hair porosity tests touted online. Personally, I’m skeptical that they produce reliable results but are four of the most popular.
. . .
Test 1: Mist Your Hair With Water
Mist a section of your hair with water and take a look. If the water sits on your hair then runs off you have low porosity hair. If it absorbs quickly with no run off you have high porosity hair. If some of both happens or it sits there then absorbs in a few minutes, you have normal porosity hair.
. . .
Test 2: Slide Your Fingers Up The Strands
Take a few strands of hair between your fingers near the tips and slowly slide your fingers up toward the root. The rougher your strands feel the higher the porosity. The smoother your strands feel the lower the porosity.
. . .
Test 3: Feel Your Damp Hair
Start with and damp hair squeeze out the excess moisture. Feel your hair. The rougher/crunchier it feels the lower the porosity because less moisture was absorbed. The mushier it feels the higher the porosity because more moisture was absorbed. (Side note: Something about this test in particular seems fishy because if you used heat or cold it may affect the cuticle layer and therefore the feel of your hair and moisture retained)
. . .
Test 4: Float Your Hair In Water
This seems to be the most popular test. Fill a glass with room temperature water, take a couple shed or plucked strands of your clean product-free hair and put them in said water. Now wait 5-ish minutes. If your hair sinks, you have high porosity hair (water got in and tanked the strand). If it floats, you have low porosity hair (cuticle water tight like the bottom of a boat). If it kinda hovers in the middle or half floats half sinks you have normal porosity hair or various porosities on the same strand … or something like that.
I actually did this very test with a couple strands of my own hair from different parts of my head. It determined I have low porosity hair.
My hair floated there like this overnight, nothing sank. I do wonder what the little bubbles surrounding each strand are about though?
So should I care about porosity or not?
Well, my answer is care if it helps you take care of your hair but, personally knowing my porosity level haven’t changed a thing about how I take care of my own hair. I’m already a skeptic on the tests listed above because I thought everyone’s hair floated, then while researching for this post I found this article that pretty much supported that idea. Now being completely fair, if you look at what low porosity hair actually responds well to (heated deep treatments / light weight oils / water-based leave-in conditioners / hates protein treatments) I appear to have figured out much of it on my own over the past 14 years. I even have the “sheeny” humidity-resistant strands that don’t take chemicals well and take FOREVER to dry, all signs of that low porosity life. HOWEVER, my hair also loves cold water and ACV rinses and a heavy butter or oil now and then recommended for high porosity hair so there’s that. Ultimately care if it helps but don’t let not knowing your porosity level hold you hostage or keep you in mental natural hair jail too long lol!
Being completely fair, if you look at what low porosity hair actually responds well to (heated deep treatments / light weight oils / water-based leave-in conditioners / hates protein treatments) I appear to have figured out much of it on my own over the past 14 years of my natural hair journey. I even have the “sheeny” humidity-resistant strands that are chemical resistant and take FOREVER to dry, all signs of that low porosity life. HOWEVER, my hair also loves cold water and ACV rinses and the heavy butter or oil now and then recommended for high porosity hair so there’s that.
Ultimately I recommend caring about porosity only if it ultimately helps you answer questions about your own hair, but don’t let not knowing your porosity level hold you hostage or keep you in mental natural hair jail too long lol!