Making the Most of Moisture

High porosity hair (left) has open cuticles while low porosity hair (right) has compact cuticles.

Porosity determines hair’s ability to absorb and hold water. Making hair healthy and able to absorb and retain moisture will contribute to healthy hair.

Moisture in its purest form is water and is what your hair needs to be healthy. Dehydrated curls are not a good look. It’s how you hydrate your curls regardless of their porosity that will give you a great curly style, day after day.

Just like hair can be fine, medium, or thick in density it can also be described as low, medium, or high porosity. I’ve even met curlies with a combination of porosities on different areas of their head!

A curly’s low to medium porosity hair can be altered to become high porosity hair due to environmental factors (sun and heat), hot tools, and chemical services (color and highlight services).

Low porosity

If you have low porosity your hair seems to repel water and it takes a long time to get wet when you wash your hair. The cuticle (the hard, protective layer) is tightly closed and is so compact that it does not easily accept water. Products tend to build up on top of the hair strands and do not penetrate the cuticle. Your hair can take a very long time to dry.

Using humectants such as glycerine, aloe, or honey would do well on low-porosity hair as these products will draw moisture into the hair. Low porosity hair does not react well with the use of protein treatments as the proteins will simply layer on top of the hair strands and can make the hair feel drier and stiff from the build-up. These treatments can lead to breakage.

Low porosity hair will likely require some work to get conditioners to penetrate the tightly packed cuticle layer. You need to work with smaller sections when going through your washing, conditioning, and styling steps to help get better hydration. Use products rich in emollients to soften the hair, and humectants to keep the moisture in.

The “Pinch & Glide Styling Method” would work well for your routine for both conditioning and applying your styling product.

Medium porosity

Medium porosity hair is easy to care for because the cuticles are laying closed, but not as tightly closed as low porosity hair. Medium-porosity hair will easily hold water. If you have medium porosity, your hair will easily accept chemical processes such as colors, perms and highlights, and will style easily. However, over-processed medium porosity hair can become highly porous.

Medium porosity can use protein treatments occasionally, but daily use can weigh your curls down as they get saturated with excessive moisture. Medium porosity hair can still be dry and frizzy to the look and touch, but this is easy to repair by adding a moisturizing leave-in.

Medium porosity curls can choose any styling application method.

High porosity

High porosity hair can look dry and frizzy. It absorbs water quickly but cannot retain it. Your hair also tends to dry quickly.

Using poor quality hair care products or excessive heat styling and chemical services can severely damage the cuticle layer and effect porosity. Even environmental stress such as heat or sun damage can alter hair’s porosity. These stresses alone or combined leave the cuticle layer wide open, exposing the cortex (the soft centre of the hair shaft). Eventually the cuticle gets eaten away and holes are left in the cuticles.

The more damaging processes the hair is exposed to, the more holes and there will be to the cuticle layer. Even something as simple as going for a swim or washing hair becomes a massive chore as hair tangles immediately upon immersion in water. So doing a pre-poo – applying conditioner to your hair before you cleanse – may minimize the tangles when the water hits your hair on wash days.

Protein treatments will help seal and fill the holes in the cuticles. Do this once or twice a week depending on the needs of your curls.

Deep conditioning is different than a protein treatment as deep conditioning provides moisture to the hair whereas proteins repair. You should always seal a protein treatment with a conditioner to lock in the benefit.

Using anti-humectants to block excessive moisture from penetrating the cuticle to control frizz is suggested. Products containing ingredients such as bees wax, shea butter, hydrogenated castor oil, olive oil, coconut oil, etc., will fill and seal those little holes. Do not use these oils straight from a bottle from the grocery store.

“Pinch & Glide Styling Method” would work well for both conditioning routine and applying your styling product. High porosity hair can use any styling application method but be careful using comb and brush methods because your hair may not be strong enough and you could experience breakage.

Check the Porosity of Your Curls

  1. Take a few strands of hair and put them into a bowl of water. If the strands float, you have low porosity hair. If the hair sinks immediately, your hair has high porosity. If you have normal porosity, your hair will slowly sink. 
  2. Pinch a few curly strands of hair from ends to root (up the hair strand) and if you feel smoothness you have low porosity hair. If you feel roughness you have high porosity.
  3. Take a spray bottle with water and spray on your hair. If the water beads on the surface, you have low porosity hair. If the water sits on the surface for a moment or two before absorbing, you have medium porosity. If the water is quickly absorbed by your hair you have high porosity.

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