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Does The Porosity Of Your Hair Really Matter?

Photographed by Winnie Au.
Is your hair constantly dry? Does it have trouble reacting to products? Does it frizz easily? Am I preaching your gospel right now? Well, its porosity could be at the root of the problem.

"Hair porosity" is a term I've heard thrown around on the internet more and more recently. In a nutshell, it's your hair's ability — or inability — to absorb moisture. It's mostly of concern for those with curly and tightly coiled strands — whose manes are notorious for being persistently parched. When it comes to natural hair, knowing your specific porosity is important because, simply put, it will help you better understand your hair. Diane C. Bailey, celebrity stylist, author, and SheaMoisture beauty ambassador, tells us: "Identifying your hair porosity is important to achieve your healthiest hair possible. Knowing your hair porosity helps you determine what ingredients and products are best."

There are three porosity types: low, medium, and high. Typically, hair with high porosity is prone to damage, breakage, and gaps, Bailey explains. This allows the hair to absorb moisture quickly but also release it just as fast. "Highly porous hair tends to look frazzled and feels dry and coarse," she says. Low-porosity hair, on the other hand, has a tendency to be on the stubborn side. This type experiences buildup, and has trouble retaining moisture and absorbing natural oils. Basically, products sit on the hair, and your tresses take a longer time than normal to dry. It might look healthy on the outside, but it lacks in the elasticity and volume department. Strands that fall in the middle take in and hold moisture for a good amount of time (a.k.a. The Dream).

For most ladies and gents, porosity is genetic, but elements like environmental stresses, hard water, heat-styling, and chemical treatments can also affect where on the scale your strands lie. A classic way of determining whether your hair veers on the low or high end of the spectrum is the old hair-in-a-cup-of-water trick, says celebrity hairstylist Lacy Redway. "Some women like to test their strands by dunking one of their freshly cleaned loose strands in a cup of water to see if it floats or sinks," she explains. She adds that using clean hair is important, as dirty strands will alter your results. "If your hair sinks quickly, it's high in porosity. If it floats, it's low-porosity. And if it takes longer than a couple of minutes to sink, you most likely have medium porosity." Bailey also suggests checking out SheaMoisture's Porosity 411 website, which will help you nail down your type (and recommend products) after you answer several questions.
Bailey says that those with low-porosity hair should make sure to use products with low protein. She also recommends picking up a clarifying shampoo to help with buildup. "When washing hair, start with warm water to open the cuticles, and rinse hair with cold water to close cuticles. Commit to a routine that includes humectants, such as coconut oil," she says. Redway adds that natural treatments like apple-cider vinegar and Aztec Secret's Indian Healing Clay Mask are great for low-porosity types to help restore balance.

For those with high-porosity hair, both experts stress the importance of incorporating a deep-conditioning treatment. "I like to use Saran Wrap from my kitchen around my hair while giving myself a deep conditioner," Redway tells us. "This really helps to lock in the heat and moisture." She notes that since high-porosity types tend to suffer from tangles, they should try finger-detangling strands with a product like Kinky-Curly's Knot Today before using a wide-tooth comb. Bailey recommends using products with protein and doing regular protein treatments. "Also, rinse your hair with cold water," she says.

Redway and Bailey both note that your porosity can change depending on how you treat your tresses. Yes, it's a constant struggle. And don't determine where your strands land based on someone else's hair. "When you factor in how you take care of your hair, two women with similar curl patterns could fall differently on a hair-porosity scale," says Redway.

As is the case with most products, you should you test out, evaluate, and adjust as needed. It's a learning process, but now you're armed with the information to give your hair a head start toward a healthy finish.