All you need to know about hair porosity
If you’ve heard about hair porosity as much as we have, you may be slightly confused about what it really is. We’re here to give you a hair porosity 101. We'll be answering all questions you may have about hair porosity.
What is hair porosity?
Simply put, hair porosity is the ability of hair to absorb and retain moisture. This is determined by how open or closed your hair cuticle is.
What is the hair cuticle?
The hair cuticle is the outermost layer of the hair shaft. It tightens up to protect itself from the weather and the environment. A smooth cuticle represents a protected, well-hydrated, undamaged cuticle. A rough cuticle represents damage and shows the hair is in need of moisture and repair.
Porosity grades or types
You may have heard of porosity defined as “low, medium, and high”. While that is somewhat correct, porosity is actually measured on a scale that displays your porosity “grade”.
What does this scale mean? What does it mean to have low, medium, or high porosity hair? What causes hair to be a certain level of porosity?
Have no fear, we have all the answers.
Simply put, low porosity hair have a tight cuticle that does not allow water or product in easily. Medium (or normal) porosity hair have enough openings in the cuticle to allow a good amount of water and moisture in. High porosity hair have raised cuticles. This means the cuticles have wide openings in them which allow water in easily but also release it just as easily.
To understand more, let’s start with what the grades of porosity really mean.
Grade 1 | Extremely low porosity
This form of porosity is very rare. This is usually virgin hair which means the hair has not been exposed to any chemical treating, heat styling, manipulation or harsh environments. This hair type has not been color treated at all. The cuticle is so tight that it does not let water in easily. This hair type is difficult to hydrate and moisturize. Product and water tend to sit on top of the hair as the cuticle doesn’t let it in easily. Natural oils also do not penetrate the hair shaft and tend to sit on top of it. These hair appear to be smooth and healthy.
This is a rare grade to be in as most people do have exposure to sun and other environmental factors that can change the porosity of the hair.
Grade 2 | Low porosity
These are virgin hair that have occasionally been exposed to heat, chemical treatments, colouring, and of course, environmental factors like sunlight. The hair may have been coloured up to 3 shades lighter than natural color. The cuticle is slightly opened and lets some water in. The rest sits on top of the stand. This hair type has good elasticity and can be detangled without a conditioner.
Grade 3 | Medium porosity (sometimes known as normal or balanced porosity)
This hair porosity is usually the easiest to maintain. The hair cuticle has just enough openings to allow moisture to enter and to escape. This type of hair has had moderate exposure to chemicals, heat, and coloring. The hair color may be 5 shades up from the natural color. Grade 3 hair needs regular conditioning and requires a leave-in. It also requires a balance between protein and moisture.
Grade 4 | High Porosity
Grade 4 porosity is natural but it can be a result of excessive chemical treatments, heat, and coloring. This hair could have been lightened over 7 levels from the natural color (for eg., jet black to blonde). The cuticles are lifted, allowing moisture into the hair shaft. This means water and moisture also escapes very quickly. Hair is easy to hydrate but not for long as moisture tends to escape easily. These type of hair need a leave-in at all times or else it becomes frizzy and dry. Protein works well for this hair type.
Grade 5 | Extremely high porosity
We hate to say this but this hair type is not natural. These hair are damaged due to over exposure to chemical treatments, heat, and coloring. The hair has been striped of moisture and the follicle may have been damaged. There is most likely no cuticle left on the hair. When wet, the hair feels gummy and can be pulled apart. This hair is mostly beyond repair and needs to be chopped off or shaved off to start afresh!
How do I know what my hair porosity is?
Now that we know about the different kinds of porosities, let’s find out how to determine your hair’s porosity.
You may have heard of the “float test” to determine your hair porosity. This will not always give you an accurate result as it doesn’t take into account many other factors that can cause the hair strand to float or sink such as water surface tension, natural oils from the scalp, hair texture, age of the hair, hair dye or bleach, product build up like silicones, etc. The results of the “float test” can be fallible.
Here are some tests we recommend that are more accurate than the hair test:
1. The strand test
Take a strand of hair from each section of your head (front, midline or crown, and nape) stretch the individual hair out and run your fingers from the tip up to the root.
- If it feels smooth and slick it is somewhere between Grade 1 & 3
- If it feels rough and dry (or breaks) it is somewhere between 4 & 5
2. The spray bottle test
Take a section of your hair and spray it with water. Observe what happens.
If your hair has beads of water sitting on the strands of rolling off, it is Grade 1 or 2.
If your hair soaks up the water in a few seconds, it is Grade 3.
If your hair immediately soaks up water like a sponge, it is Grade 4 or 5.
3. Observe characteristics
Other than the strand and spray bottle tests, it is always good to observe your hair and determine your porosity according to the characteristics of your hair. As a general rule, the more you have done to your hair (coloring, bleach, heat treatments), the higher the porosity may be.
Below are some common characteristics found in each porosity:
Low porosity hair characteristics
- Hair repels water hence it takes a long time to get completely wet or saturated.
- Hair tends to dry very slowly as the cuticle is tight and does not allow water to escape easily.
- Product tends to build up on hair, rather than to be absorbed in the hair shaft.
- Creates single stand knots ("fairy knots") easily.
- Natural oils don’t penetrate the hair and tend to sit on top of the hair shaft.
- Less prone to breakage and split ends.
- Doesn’t take color well - difficult to chemically treat hair.
Medium porosity characteristics
- Hair takes a few seconds to absorb water.
- Hair doesn't take too long to get wet or too long to dry.
- Product can build up if too much is used.
- Moderate tangles and knots (nothing major).
- Curls are bouncy and elastic (healthy hair).
- Easily absorbs and retains moisture.
- Holds style and can be coloured with good results.
High porosity characteristics
- Hair easily absorbs water.
- Air dries very quickly.
- Can’t retain moisture well so hair is often dry.
- Prone to breakage and split ends.
- Takes in hair color well.
- Tends to look frizzy.
- Rarely looks shiny.
- Tangles easily.
Factors that affect hair porosity
Now that you can determine the porosity of your hair, let’s talk about what factors affect hair porosity.
- Length & age: The roots of your hair are usually going to be in the lower porosity grades because it is fresh growth. The ends will likely be the highest porosity.
- Extended and regular exposure to sun: Long and harsh exposure tends to increase hair porosity.
- PH of hair products: Using alkaline products (pH>5.5) can increase hair porosity. Acidic products (pH<4.5) can decrease hair porosity by making the cuticle tighter.
- Highlights, hair dyes, and bleaching: The most you do it, the higher your hair porosity is likely to be.
- Relaxers: Likely to increase hair porosity.
- Irons, blow dryers, heat tools: The more you use them, the higher your hair porosity is likely to be.
- Environmental exposure like dry climates and winter air: All sorts of environmental exposures tend to raise the hair cuticle hence increase porosity.
How to care for hair according to porosity
Hair care for low porosity (grade 1 & 2) hair
- Opening the cuticle using warm water or steam is helpful as the cuticle is very tight.
- The co-wash only method is not recommended as product tends to build up easily on low porosity hair. Using a shampoo is important to get rid of build-up.
- Clarify at least once a week.
- Deep condition with heat to drive in the hydration
- Hair is easy to detangle so it can be done with fingers or a wide-toothed comb.
- Use small amounts of leave-in conditioner to create slip. Avoid large amounts to prevent built up.
- Use lightweight oils like jojoba and almond oil. Heavier oils tend to coat and sit on the hair hence making it greasy and weighed down.
- Apply products on damp hair rather than on soaking wet hair. If your hair is soaking wet, water is taking up most of the space in the cuticles which leaves no room for conditioners and styling products.
- Low porosity hair prefers hydration over protein. In fact, low porosity hair may not need any protein at all but it’s still important to maintain a balance. On the other hand, if your low porosity hair is facing a lot of breakage, use products with protein.
- Medium to hard hold gels will give the best hold.
- Low-medium heat diffusers can help lock in curl pattern.
- Curls tend to hold until day two before a wet refresh may be needed.
Hair care for medium porosity (grade 3) hair
- Product can build up so clarify once every two weeks.
- Warm water will help open the cuticle and cool rinses will help smooth it.
- Hair needs moisture and a good leave-in is necessary. Make sure the leave-in isn’t too heavy.
- Light-medium oils can work well for medium porosity hair.
- Hair needs a balance of moisture and protein.
- Medium hold gels work best.
- Style on either soaking or damp hair.
- Curls can last up to four days with some light spraying and refreshing using holding products.
Hair care for high porosity (grade 4 & 5) hair
- The cuticle is open which allows moisture in and out very easily. To ensure moisture does not escape and result in dry and frizzy curls, deep conditioning is a must. Leave-in conditioner can be buttery and thick to help fill the cuticle
- Heavier oils and butters help smooth and close the cuticle
- Seal with butter and oils to protect the moisture from leaving the hair strands.
- Try the LOC or LCO (leave-in, oil, cream or leave-in, cream, oil) for locking in moisture and preserving curls
- Protein treatments help seal and fill-in gaps in the cuticles.
- Most products should have balanced protein and moisture levels.
- Once hair is hydrated and styled with a holding product, it can last for days.
We hope this short guide helped you understand more about hair porosity and that you are much less confused than you were when you first came here.
Leave your questions in the comments below and we'll be sure to answer them!