Black woman looking at strand of her natural hair. Trying to figure out what type of porosity hair she has: low, medium, or high porosity curls.

The Key to Healthy Natural Hair: Knowing your Porosity

by ComfyGirlWithCurls

Hair porosity is key to healthy natural hair care. In this post, we’ll talk high porosity and low porosity, as well as how to test and care for your type!

The first thing people often look up when they go natural is curl pattern, thinking that’s the key to healthy hair. We’ve all seen the charts. Many of us have probably obsessed over them, desperately looking back and forth between our coils and the computer screen. Probably asking ourselves “is this S-shaped or Z? Are these pencil-width?”, all the while wanting to rip the hair from our head.

But did you know the real key to acing your natural hair care routine isn’t knowing your curl pattern, but rather, knowing your porosity?

In this post, we will walk through a couple things, hopefully answering all your hair porosity-related questions. Then you’ll be ready to get your Natural Hair Care regimen on track! Here’s what we’ll be covering:

What is hair porosity?

Sometimes, when people hear “Hair Porosity”, they get intimidated by how science-y it sounds. But it’s not actually that complicated.

The first thing you need to know is that our hair strands have three parts, and the outermost part is called the cuticle. The cuticle is the protective layer of our hair shafts, and is made up of overlapping scale-like cells. These cells are what facilitates the movement of moisture to our cortex.

Diagram of the hair strand. Cortex, Medulla, Cuticle. In relation to high versus low porosity hair. Low p

When we talk porosity, we are talking about how porous our cuticle layer is. Or more specifically, how many pores (or openings) there are between the scale-like cells of that layer.

Another definition of porous is “how permeable something is to fluids“. Which makes sense, because if something is full of openings, water is going to get through it pretty easily.

Below is a fantastic visual. When the layers of the cuticle lay flat against each other (on the left), there are fewer openings, which makes the hair strand less permeable to water (and other things).

When the layers of the cuticle are lifted (on the right), there are more openings between them. Making the strand more permeable.

Low porosity hair versus high porosity hair illustration. When the layers of the cuticle lay flat against each other (on the left), there are fewer openings, which makes the hair strand less permeable to water (and other things). When the layers of the cuticle are lifted (on the right), there are more openings between them. Making the strand more permeable.

Hair Porosity types

Porosity is usually separated it into three categories: low, medium, and high. So let’s break those down! (Although with the knowledge gained above, you probably already have an idea of what is what).

Low

As you may have guessed, the above, left-hand image, is depicting low porosity hair, with the cells of the cuticle layer closed tight. This hair type…

  • is often associated with “virgin” hair (never treated/processed, not heat-styled often)
  • makes it harder for moisture and nutrients to reach the cortex
  • is prone to product build up (because it sits on top instead of being absorbed)
  • takes longer to dry

Medium (or Normal)

Medium porosity hair is also called “normal”, and this is really the sweet spot everyone wants to be in. It…

  • absorbs moisture and products easily, and retains them
  • is easier to style
  • is nice and smooth

High

With highly porous hair, the cuticle cells are lifted, leaving wide gaps between them. It…

  • is often associated with damaged/processed hair (whether chemically treated, or damaged from over-manipulation)
  • absorbs water (and products) super quickly
  • BUT… it doesn’t retain moisture well. It will let it escape just as quickly, leaving hair dry
  • is often frizzy

How can you Test Hair Porosity?

There are three key ways to test hair porosity. (The first is my favourite, because it requires no extra effort).

#1. Get your hair wet, and see how it reacts.

To me, this seems like the simplest test, because at some point, you’ll wash your hair, and all you’ll have to do is pay attention.

  • If your strands absorb the water quickly, and also dry very quickly, you have high porosity hair.
  • If the water just sort of sits on top of your strands, taking a long time to absorb, you have low porosity hair.

#2. Drop a shed hair in water and watch.

Grab a hair you shed in the shower, or by combing, and drop it in a glass of water. You’ll want to make sure this strand is clean, as any product buildup could interfere with results. If the strand of hair…

  • sinks immediately, you have high porosity hair.
  • sinks slowing, or sort of floats in the middle, you have medium or normal porosity hair.
  • floats, you have low porosity hair.

#3. Run your fingers up a single strand.

Pinch a taught strand of hair between your fingers, and run them up towards the root. Pay attention to how it feels.

  • If your fingers slide smoothly from top to bottom, you have low porosity hair.
  • If your your strand feels rough, you have high porosity hair.

(This is my least favourite test with kinky-curly hair, because no matter what, your hair is unlikely to feel completely smooth as you run your fingers along it.)

Why is knowing your porosity vital to a Natural Hair Care Regimen?

High and low porosity hair each come with their own challenges. But knowing which category you fit in to allows you to make an educated decision on what products to use and how to get the most out of them. You also won’t end up buying a ton of products that others claim are miracle workers, but end up doing absolutely nothing for you.

This is why knowing your curl type isn’t as helpful when it comes to designing a regimen. It’s why two people with the exact same curl pattern can try the same products and routine, and have different outcomes.

Tips for taking care of low porosity hair:

Clarify hair often.

Because low porosity hair is prone to build up, you’ll want to keep your strands super clean. If your strands have a lot of buildup on them, they won’t be able to readily absorb any added moisture or nutrients. (Cowashes also might not be the best fit.)

If you’re looking to clarify, I recommend an actual clarifying shampoo. Not something like dish soap.

Use heat to get the most out of your products.

No, I’m not referring to heat-styling. Even though in low porosity hair, the cuticles are tightly laid, they can still be encouraged to open up a bit. Incorporating heat in your treatments (especially your deep conditioning treatments) helps lift the cuticles, allowing more moisture to reach the cortex.

This can be done using a thermal cap while deep conditioning, or by using a steamer right before your moisture treatment.

Avoid those heavy hitters.

I know hair butters and heavy oils are absolutely luxurious…but if you have low porosity hair, it’s better to stay away. You’re prone to build-up, remember?

Tips for taking care of high porosity hair:

Seal in that moisture.

Highly porous hair absorbs products fast, but will let them escape just as quickly if they aren’t sealed in. I found that when I tweaked my hair routine from LOC to LCO (ending with a thick oil–usually olive oil), my hair began staying hydrated for so much longer!

Thick butters and oils are usually going to be your friend if you have curls are highly porous.

Help your hair strengthen up.

If you have high porosity hair, it’s likely you are facing some sort of damage, whether from dyeing it, doing too much heat styling, or flat out over-manipulation. To give your strands their best chance, you want to look at regular protein treatments to try and fill some of those gaps, and strengthen those curls.

A huge favourite of mine is the Aphogee 2-step Protein Treatment.


Okay. Now you have all this information, you’re probably itching to apply it to your hair care regimen. The next most important thing is consistency. Find a regimen, and stick to it. Your hair isn’t going to get healthy if you aren’t taking the time to take care of it regularly.

Related: 30 Day Natural Hair Care Challenge

So, what’s your hair type? Has knowing your porosity level changed the game? What are your go-to products, or non-negotiable steps in your hair care regimen? Comment below!

Find more Natural Hair Posts here:


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6 comments

Chante March 5, 2020 - 12:47 pm

I didn’t know most of this ! Thank you

Reply
ComfyGirlWithCurls March 5, 2020 - 12:55 pm

My pleasure!! I’m glad it was helpful. Once I knew my porosity, I was able to better-care for my hair!!

Reply
Nknaturalz February 12, 2020 - 5:42 pm

Thanks for this well- written article! I think I’m normal to high porosity. My hair can take 2 days to dry.

Reply
Dee February 11, 2020 - 4:55 pm

I’ve always wondered what my hair porosity was later in my natural hair journey. Like most, I focused on what my hair type was and never knew about the porosity. I found this to be very helpful. I’ll definitely be giving it a go with my daughters’ hair soon!

Reply
ComfyGirlWithCurls February 12, 2020 - 8:29 am

Oh I’d love to hear what your girls’ hair type is! I’m guessing low porosity because they’re so young, but who knows!!

Reply
Dee February 13, 2020 - 5:38 am

You could definitely be right about that. It’s almost wash day so the answer will be here soon!

Reply

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