High Porosity Hair

Disclaimer: Not all high porosity hair types are created equal because it's an infinite spectrum. Everyone's hair is different and reacts differently, is on a different level/stage in their journey. This is only to be used a source of reference NOT a one size fits all.

Even after testing your hair, there are still some of you that don't know where you stand as far as porosity is concerned. If you're uncomfortable with the float test, strand test or dry test there are other ways to tell what porosity your hair is.

Characteristics of Porous Hair

According to Wendy, the Hair Scientist, characteristics is something you learn from studying your hair by running your fingers over a hair strand, observing shine or reflectivity, how hydrated your hair feels on a daily basis, and your hair's response to products. Learn by studying…Yes, this is sensory and multi-faceted. You are the best judge of your hair's porosity. Here are some hints:

If you run your fingers up and down a hair strand, it may feel bumpy and uneven due to kinking (tangling), or to damage. Porous hair does not shine much and though it may have some gloss, it's not reflective or brightly shiny. It will seem to absorb hair products of any kind, tends to feel dry most of the time, and you have a difficult time getting it to feel soft and pliable. It may lose dyed hair color rapidly because of the porosity.

Cuticles are your hair's outer most layers; they are tight overlapping scales that serve as a defensive shield to prevent damage to the inner part of your hair. They also have an important job of controlling how much and how fast water enters and leaves the hair.

Note: High porosity can be either an inherent property of hair or the result of damage from chemical processing, rough mechanical treatment, or environmental damage. Also, not every person with high porosity hair will have porous hair.

Hair Can Become Porous

  • With high heat styling tools (curling/straightening irons, hot rollers, blow dryers on high heat)

  • Hair becomes porous with a lot of sun exposure or a lot of swimming in chlorinated water or salt water

  • Bleaching or highlighting immediately makes hair more porous - up to 30% more pores than prior to bleaching - this is similar to the increase in porosity from many hours of direct sunlight exposure

  • Brushing hair a lot

  • Daily wear and tear

  • Chemical relaxers or permanent waves

  • High heat styling

  • Abrasive styling products

  • Shampooing frequently, regularly wearing tight clips/ponytail holders all can shear away pieces of cuticle or entire scales, leaving gaps

  • Friction of a handbag over hair, hair tucked into a collar, under a hat, and so on also shear off cuticles

  • You'll also notice after wetting hair, it dries quickly in a matter of minutes and that's because it has thinner, missing or lifted cuticle layers that can't block water from escaping. So water evaporates from your hair fast. You may notice that hair tangles easily—that's because lifted or missing cuticle layers creates an uneven surface throughout your hair. So rather than smoothly gliding by each other, the strands easily latch on to each other to create tangles. It’s important to know that people with porous hair usually need plenty of "slip" in conditioners to reduce friction.

    Note: Low porosity can become high porosity from extended use of chemicals treatments, heat, sun exposure, harsh handling, etc.

    Porous hair tends to have thinner individual hair strands because they don't have as many cuticle layers or they have thinner cuticle layers than someone with low porosity hair.

How to Decrease/Improve Porous Hair

According to Wendy, when hair is porous, it loses water more rapidly than is good for it. If hair loses water too quickly, it becomes dehydrated. Dehydrated hair is less elastic. How porosity works into elasticity and hydration; The more "weathered" your hair is as a result of length (more time exposed to the elements), sunlight exposure, mechanical damage (brushing, styling) heat exposure, chemical exposure (peroxide, ammonia, pool chlorine, salt, acids and alkalis), the more porous it probably is, especially on the ends. Porous hair readily gains and loses water to the air around it because it is no longer protected by a tight seal of cuticles and because porous hair hydrates and dehydrates easily, it is difficult to maintain good elasticity. 

Here are some simple ways to keep your hair hydrated to improve elasticity and manage porous hair. It's not difficult to understand when you know some of the science behind it and when you pay close attention to your hair's response to these things. Nothing matters more for hair care than paying attention to how your hair responds!

Try different kinds of protein to see what your hair prefers.

You've got to have a regimen that keeps your hair strong and has a consistent moisturizing schedule.

*1) Prevent swelling and dehydration and friction that occurs in wet hair and during washing.

Your hair has its cuticle layer which appears like layers (4-11), which overlap like shingles on a roof - keeping water out when they are well intact.

The layer beneath the cuticle is called the endocuticle (see image below), which can swell a lot in water.

Note: If your hair is low porosity, the water doesn't get to this layer very easily. But when and where your hair is normal porosity to porous, water can get to this layer and it swells with water.

Photo credit: Researchgate.net

Photo credit: Researchgate.net

*The stress of washing your hair with strong detergents comes from the swelling layer beneath a non-swelling layer. As the expandable endocuticle swells beneath the cuticles, it increases in circumference and exerts force outward, on the cuticle shell. As a result, cuticles are strained and stand away from the hair. In this state, they are more easily broken off. And so you have protein loss resulting from broken cuticles. Cuticles in this vulnerable position break from rubbing on other hairs, from wet combing or detangling while wet.

*How to prevent this swelling:

  •  Pre-poo penetrating oil treatment
    or

  • Pre-poo conditioner application (conditioner before washing doesn't deeply protect the hair from swelling, but it does protect the hair from some of the water hitting it).

Of these two options, the pre-poo penetrating oil treatment is the best-studied to address the swelling and protein loss and the "waterlogging" of too much swelling in water. Coconut oil has the best record for addressing these problems effectively, especially in bleached and damaged hair. But other oils may be similarly or adequately effective if coconut oil is too heavy for your hair or irritates your skin.

Leave a pre-poo oil treatment on for at least a few hours. 8 hours is the amount of time used in the study from the Journal of Cosmetic Science. Coconut oil has been shown (using ridiculously expensive equipment) to penetrate beyond the cuticles thanks to its triglyceride content and small fatty acids and it is attracted to the inner part of your hair. Coconut oil has a couple different effects:

1) Blocks water from getting into the hair - like most oils do.

2) During washing, some coconut oil gets into the hair fiber as it is being washed. Because oil repels water, when it is introduced to the interior of the hair (which ordinarily attracts water), it makes the inside of the hair water-repellant so it swells less.

Less swelling means the cuticles won't be lifted up where they are easily broken off which means that all those proteins that belong to the cuticle won't be lost, your hair won't be waterlogged and your hair will feel soft after you wash it.

The effect is more obvious on damaged, porous and especially bleached hair (highlights, lightener, permanent color) and less obvious on lower porosity hair.

*What if your hair hates coconut oil? Babassu oil, sunflower oil, grapeseed oil, and Ucuuba butter penetrate the hair and would be good substitutes for coconut oil. To a lesser extent, olive oil, avocado oil, castor oil, argan oil and other seed oils give you some of the protection from washing, but they may not have the same waterproofing effect on the interior of the hair as coconut oil. 

*2) Prevent water loss from hair.

There are 2 ways you can do this, and you can do both at the same time, it involves products left in and on the hair.

A)  Water-soluble (non-oily) films that are flexible and yet water-protecting

B)  Water-insoluble (oily) films that slow water loss because they are not penetrable by water

*Water soluble films are things like proteins, plant gums like flaxseed or celluloses, pectin, panthenol, hydroxypropyltrimonium honey. These films act as a barrier to excessive water loss. Hydrolyzed proteins are water loving and slow the evaporation of water from your dry hair. Not everybody's hair does well with proteins, but there are non-protein options listed in the graphics below. 

*Water-insoluble films are provided by oils you use on your hair. Oils on damp hair form a waterproof barrier to keep water from escaping too quickly (aka LOC method, be mindful that this method is not for everyone). If your hair can tolerate oil without getting limp or greasy - oils can seal in the moisture on your hair and slow that moisture's escape into the air around it.

Oil on dry hair? No, it doesn't hydrate, it softens and lubricates. Oil is water-free - so it can't hydrate or moisturize and that's okay because with hair there's a lot more to hair care than water.

*3) Protect the hair to prevent water loss.

Don't use high heat. Or at least not without a heat protectant.

Protect your hair from over exposure to the sun.

Protect your hair from dry, windy weather - wear a scarf or a hat. Tie your hair back if it is long so it does not blow around. This will also lesson single/multi strand knots.


*4) Deep condition/Protein treatment

Elasticity is a hair character that overlaps with porosity. Elasticity is part of the equation that helps reduce breakage. Hair is elastic, it stretches a little. And it stretches a bit more when wet than when dry. But hair that stretches rather than breaks is a good thing because it's still there to protect our heads. A protein treatment is your BFF, which will temporarily fill the chips/gaps along the hair strands reinforcing the architecture of your curls. When you use protein or an intense deep conditioner or both whether left on for 5-30 minutes with heat, more of the active ingredients interact with your hair and remain on your hair for a better result.

Note: Protein treatments are for those whose hair appreciates or tolerates protein. Not all high porosity hair needs protein, but only if it has been damaged by the things mentioned above.

Deep condition for people whose hair needs extra softening and more flexibility. Deep conditioning will increase the elasticity and encourage strong and smooth cuticles which is essential to bridging the gap between your protein treatments.

Adding a layer of hair butter and/or oil (for those hairs can tolerate it) works great at creating a layer that will help hair hold onto its moisture for a longer period of time. Our natural sebum will keep cuticles flat. But, because sebum has a hard time working down the curls/coils of textured hair we have the option of using a hair oils.

Once hair is damaged there’s really not much you can do to reverse it, however, these are some keys to help decrease and improve porosity and protect it from further damage by keeping it moisturized and coated with things like natural oils. The best you can do is create a healthy hair regimen that consistently reinforces your hair's cuticles.

5) pH Balance

The pH level of the products you use is VERY important. Products with an alkaline pH will further lift your already weak cuticles and products that are acidic, “close” your cuticles. Using pH balanced products plays a role in maintaining a good porosity level. The pH of sebum is between 4.5/5.5 and with high porosity hair it’s important to stay within this range. This acidity not only prevents fungal and bacterial growth on your hair and scalp, but it also keeps the cuticles “closed' resulting in healthier hair.

A great way to help tighten lifted or loose cuticles is with liquid based products or spritz with acidic pH (check out Green Beauty’s pH acidic spritz. I own this product and sometimes like to use it after a workout). This will temporarily strengthen your cuticles enough to help them hold onto the products it just absorbed for longer. A quick ACV rinse after washing your hair is perfect for this.

In conclusion, the porosity level of your hair fluctuates. You can check it twice a year just to make sure your’e staying on the right track and you’re not causing any self-inflicted damage throughout the year.

Note: if your hair is extremely or consistently dry, it could be a symptom of underlying medical condition such as thyroid disease, malnutrition, vitamin deficiency and hormonal changes. So if you honestly feel like you’ve tried everything including sticking to a great moisture/protein and protection regimen and for the most part kept your scalp clean, you should probably get checked at least for vitamin deficiencies.

If this post has helped you, please share it with your friends/drop a comment. I always appreciate feedback.

For more in depth information about Hair Porosity, I highly recommend Wendy, the Hair Scientist’s blog: http://science-yhairblog.blogspot.com/2012/06/hair-porosity-how-to-measure-sort-of.html



Sources: True Porosity Measurement of Hair: A New Way to Study Hair Damage Mechanisms. *Sciencey-blog by Wendy. Journal of Cosmetic Science. Chemical and Physical Behavior of Human Hair.