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How to Moisturize High Porosity Hair: Key Ingredients

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

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The struggle is real when it comes to keeping high-porosity hair moisturized. If you’re dealing with persistently dry hair, frizz that won’t go away, and curls that lose their shape quickly, it’s time to take action.

To set you on the right path on how to moisturize high-porosity hair, here are some fundamental tips: 1) Avoid shampoos containing sulfates, as these may strip your hair of its natural oils; 2) Look for humectants and moisturizing ingredients like glycerin and aloe vera that draw moisture into the hair; and 3) Use oils and butter such as jojoba and shea to seal in moisture and add a protective layer to each strand.

In partnership with a hair scientist with a PhD in Chemistry, we’ve synthesized the most up-to-date, science-backed insights to create this definitive guide. Now, let’s delve into what high porosity means for your hair and outline a personalized plan for achieving healthy hair most effectively.

3 Techniques to Moisturize High Porosity Hair

Image of Pinterest pin titled "How to Moisturize High Porosity Hair.

Let’s turn the tide on high-porosity hair by exploring the best way to achieve moisture retention.

1) Never Use Sulfated Shampoos

Navigating the shampoo aisle can seem overwhelming, especially when you’re striving to find the best products that are gentle on high-porosity hair.

Many popular shampoos include surfactants such as Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS), Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES), and Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate (ALS).

Although they’re effective cleansers, they can strip your hair of essential moisture and proteins, which can lead to increased dryness and even scalp irritation. Scientific studies confirm this, showing that sulfate-based shampoos can result in measurable protein loss in hair.1 For those with high-porosity hair, a better approach is to look for sulfate-free options.

In response to consumer demand for more gentle formulations, scientists have been busy discovering new, milder surfactants that serve as effective alternatives to traditional sulfates.

This has opened the door to a range of health-conscious, hydrating products that cater to the unique needs of those with high-porosity hair, making the task of choosing the right products less daunting.

Let’s focus on milder surfactants that can cleanse without causing dryness or irritation. Here’s a concise list to guide your next purchase:

  • Alkyl Polyglucosides: Derived from sugar, these eco-friendly surfactants are notably mild and skin-friendly. Within this category, you’ll find variants like coco glucoside, decyl glucoside, and lauryl glucoside. Each varies in carbon chain length, detergency, and foam generation. What they have in common is their hydrating quality, offering a moisturizing cleanse that’s perfect for high-porosity hair.
  • Isethionates: Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate and Sodium Lauroyl Isethionate are standout choices for those seeking hydration. These surfactants are known for their moisturizing effects on both the scalp and hair fibers, making them ideal candidates for sulfate-free shampoos.
  • Amino Acid-derived Surfactants: These are exceptionally mild and gentle to skin and hair as well as efficient in cleansing and detergency. These surfactants make them an excellent choice for both skin and hair. Options include:
    • Sodium cocoyl glutamate
    • Sodium lauroyl glutamate
    • Sodium stearoyl glutamate
    • Sodium lauroyl sarcosinate

By understanding these milder surfactant options, you’re better equipped to find a shampoo that’s tailored to the unique challenges of high-porosity hair.

2) Look for Humectants and Moisturizing Ingredients

Image of aloe vera gel being poured in a container.

Humectants, which are chemical compounds that can bind and hold water molecules, play a vital role here. But not all humectants are created equal, especially when it comes to high-porosity hair because of its own set of challenges and needs.

Common humectants like Glycerin and Propylene Glycol get the job done but might not be the most efficient for high-porosity hair types.

With the evolving world of hair care science, we’re now seeing a surge in the use of innovative, eco-friendly ingredients. Let’s explore the top contenders that you might want to consider:

  1. Betaine: Extracted from sugar beet juice, this organic molecule outperforms traditional humectants like glycerin and propylene glycol in water-binding capacity. It’s our top pick for moisturizing high-porosity hair.
  2. Pyrrolidone Carboxylic Acid Salts: Known for their superior water retention, skin friendliness, and compatibility with chemically processed hair, these salts offer an excellent hydrating solution.
  3. Propanediol: Derived from corn, this natural polyhydric molecule is eco-friendly and exhibits high water-binding capacity, making it a sustainable and efficient choice.
  4. Proteins: Amino acids and proteins are natural ingredients for moisturizing and strengthening fragile hair fibers. For high-porosity hair, certain proteins are more effective:
    • Hydrolyzed wheat protein
    • Hydrolyzed keratin
    • Quaternary-modified proteins
    • Special mention goes to silicone-functional proteins like quaternized keratin, cocodimonium hydroxypropyl hydrolyzed wheat protein, and hydrolyzed vegetable protein PG-propyl silanetriol for their multi-beneficial properties.

Remember, the ideal moisturizing ingredient for your shampoo or conditioner may vary depending on its formulation, so it’s essential to read the ingredient list carefully and understand what works best for your unique hair type.

3) Oils and Butter for High Porosity Hair

Oil added to butter.

Natural oils and butter are excellent emollients and moisture-preserving agents. They help your hair retain moisture and form a water-resistant barrier that minimizes moisture loss. Top picks for high-porosity hair include:

These natural wonders help smooth the hair shaft and cuticle layer, minimizing friction between fibers and bolstering the integrity of each strand.

It’s important to steer clear of petroleum-based emollients like petrolatum and white mineral oil. These options may be too heavy and can build up on the hair. Plus, they aren’t eco-friendly, failing to break down easily in the environment.

In a world increasingly focused on sustainability, these natural oils and butter offer a green, biodegradable alternative that serves multiple hair care needs.

When you’re selecting products for your high-porosity hair, these natural emollients should be high on your list.

Why Does High Porosity Hair Need Moisture?

Image of a  before-and-after photo of my chemically damaged high porosity hair vs restored hair.
Check out this side-by-side comparison: The first photo shows my hair when it was chemically and heat damaged, while the second photo reveals my restored and healthy curls. Moisture and protein treatments have been key to this transformation!

Your hair, primarily composed of keratin, features thousands of tiny pores that are crucial to its overall health and growth.2

Even though the hair strands you see are technically ‘dead,’ once they reach the surface of the scalp, they still require water to maintain their luster and vitality.

Depending on environmental elements such as humidity, your hair has the capacity to soak up a significant amount of water. Specifically, at a relative humidity level of 65%, your hair can absorb between 30-35% of its weight in water through its proteins.3

However, chemically treated hair tells a different story. Procedures like bleaching, coloring, and perming wreak havoc on your strands, enlarging their pores and creating empty spaces beneath the cuticle layers. This is primarily due to protein loss caused by harsh chemical treatments.4,5,6,7,8

The end result? High-porosity hair that feels dry, rough, and is prone to frizz. Intensive moisture via deep conditioner and protein replenishment via protein treatments are imperative for these chemically altered strands. Without proper hydration, high-porosity hair can be unmanageable, lackluster, and devoid of body.

So, the pressing question is: how can we keep this type of hair well-hydrated? And what specific ingredients should we look for in products designed for the unique needs of dry, high-porosity hair?

Now, let’s explore effective moisturizing techniques that can rejuvenate your hair, restoring its quality and strength.

Optimal Hydrating Formula for High-Porosity Hair Care: Shampoos and Conditioners

Image of Shea Moisture JBCO shampoo and conditioner.

The perfect shampoo formula for high-porosity hair should be free of sulfates and incorporate one of the milder surfactants previously discussed.

It should also feature a mix of non-ionic or amphoteric co-surfactants, like coco-betaine or cocoamphoacetate, to boost its foaming and cleaning capabilities.

Essential moisturizing agents such as propanediol or PCA salts diminish the formula’s potential for irritation and impart water molecules to both scalp and hair strands.

For enhanced manageability, opt for a shampoo enriched with cationic conditioning agents like:

  • Guar hydroxypropyltrimonium chloride
  • Polyquaternium-10
  • Polyquaternium-7

These specialized components serve to align your hair cuticles, manage frizz, and simplify the combing process.

A conditioner suited for high-porosity hair should be rich in hydrating elements including:

These essential components are foundational to the conditioner’s effectiveness, offering the benefits of hair slip, easier detangling, and static control. The formula should be rounded off with a blend of natural oils and butter to masterfully manage frizz.

Image of myself holding the bouncecurl gel and cantu moisturizing curl activator.

The two hair products I’m holding in the above photo are a great combo containing moisturizing ingredients for my high-porosity curly hair. While there are plenty of great product combos for high-porosity hair, this combo is one of my favorites.

The product on the left is the Bounce Curl gel. Ingredients below.

Ingredients: Water, VP/VA copolymer, Glycerin, Hydrolyzed Jojoba Esters, Jojoba Esters, Hydrolyzed quinoa protein, Hydrolyzed Oat protein, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Extract, Panax Ginseng root Extract, Salvia Officlnalis (Sage) Extract, *Nigella Sativa (Virgin Black Cumin) Oil, Boswellia Carter Oil, Aminomethyl Propanol, Carbomer, Sodium Phytate, Caprylyl Glycol, Hexylene Glycol, Phenoxyethanol, Citric Acid, **Fragrance (100% Natural Fragrance).*Certified Organic **New 100% Natural Fragrance.

Bounce Curl Light Creme Hair Gel
$25.98 ($3.25 / Fl Oz)

Use 'muse' at Bounce Curl's checkout for a discount.

Buy at Amazon Buy at Bounce Curl
03/19/2024 02:21 pm GMT

Below are the ingredients for the Cantu Moisturizing Curl Activator Cream.

Ingredients: Water (Aqua, Eau), Glycerin, Propanediol, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter, Fragrance (Parfum), Polyquaternium-10, Stearalkonium Chloride, Stearyl Alcohol, Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil, Aloe Barbadensis (Aloe Vera) Leaf Juice, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Oil, Glycine Soja (Soybean) Oil, Prunus Amygdalus Dulcis (Sweet Almond) Oil, Persea Gratissima (Avocado) Oil, Olea Euopaea (Olive) Fruit Oil, Mangifera Indica (Mango) Seed Butter, Argania Spinosa (Argan) Kernal Oil, Melia Azadirachta (Neem) Seed Oil, Daucus Carota Sativa (Carrot) Seed Oil, Lonciera Japonica (Honeysuckle) Flower Extract, Laminara Cloustoni (Sea Kelp) Extract, Salvia Officinalis (Sage) Leaf Extract, Macadamia Ternifolia (Macadamia) Seed Oil, Vitis Vinifera (Grape) Seed Extract, Urtica Dioica (Nettle) Extract, Silk Amino Acids, Cetyl Alcohol, Cetearyl Alcohol, Polysorbate-60, Phenoxyethanol, Ethylhexylglycerin.

Cantu Moisturizing Curl Activator Cream
$7.49 $6.48 ($0.54 / Fl Oz)
Buy at Amazon Buy at Target
03/19/2024 02:18 pm GMT

Essential Guidelines for Managing High-Porosity Hair

  • Maintain cleanliness by regularly washing your high-porosity hair.
  • Opt for sulfate-free shampoos to preserve your hair’s natural oils.
  • Always condition your hair.
  • Quickly dry your hair after washing to prevent excess moisture absorption.
  • Incorporate deep conditioning treatments into your routine at least twice a week.
  • Use a hydrating leave-in conditioner before going outdoors to keep your hair moisturized.
  • Given their fragile nature, shielding your high-porosity strands from sun exposure is crucial.

What is High Porosity?

Image of hair cuticle showing low porosity, medium porosity, and high porosity.

When it comes to understanding your hair’s porosity, it’s helpful to know that hair is generally categorized into three types: high porosity, medium porosity, and low porosity. Each hair type has unique characteristics that impact how well it absorbs and retains moisture.

High porosity hair, often referred to as “highly-porous” and sometimes “porous hair” features an abundance of opened pores, larger pore sizes, and greater spacing in the cortex matrix. This structure results in many cuticles that are raised or lifted, allowing the hair to quickly absorb water. However, the downside is that it loses moisture just as rapidly.

Image of hair structure.
Hair structure – vector illustration

In contrast, low porosity hair has significantly fewer openings and much smaller pore sizes. These characteristics make it challenging for moisture to penetrate and stay within the hair, making hydrating and styling difficult.

Those with medium porosity hair (also known as normal porosity hair) hit the sweet spot, boasting an ideal balance of cuticle openings and pore sizes. This allows for easy absorption and retention of active ingredients and water without the hindrance the other two types face.

Understanding your hair’s porosity can go a long way in helping you choose the most effective products and routines to keep your hair hydrated and healthy.

What Causes High Porosity?

Image showing different levels of hair damage of high porosity hair.

Understanding the root causes of high porosity hair is crucial for effective treatment and maintenance.

While heat styling tools (i.e. flat irons, curling irons) and chemical treatments are often the main culprits, there are several other factors that can contribute to this condition, such as:

  • Oxidative Hair Bleaching: The use of alkaline hydrogen peroxide, often combined with ammonia or monoethanolamine, lightens hair color but also lifts the hair cuticle, increasing porosity.
  • Permanent Hair Coloring: The high pH levels and presence of hydrogen peroxide in permanent dyes can also compromise the hair structure, leading to high porosity.
  • Hair Perming: The use of alkaline thioglycolic acid in perming treatments changes the shape of your hair but also lifts the cuticle layers, making hair more porous.
  • Hair Relaxers: Ingredients like Sodium Hydroxide and Guanidine Hydroxide are used to straighten hair fibers but can simultaneously disrupt the hair’s natural pH balance, resulting in high porosity.
  • UV Damage: Repeated and excessive solar radiation exposure, especially on damaged and compromised hair, can worsen porosity levels.

By recognizing these key factors, you can make informed decisions about your hair care routine and product choices to mitigate high porosity issues effectively.


  1. Wolfram, L. J., Human hair: A unique physicochemical composite. J. Am. Acad. Dermatol. 2003, 48 (6, Supplement 1), S106-S114. ↩︎
  2. Zviak, C., The Science of Hair Care. Taylor & Francis: 1986. ↩︎
  3. Lee, Y.; Kim, Y.-D.; Pi, L.-q.; Lee, S. Y.; Hong, H.; Lee, W.-S., Comparison of hair shaft damage after chemical treatment in Asian, White European, and African hair. Int. J. Dermatol. 2013, n/a-n/a. ↩︎
  4. Ruetsch, S. B.; Yang, B.; Kamath, Y. K., Cuticular damage to African;American hair during relaxer treatments ; A microfluorometric and SEM Study. Inter. J. of Cosmet. Sci 2009, 31 (3), 244-245. ↩︎
  5. Swift, J. a., The Mechanics of Fracture of Human Hair. Inter. J. of Cosmet. Sci 1999, 21 (4), 227-239. ↩︎
  6. Silva, A. L. S.; Nunes, A. S.; Gesztesi Natura, J. L., Protein loss quantification of abraded virgin and abraded bleached hair according to Bradford assay. Inter. J. of Cosmet. Sci 2005, 27 (2), 139-140. ↩︎
  7. Robinson, V. N. E., A study of damaged hair. J. Soc. Cosmet. Chem. 1976, 27 (4), 155-&. ↩︎
  8. Wagner, R. D. C.; Joekes, I., Hair protein removal by sodium dodecyl sulfate. Colloid Surf. B-Biointerfaces 2005, 41 (1), 7-14. ↩︎


I’m just a girl who transformed her severely damaged hair into healthy hair. I adore the simplicity of a simple hair care routine, the richness of diverse textures, and the joy of sharing my journey from the comfort of my space.

My mission? To empower others with the tools to restore, and maintain healthy hair, and celebrate the hair they were born with!

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Prepare yourself for an unforgettable adventure and make sure to pack these essential items to take with you on your journey.

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