Ingredients to Avoid for Low Porosity Hair: A Comprehensive Guide

January 25, 2023


Verna Meachum

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Are you searching for tips on how to manage your low-porosity hair? Low porosity hair can be tricky, requiring more than just a care routine—it requires the right ingredients.

Many people who have low porosity hair struggle every day trying to find the perfect combination of ingredients that will hydrate their locks without weighing them down.

If that’s the case for you, don’t worry–we’ve got all the answers in this comprehensive guide. In it, we’ll discuss which specific ingredients to avoid for low porosity hair and how they affect its overall health.

This guide will help you understand why these specific ingredients may not be the best choice for your locks, as well as suggest alternatives so that you can maintain healthy, beautiful-looking curls.

After reading this guide, you’ll be armed with the tools needed to make an informed decision regarding your haircare routine so that your gorgeous mane can stay nourished and beautiful!

First, let’s look into what it means to have low porosity hair so you can make sure that this guide is suited to your particular needs.

Hair Porosity

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

Our hair is made up of a protein-rich, fibrous substance that is remarkably capable of absorbing moisture. The degree to which your hair can soak up liquids will have an impact on its appearance, so it’s important to understand how porous your hair is to make the best choices for keeping it looking its best.

Porosity can be imagined as a crevice, which is merely another way of saying “hole” or “gap.” It’s essentially any opening that allows something to pass through.

Every hair type is naturally porous and can absorb liquid to a certain level, dependent upon the individual’s cuticle shape and condition.

Hair porosity is generally categorized as:

Now that we have a strong understanding of what hair porosity is, let us discuss the characteristics of high and low porosity so that you can tell them apart.

High Porosity and Low Porosity Characteristics

Oftentimes, high porosity hair is caused by damage; however, it could simply be genetic. Hair with high porosity easily absorbs products and water. It is usually very dry and brittle and can be prone to tangles.

High-porosity hair’s cuticles are full of tiny openings that allow water and other chemicals to penetrate easily. The raised flaps on the outside layer of the cuticle are what causes it to be more absorbent than non-porous hair.

Generally, low-porosity hairs have not been subjected to chemical treatments or environmental damage and are naturally occurring hair fibers.

Low-porosity hair relatively has fewer pores, and low pore volume, or size compared to extremely damaged hair. It tends to repel water and other substances because of the strands’ smooth cuticles. The cuticles are usually intact and healthy!

Low porosity hair is a blessing, as it prevents water and other substances from easily penetrating. This means that product(s) bond to the outside of your hair rather than sinking in and drying out quickly – providing extra protection from damage.

However, this can also be a hindrance when trying to keep your hair hydrated and healthy, as product build-up on the hair surface can form and make the hair appear dull, dry, and difficult to manage.

Now that you have a better understanding of the characteristics of high and low-porosity hair, utilizing this knowledge appropriately can help you get better results when using certain products or techniques when you style your hair.

Next, let’s dig into the ingredients to avoid for low porosity hair.

Ingredients to Avoid for Low Porosity Hair

From person to person, the unique differences in our hair are immense and encompass a range of factors including diameter, moisture level, fiber mechanical strength, and level of porosity.1

Because of this, hair care shoppers are motivated to find personalized formulations that provide their preferred outcomes for everyday styling and grooming.

Creating a successful hair care formula requires an amalgamation of many elements; detangling agents, emollients, cationic conditioners, humectants, and hydrating ingredients as well as preservatives.

Thus, hair care consumers should diligently read the ingredient lists of any product before purchasing, particularly for those with low-porosity hair.

This type of hair is fine and delicate but can be properly managed when given specialized attention daily.

Picking the right product is key, and it’s critical to focus on avoiding certain ingredients. Formulations may contain harsh ingredients that might be too aggressive for your scalp or hair if you’re sensitive.

For low-porosity hair, some key ingredients should be avoided when choosing hair care products.

It’s disheartening to know that many of these potentially damaging ingredients are present in the majority of haircare items on shelves today – whether it be from a drugstore or specialty store.

These ingredients may harm the integrity of your hair’s health and make styling efforts futile.


Anionic surfactants, namely Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) are two key ingredients found in shampoos that assist with the cleaning process.

These detergents boast a rich creamy voluminous foam, providing superior cleaning on the scalp and hair.

However, they are known to be harsh and aggressive. They also remove essential lipids from the scalp and hair surface. This deprives the hair surface of its natural shine and slip.

Sulfates also have a high irritation potential and may cause redness, itchiness, and scalp discomfort. They can also make the scalp and hair dry.2-3

Therefore, low-porosity hair should avoid using sulfate shampoo and find an alternate sulfate-free shampoo. This would ensure hydrated hair fibers and a healthy scalp.

Other examples of sulfate surfactants are:

  • Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate
  • Ammonium Laureth Sulfate
  • Sodium Cocoate Sulfate

Sulfate-free shampoos are easily available today. They use other non-sulfate anionic surfactants, amphoteric, or non-ionic surfactants as an active cleansing agent in the shampoo formulation.

Good alternate options are:

Sodium Lauroyl SarcosinateAnionic
Sodium Laureth SulfosuccinateAnionic
Sodium CocoamphoacetateAmphoteric
Sodium CocoamphopropionateAmphoteric
Decyl GlucosideNon-ionic
Lauryl GlucosideNon-ionic


Silicones are generally strongly hydrophobic oils that are frequently added into hair care formulations to provide slip, detangling, shine, and protection against thermal treatments.4

Cyclomethicone and Dimethicone are the two commonly used examples of this silicone family. These silicone oils are large molecular-weight silicone polymers that are water-insoluble and viscous.

These silicones oil deposit on the hair shaft and form a water-repellent coating on its surface. This film is hard to remove but can be dissolved by shampoos with the help of sulfate surfactants.

Repeated application of silicone-based products leads to an accumulation, creating build-up and heaviness for low-porosity hair.

This gives it a rigid feel, making it difficult for the hair to retain moisture, and become flexible. Therefore, people with low-porosity hair should avoid products with these ingredients.

Typical silicone oils are:

  • Cyclomethicone
  • Dimethicone
  • Phenyl Trimethicone
  • Cyclopentasiloxane
  • Dimethiconol
  • Cetyl Dimethicone

Petrolatum and White Mineral Oil

Petrolatum and white mineral oil are hydrocarbon oil obtained from crude petroleum. These two ingredients have been used since the beginning of the cosmetics industry.

Petrolatum has a jelly texture with high viscosity while white mineral oil is a transparent liquid. Both provide lubrication to hair or scalp and prevent water loss from their surfaces. They are occlusive materials that form a water-resistant coating on the hair surface.

Nevertheless, they are incredibly greasy! When applied to low-porosity hair, these products can make it extremely greasy and heavy because of the high viscosity.

Most significantly, both of these components are derived from petroleum sources. Fortunately, more sustainable alternatives now exist in the market.

Preservatives are added to the formulation to preserve its quality against microbial contamination.

Microbes, such as bacteria and fungi, can be found in virtually every environment. Consequently, water-based hair care products are highly susceptible to microbial contamination.

Microbial growth in a product can alter the color, viscosity, and texture of the product altogether. Mal-odor is the first sign of microbial contamination.

Preservatives are added to prevent microbial growth and extend the product’s shelf life, maintaining its superior quality for as long as possible.5 However, the choice of preservative matters a lot.

Harsh and aggressive preservatives can cause skin sensitization and discomfort. Their presence can also cause other health issues.

Formaldehyde is one of the first preservatives added to household and cosmetic products. It is a water-soluble organic molecule.

However, it is highly poisonous and carcinogenic,6-7 and hence has been banned for usage in personal care formulation. 

Some other preservatives are formaldehyde-releasing molecules which when added to aqueous solutions, release formaldehyde over time.

The release of formaldehyde is the primary method for preserving their products, thus presenting a potentially detrimental risk to consumer health.

Hence, these preservatives should be avoided for all types of hair care or skincare products!

A short list is provided below:

  • DMDM-Hydantoin
  • Diazolidinyl Urea
  • Imidazolidinyl urea


Parabens are popular preservatives added in hair care formulations. They have strong antimicrobial activity. However, recent studies have described their carcinogenic activity and thus should be avoided. 


They are sulfur-containing preservatives. Recent studies have revealed that they can be skin sensitizers, particularly for babies. For this reason, it is best to avoid them.

Their INCI names are:

  • Methylchloroisothiazolinone
  • Methylisothiazolinone

Synthetic Perfumes

Perfumes are added to cover the inherent smell of the chemical ingredients of the formulation.

Furthermore, the inclusion of perfume adds an uplifting and delightful scent that carries throughout both opening the package and during product usage.

These perfumes are a blend of several synthetic organic molecules that are mixed to offer a characteristic aroma. These are all synthetic and lab-made. They are not natural at all.

Certain molecules can cause scalp sensitization and discomfort. Also, being volatile molecules, they might have a drying effect on the scalp and hair fibers.

A green substitute for these synthetic perfumes is aromatic essential oils, e.g. Tea Tree Oil, Rosemary Oil, Eucalyptus Oil, Lemon Peel Oil, Lavender Oil, etc. They are natural, green, sustainable, and biodegradable.

In addition, these essential oils offer substantial advantages to users. Not only are they therapeutically and aesthetically stimulating, but many of them also possess therapeutic properties that facilitate overall well-being.

They enhance blood circulation to the upper scalp surface, accelerate cellular turnover, and may also promote new hair growth.

If you have low-porosity hair, fragrance/perfume-free products are the ideal option. In comparison to synthetic perfumes, an essential oil product is preferred because of its natural goodness.

High Dosage of Traditional Humectants

Humectants are chemical compounds that can bind and hold water molecules. Glycerin and propylene glycol are commonly used humectants in hair care formulations. They can attract water molecules from the air and add them to the scalp or hair fiber.

However, both are polyhydric alcohols and should be used with caution on natural, virgin low-porosity hair. High concentrations of either one can potentially result in the hair becoming limp.

Glycerin is sticky and its high dosage makes hair heavy while both also suppress the detergency and foamability of the cleansing formulation. 

Consumers now have access to cutting-edge high-performance moisturizing agents. Betaine is a top-rated organic substitute for common polyhydric humectants that can be used with confidence knowing it is green and biodegradable.

Synthetic Waxes

Synthetic waxes are mostly petroleum-derived organic molecules added to impart emollience, viscosity, stability, and texture to the hair product formulation.

They are mostly based on polyethylene polymeric chains having large molecular structures and weights. Unfortunately, they are heavy, difficult to degrade in effluent water, and are not environmentally friendly.

Consequently, those with low-porosity hair should avoid theses synthetics and opt for natural alternatives instead.

Examples of synthetic waxes are:

  • Microcrystalline wax
  • Polyethylene
  • Paraffin wax (very close to Petrolatum)

PEG, PPG and EO Ingredients


These are organic molecules commonly used in synthetic processes to manufacture cosmetics ingredients.

These three molecules are petroleum-derived and are further processed during synthetic chemical manufacturing.

Certain ingredients are blended with PEG, PPG, or EO to change their chemical properties and make them more water-soluble.

1,4-Dioxane which is a solvent used in these chemical processes has been a matter of concern. Exposure to this chemical compound (1,4-dioxane) may cause discomfort in the form of a sore throat, difficulty breathing, and irritation around the eyes and nose.

Recently, ingredient manufacturers have been working to control the 1,4-dioxane concentration in their chemicals and minimize their exposure to consumers.

Shopping smart is key for any consumer. The best way to ensure the safety of your product is by inquiring about its 1,4-dioxane level from the product manufacturer directly.

Remember: doing your research before purchase will save you a world of worry down the road. That’s why it’s highly recommended that consumers look out for PEG, PPG, and EO-free products when possible; prevention beats cure every time!

Common ingredients with PEG, PPG, or EO moiety are listed below:

  • Sodium Laureth Sulfate (it’s Sodium Lauryl Ether Sulfate with 2EO or 3EO molecules)
  • Polysorbates
  • Alcohol ethoxylates (E.g. Laureth, Pareth)
  • PEG-100 Stearate
  • PEG-150 Distearate


Those with low-porosity hair must have a specifically tailored haircare routine. Unfortunately, some ingredients may not be suitable for these tresses and should thus be avoided.

To guarantee that you are giving your low-porosity hair the attention it deserves, be sure to read over the ingredient lists of any product before using.

To ensure optimal results, avoid ingredients discussed above which may not work well with this particular type of hair.


1. Robbins, C. R., Chemical and physical behavior of human hair. 4th ed.; Springer-Verlag: New York, 2002.

2. Wagner, R. D. C.; Joekes, I., Hair protein removal by sodium dodecyl sulfate. Colloid Surf. B-Biointerfaces 2005, 41 (1), 7-14.

3. Lakshmi, C.; Srinivas, C. R.; Anand, C. V.; Mathew, A. C., Irritancy ranking of 31 cleansers in the Indian market in a 24-h patch test. Inter. J. of Cosmet. Sci 2008, 30 (4), 277-283.

4. Yahagi, K., Silicones as conditioning agents in shampoos. J. Soc. Cosmet. Chem. 1992, 43 (5), 275-284.

5. Steinberg, D. C., Preservatives for Cosmetics. Allured Publishing Corporation: 1996.

6. Halla, N.; Fernandes, I. P.; Heleno, S. A.; Costa, P.; Boucherit-Otmani, Z.; Boucherit, K.; Rodrigues, A. E.; Ferreira, I. C. F. R.; Barreiro, M. F., Cosmetics Preservation: A Review on Present Strategies. Molecules 2018, 23 (7), 1571.

7. Brannan, D. K., Cosmetic preservation. J. Soc. Cosmet. Chem. 1995, 46 (4), 199-220.


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