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Is High Porosity Hair Genetic?

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Are you curious about whether the characteristic of high porosity hair is inherited? It’s a valid question, especially considering the link between high porosity and damaged hair. How could a trait associated with damage be genetic? This article aims to shed light on that very topic.

The simple answer is yes: hair porosity is influenced by genetics. Our genes play a crucial role in determining the structure and texture of our hair shafts. But the story doesn’t end there. Porosity is a complex trait influenced by various factors, not just genetics.

To delve deeper into the intricacies of high-porosity hair, I consulted with a friend who is an authority in hair science, holding a Ph.D. in Chemistry. In the following sections, we will explore how genetics contribute to hair porosity, how it differs from porosity caused by chemical processing and damage, and, importantly, how to care for high-porosity hair effectively.

Stay with us as we navigate the science behind hair porosity, offering insights from an expert perspective and providing actionable tips for managing high-porosity hair. Keep reading to unlock a comprehensive understanding of your hair’s needs.

Defining Hair Porosity: What Makes Hair Highly Porous?

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

Hair porosity is defined as the “degree of microscopic pores over the cuticle layer of hair fibers.” In simpler terms, hair porosity refers to the ability of hair to absorb and retain moisture, determined by the presence of microscopic openings on the hair’s outer layer, known as the cuticle. These small cuticle openings allow water and other active ingredients to penetrate the hair. However, when hair undergoes physical damage or chemical treatments, the number and size of these pores can increase, leading to what is known as high-porosity hair.

Hair porosity levels vary across a spectrum, categorized as highmedium, or low. These classifications can be quantitatively assessed. By measuring how much water a hair strand can absorb or the increase in its weight (in grams) when it absorbs moisture, one can determine the specific porosity level of the hair. This analytical approach provides a clear understanding of hair’s needs in terms of moisture management and care.1,2

Hair with high porosity often appears fragile, has poor tensile strength, and a dull appearance. It is prone to breaking during routine styling practices like combing and brushing and typically feels very dry. Managing high porosity hair requires a tailored approach to hair care, focusing on restoring its health and improving manageability.3

The reasons behind high porosity hair can be a genetic predisposition or the result of external factors such as grooming practices, heat exposure, and chemical processing. Each cause affects the hair in distinct ways, and we will delve into the specific mechanisms next.

The Influence of Genetics on High Porosity Hair

Image of DNA structure and fingerprint.

Hair can be highly porous genetically. Our genetic makeup not only dictates our hair type, color, and texture but also influences the porosity level of our hair. For instance, individuals with naturally curly hair, a trait inherited from birth, exemplify how genetics affect hair characteristics.4

Such genetic influences mean that the intrinsic qualities of hair fibers, such as their texture and moisture-holding capacity, are predetermined by our genes. Curly hair, which is natural virgin (untreated by chemicals), tends to be coarser, more fragile, and drier due to (its lack of water) due to its higher porosity than virgin Asian or straight Caucasian hair types. This is how genetics control the texture of hair fiber, its coarse surface, and porosity.

High Porosity Hair Due to Grooming Treatments

Hair that initially has low porosity can become highly porous due to various grooming practices, including physical and chemical treatments. Routine actions such as combing or brushing may gradually wear away the protective outer cuticle layer, revealing the more vulnerable inner cortex.

Similarly, chemical processes are known to strip protein from the hair shaft, which contributes to increased porosity. Common treatments like oxidative bleaching, permanent hair coloring, and chemical straightening significantly alter hair’s porosity. The potent chemicals in these treatments damage the hair’s protein structure and lead to protein loss by oxidizing and eventually removing these proteins from the cuticle. This process not only enlarges the pore size but may also create gaps within the hair’s structure, thereby increasing its porosity.

Furthermore, hair is susceptible to environmental and lifestyle factors that can increase porosity. Prolonged exposure to UV rays, frequent use of thermal styling tools, and regular swimming in chlorinated water can oxidize the keratin proteins on the hair surface. This oxidation process leads to protein loss and, consequently, increases the hair’s porosity, transforming hair from low to high porosity.5,6

High Porosity: The Difference Between Genetics and Chemical Processing

The nature and effects of high porosity in hair vary significantly between genetic predispositions and the aftermath of grooming treatments, such as chemical treatments. Naturally, curly hair, whose chemical processes have not altered, typically exhibits a lower level of porosity when compared to hair that has undergone chemical treatments. This difference is attributed to the natural hair having fewer pore density and volume. Among the chemical processes, oxidative treatments are the most damaging, severely impacting the hair fiber’s health.

The use of alkaline hydrogen peroxide, often combined with ammonia or monoethanolamine, is especially detrimental due to its potent oxidizing properties. Bleaching hair to achieve very light shades (levels 8-10) can drastically damage the hair’s protein structure. This process oxidizes proteins like cysteine into more hydrophilic derivatives, such as cystic acid, further increasing hair porosity.

Evidence from tensile strength measurements, moisture absorption rates, and microscopic imaging supports the conclusion that chemically processed hair fibers are more fragile and prone to breakage. Therefore, the porosity resulting from genetic factors is markedly different in its characteristics and implications from porosity induced by chemical treatments.

Caring for High Porosity Hair

Before and after photo of my severely damaged bleached hair vs restored healthy bleached hair.

Here’s a comparison between my severely damaged bleached hair on the left and the restored, healthy bleached hair on the right.

High porosity hair, characterized by its extreme fragility and tendency to break, requires special attention and a tailored approach to hair care. Such hair absorbs water quickly, leading to potential frizz and styling challenges. In particular, curly hair with high porosity may struggle to maintain its curl pattern, making it difficult to achieve and retain defined styles. Whether the high porosity results from genetic factors or chemical processes, adopting a hair care routine that addresses these unique needs is essential.

It’s important to recognize that hair with genetically-induced high porosity differs significantly from hair that has become porous due to chemical treatments. The nature and needs of these two types of high-porosity hair vary, meaning that products and routines suitable for chemically treated hair might not be appropriate for hair with naturally high porosity. Understanding this distinction is crucial in selecting the proper care practices and products.

For those dealing with genetically high porosity hair, particularly virgin, non-chemically treated hair, it’s vital to follow a care regimen that nurtures and protects the hair’s natural structure. Here are some tailored tips to help manage and care for genetically high porosity hair, ensuring it remains healthy and manageable:

Caring for Genetically High Porosity Hair

  1. Maintain Cleanliness and Hydration: Wash your hair regularly with a gentle shampoo that contains mild surfactants and conditioning agents such as Guar hydroxypropyltrimonium chloride. This will keep your hair clean without stripping it of its natural oils.
  2. Avoid Heavy Products: Since high porosity hair quickly absorbs water and other active ingredients, avoid formulations rich in oils and high molecular weight synthetic polymers to prevent buildup.
  3. Choose Lipid-Free Oils: Steer clear of strong lipophilic oils like dimethicone, cyclomethicone, cyclopentasiloxane, and similar silicones, which can lead to residue accumulation. Instead, opt for natural oils and butters, such as castor oil or shea butter, which nourish without excessive buildup.
  4. Protein Treatments: Incorporating protein treatments bi-weekly can help restore the natural structure of your hair fibers. However, be cautious not to overdo it, as too much protein can negatively affect your hair’s condition.
  5. Moisturizing Leave-in Conditioner: A moisturizing leave-in conditioner is essential for maintaining daily hydration. Look for products offering UV protection to safeguard your hair against solar damage.
  6. Regular Oil Application: Use oils to enhance shine and softness and reduce moisture loss from the hair. Choose oils that you prefer and are readily available, applying them regularly to both hair and scalp for optimal results.

Understanding Hair Porosity: A Summary

Porosity in hair can be an innate trait, influenced and determined by our genetic coding. It’s possible to have high porosity hair fibers naturally, without any influence from external factors such as physical damage or chemical treatments. Afro-textured and curly hair types often fall into this category. These naturally porous hair fibers have distinct needs compared to those that are chemically treated, necessitating specially formulated hair care products.

To maintain the health and appearance of genetically high porosity hair, it’s essential to follow a personalized hair care regimen. This routine should prioritize maintaining hydration, enhancing shine, and ensuring the hair retains its style. With the right care, individuals with high porosity hair can enjoy ease of styling and improved manageability, allowing their natural beauty to shine through.


References

  1. Marsh, J. M.; Gray, J.; Tosti, A. Healthy hair; Springer: 2015. ↩︎
  2. Hessefort, Y. Z.; Holland, B. T.; Cloud, R. W., True porosity measurement of hair: a new way to study hair damage mechanisms. Journal of cosmetic science 2008, 59 (4), 303. ↩︎
  3. SYED, A. N.; AYOUB, H., Correlating porosity and tensile strength of chemically modified hair. Cosmetics and toiletries 2002, 117 (11), 57-64. ↩︎
  4. Robbins, C.; Kamath, Y., Hair breakage during combing. IV. Brushing and combing hair. Journal of Cosmetic Science 2007, 58 (6), 629-636. ↩︎
  5. Zviak, C., The Science of Hair Care. Taylor & Francis: 1986. ↩︎
  6. JEONG, M. S.; LEE, C. M.; JEONG, W. J.; KIM, S. J.; LEE, K. Y., Significant damage of the skin and hair following hair bleaching. The Journal of Dermatology 2010, 37 (10), 882-887. ↩︎

HI,I'M VERNA

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