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Penetrating Oils for Low Porosity Hair: A Comprehensive Overview

January 10, 2023

 by

Verna Meachum

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Last Updated on January 10, 2023 by Verna Meachum

Low-porosity hair has cuticles that tightly lay flat against the hair shaft, making it difficult for oils, conditioners, and other treatments to penetrate the hair.

To help oils penetrate these tightly closed cuticles, oils that have a low molecular weight are recommended. These oils are smaller and can easily navigate the hair shaft and penetrate the cuticle.

That’s what we’re covering in today’s blog post- penetrating oils for low porosity hair! We’ll provide a breakdown of oils that are perfect for low-porosity hair, so your hair can finally get the proper nourishment it needs.

Butter and Oils for Low Porosity Hair

For hair conditioning, natural oils and butter are the go-to choices. They offer excellent emollience, fiber detangling slip, and incredible shine to the hair fiber.

More importantly, they are green, sustainable, and biodegradable active ingredients easily available for skin and hair care.1 So, you don’t have to worry about harming the environment with your hair routine!

The question is, how do they perform when it comes to conditioning hair? What is the science behind their efficacy in conditioning our locks?

Natural oils and butter are composed of long-chain fatty acid triglycerides. They work via two pathways:

1. They form a coating over the hair surface. (Short-term hair conditioning).

2. They penetrate deep inside the hair cortex. (More profound results and long-term positive impact).

Next, we will focus on natural oils that can penetrate the hair shaft. We will delve into the reasons why they can penetrate the hair and what factors are involved in facilitating their penetration.

Penetration Mechanism of Oils for Low Porosity Hair

Hair fibers contain tiny pores all over their surface which work as a channel for active ingredients to penetrate. These pores lie between cuticle layers. The size of a single cuticle pore is approximately around 0.5 – 1.0 nanometer (nm).2-3

These active cosmetic molecules can penetrate these pores and be absorbed into the hair’s inner cortex. Various studies have explored the penetration of emollients through these pores.

The rate of penetration and volume of penetration (or amount of oil penetrated) depends upon the following factors:

Molecular Size of the Active Ingredient

The size of the active molecule must match the size of the cuticle opening. Any ingredient molecule having a large molecular size (more than 1 nm) cannot penetrate. This is particularly true for non-chemically treated, virgin, low-porosity hair. 

Chemically treated, damaged and high porosity hair have relatively larger pore openings and thus relatively large cosmetic active molecules can easily get through the cuticle pores.

When exposed to alkaline conditions or solvents, hair swells, allowing larger molecules to pass through its enlarged cuticle pores.

Molecular Size and Symmetry

The second factor is the symmetry of active cosmetic molecules. In simpler words, a round-shaped molecule is more likely to penetrate than a rough, disordered-shaped molecule.

According to research, saturated regular-shaped fatty acids containing natural oil easily penetrate in comparison to polyunsaturated oils with double or triple unsaturated carbon chains.

The Polarity of the Active Ingredient

A polar molecule is defined as “having oppositely charged groups (positive and negative charges) attached to the same molecule”. This is due to differences in their electro-negativities. Oils and butter can be either polar or non-polar – depending on the composition of each substance.

Recent studies have explored the effectiveness of polarity in facilitating oil penetration and how polar oils interact with hair proteins.

Hair keratin protein also comprises polar and non-polar amino acids. Polar oils are widely believed to penetrate the hair more effectively than non-polar oils due to their superior adhesion to proteins in the hair.

We have crafted a list of oils (fatty acids) that can penetrate non-chemically treated, virgin, low-porosity hair. It is essential to consider that while any oil, including mineral oil, can penetrate the hair fiber, however, the extent of entry and rate of penetration may differ significantly depending upon certain factors such as the type of oil used or the condition of the hair.

We’ve also drafted a table highlighting the polarity values of various oils. The values below may differ, and a rough estimate is listed here.4-5

For optimal viewing on your mobile device of the table below, touch the table with your finger and slide it leftward in order to view the entire table.

OilLauricMyristicPalmiticStearicOleicLinoleicLinolenicSaturatedMonoPoly
Coconut 48.0018.009.002.506.501.60—–77.506.501.60
Virgin Olive —–—–14.003.0069.0012.001.0017.0069.0013.00
Sunflower —–—–6.004.0024.0065.00—–10.0024.0065.00
Castor —–——2.001.003.003.000.503.003.003.50
Shea Butter—–—–5.0040.0048.006.00—–45.0048.006.00
Argan —–—–15.005.0045.000—–32.0020.0045.0032.00
Avocado —–—–25.002.0058.0014.0013.0030.0060.0013.00
Grape Seed —–—–8.006.0018.0067.00—–14.00—–67.00
Sweet Almond —–—–7.00—–71.0018.00—–10.0071.0018.00
Wheat Germ—–—–18.00—–15.0058.007.0018.0015.0065.00
Babassu50.0020.0011.004.0010.00—–—–85.0010.00—–

Polarity values for various oils

OilPolarity  Index (nM/m)
Liquid Paraffin (For reference)53.0
Mineral Oil (For Reference)43.7
Almond 20.3
Sunflower19.3
Avocado18.3
Olive16.9
Castor13.7
Wheat Germ8.30
CoconutData not available
* Higher polarity index value represents strongly hydrophobic oil. Low value stands for strongly polar oil. That’s why liquid paraffin has a higher value. The data is acquired from the published scientific literature.

List of Penetrating Natural Oils for Low Porosity Hair

The oils below have a low molecular weight, which helps them penetrate the cuticles of your low-porosity hair:

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is an excellent option for hair conditioning and treatment. Leading Hair scientist, YK Kamath @TRI/Princeton, Princeton, NJ carried out a series of experiments examining the penetration of coconut oil in the hair fiber.6-8

Mass spectrometric and radio-labeled studies provided convincing proof that coconut oil can penetrate. In a comparison with other oils, especially mineral oil, coconut oil showed a higher tendency and ease in penetrating deep into the cortex of hair fiber.

This is potentially due to its chemical composition having a smaller carbon chain of lauric acid (Lauric acid comprises 12 carbon chain fatty acids).  

Therefore, coconut oil is strongly recommended for low-porosity hair fibers. It addresses the problem of dryness and improves hair mechanical strength by cementing together inner fiber structural units. This works amazingly as a treatment for a long-term positive effect on hair health and quality.


Babassu Oil

Babassu oil is rich in saturated fatty acids, mainly lauric acid. With its shorter carbon chain, this oil resembles coconut oil in that it can effortlessly penetrate the strands of hair. Moreover, it provides an exceptional sensory experience by imparting a velvety texture and unparalleled softness to your hair.


Virgin Olive Oil

Virgin Olive oil is rich in mono-unsaturated fatty acids and is relatively polar. These two factors facilitate its penetration into the hair fiber. It is rich in antioxidants, particularly tocopherols


Castor Oil

Castor oil is a unique natural oil having Ricinoleic acid, which has a distinct chemical structure. It contains a hydroxy group attached to the carbon chain. This makes it polar and also makes it a slightly sticky material. The polar nature and mono-saturated fatty acid facilitate its penetration.


Avocado Oil

The oil composition of avocado oil is rich in mono-unsaturated fatty acids and is polar, which makes it highly effective for deep moisturizing and conditioning.


Other oils can penetrate the hair fibers and have a positive impact on boosting hair quality, enhancing the mechanical strength of hair fiber, and preserving its structural integrity.

Here is a list for further reference:

Argan Oil

Sweet Almond Oil

Shea Butter

Grape Seed Oil

Wheat Germ Oil

What is Low Porosity Hair?

Low porosity hair can be especially difficult to manage, making it hard to decide which treatments are right for the hair type. Assessing its porosity requires diligence and great attention to detail, leaving many people feeling overwhelmed.

Virgin, natural, and non-chemically treated hair fibers are typically identified as “Low Porosity” because the pores in their inner structures are much smaller than average.

On the surface, low porosity strands may look like they’re in perfect condition; however, if you don’t take care of them properly, their ends will begin to become damaged while also leading to potential breakage and split ends. Thus, you must prioritize hair health and maintain a regular haircare routine.

Why Porosity is Important

Image showing hair cuticle of low porosity, medium porosity, and high porosity hair for penetrating oils for low porosity hair blog.

Have you noticed your hair behaving differently from one day to the next? Dryness, oiliness, and even ‘normal’ states can occur in rapid succession. Did you know that this is partly due to an attribute called ‘hair porosity‘?

In simple terms, porosity is a measure of how easily water, oils, and other substances can penetrate the hair fiber and retain its moisture. Unlocking the mysteries of your hair’s porosity is key to selecting products and techniques that will keep your curls feeling soft, strong, and looking their absolute best.

Scientists have discovered a correlation between hair porosity and the quality of fibers alongside their mechanical tensile strength.

The high porosity type usually consists of damage, weak and porous hair fibers due to excessive chemical, heat damage, etc.

Low porosity hair fibers are often characterized by a tightly-packed cuticle layer on the surface, giving it its strong and resilient structure. Low-porosity hair has a hydrophobic surface, meaning that it tends to repel water.

Why is it Beneficial to Use Lightweight Oils on Low Porosity Hair?

When selecting oils for your low-porosity hair, it is important to choose oils that are light in weight and offer a wide range of fatty acids. Heavier oils are not suitable for this hair type as they can weigh the hair down.

Molecular weight and composition are both integral to the success of any hair product. Smaller molecules can penetrate the hair, while heavier molecules tend to be large, but less effective in penetrating the hair.

Overall, oils that are light in weight and packed with fatty acids are ideal for low-porosity hair as they deliver essential nutrients and help retain moisture in the hair shaft. This helps to keep it healthy, strong, and looking great!

Understandably, oils for low-porosity hair are not one-size fits all solution. Different oils work differently for different people. It will be important to experiment with a few oils to find the most suitable oils for your hair.

Additionally, do not forget to use oils in combination with other products for optimal results!

For a great product that contains oil and other natural ingredients, I highly recommend Righteous Roots Oils. It’s a moisturizing and lubricating oil blend that is packed with good-for-your-hair-and- scalp ingredients.

It contains the oils for low porosity hair, such as coconut oil, jamaican black castor oil, avocado oil, grapseed oil, argan oil, as well as essential oils to help nourish your hair and scalp for healthy hair growth. Plus, it smells amazing!

What’s The Difference Between A Moisturizing Oil and A Sealing Oil?

Did you know that there is a stark contrast between oil that moisturizes and one that seals your hair? Many people are unaware of this distinction.

Oils with larger molecules effectively coat the hair, forming a protective barrier that locks (or seals) in moisture. Carbon chain size is directly related to molecular size – longer chains lead to bigger molecules and create difficulty for oils penetrating the follicles.

Consequently, oil or butter primarily consisting of saturated long-chain fatty acids may not be able to penetrate the hair shaft and will only form a protective layer. These oils also minimize frizz, add shine and reduce the risk of damage from environmental aggressors.

Moisturization not only adds but also preserves precious water molecules in our hair. Hair retains vital moisture content when fortified with natural oils and butter, thus preventing the evaporation of water molecules from the hair shaft.

Moisturizing oils (in that it helps to preserve the hair’s moisture content) are often composed of small molecules that can easily penetrate the hair shaft, keeping water molecules sealed in the hair shaft to reduce evaporation. This is especially important for low-porosity hair, which tends to have difficulty retaining moisture.

It is important to use both oils for low-porosity hair – one as a moisturizer, and the other to seal in the moisture. This two-step method will help to keep your hair healthy and looking great!

Summary

Natural oils are an amazing gift of Mother Nature for hair conditioning. Scientific studies have demonstrated certain oils can penetrate hair fiber and improve its quality.

Reigning supreme among all other options, Coconut Oil reigns as champion! The rate of penetration and amount of oil penetrated depend upon the chemical composition of oil, its molecular size, molecular symmetry, and polarity. 

We hope this article has provided you with all the knowledge necessary to make an informed decision when selecting oils for low porosity hair.

Remember, oils and butter should be selected based on their molecular size and the composition of fatty acids for maximum effectiveness.

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References

1. Schueller, R.; Romanowski, P., Conditioning Agents for Hair and Skin. Taylor & Francis: 1999.

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

3. Holmes, A., Diffusion processes in Human Hair. 1964, 15, 595-608.

4. Hill, K.; Hofer, R., Natural Fats, and Oils. In Sustainable Solutions for Modern Economies, The Royal Society of Chemistry: 2009; pp 167-237.

5. Thomas, A., Ullmann’s Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry. In Fat and Fatty Oils, John Wiley & Sons: 2003.

6. Ruetsch, S.; Kamath, Y.; Rele, A. S., Secondary ion mass spectrometric investigation of penetration of coconut and mineral oils into human hair. J. Cosmet. Sci 2001, 52, 169-184.

7. Keis, K.; Persaud, D.; Kamath, Y.; Rele, A., Investigation of penetration abilities of various oils into human hair fibers. J. Cosmet. Sci. 2005, 56 (5), 283-296.

8. Gode, V.; Bhalla, N.; Shirhatti, V.; Mhaskar, S.; Kamath, Y., Quantitative measurement of the penetration of coconut oil into human hair using radiolabeled coconut oil. J Cosmet Sci 2012, 63 (1), 27-31.

troubleshooting
Curl care

 We treat our blog with a curious, open-minded, and customer-focused attitude. We ask lots of questions about everything.

We think that people should take what information they need and leave what they don't. We suggest things we enjoy and believe are worth your attention.

Above all, we value your trust above anything else. We're so glad you’re here!

Hi,I'm Verna

product reviews
Textures

Comments +

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