Porosity vs. Curl Pattern
When learning hair stats, it is very common for people to focus more on their curl pattern and less on their texture, porosity, and density. It can be fun to figure out which number and letter category your waves or curls fall into. However, your curl pattern is actually the least important factor when determining your hair care routine and choosing the right products. That’s not to say your curl pattern isn't important, just that it is less important than other factors, such as porosity and texture. Right now, let's talk about porosity.
Arguably the most important factor is porosity. Porosity is your hair's ability to absorb and retain moisture. This is affected by the outer layer of your hair, called the cuticle. In order for your hair to remain healthy and hydrated, moisture and oils must be able to pass from the outer layer to the inner layer of your hair, called the Cortex. The cortex is the thickest, middle layer of your hair that contains protein and the pigment of your hair. The state of your cuticle determines how much moisture your hair can absorb and retain. For most people porosity is genetic, however; external factors such as heat, chemical damage due to coloring, or bleaching, harsh products, and even sun damage can affect your cuticle and therefore the porosity of your hair as well. There are three levels of porosity low, medium, and high.
There are three ways to determine the porosity of your hair:
- The Slip Test: Take a single strand of hair and run your fingers up and down the strand, if your hair feels bumpy, that means your cuticle is open and you likely have high porosity hair. If the hair is smooth with no bumps, your hair is likely low porosity. If your hair lies somewhere in between bumpy and smooth, you likely have medium porosity hair.
- The Spray Test: Take a mist or spray bottle and lightly mist your hair with water. If the water absorbs immediately into your hair, you likely have high porosity hair. If the water beads on your hair and does not absorb, you likely have low porosity. If the water beads on your hair for a few minutes and then absorbs, your hair is likely medium porosity.
- The Float Test: The float test is the most common test, however, it does tend to yield the most inaccurate results. In order to do this test, take a clean, dry strand of your hair and drop it into a glass of water, if the hair floats, it would be considered low porosity. If it sinks to the bottom, it would be considered high porosity. If the hair stays somewhere in the middle of the glass, it would be considered medium porosity.
What does it mean?
Now that we’ve talked about what porosity is and how to determine the porosity of your hair, what does it mean?
Low porosity hair has a tightly closed cuticle making it difficult for moisture to penetrate into the cortex. Because the cuticle layers are so tightly closed, not only does it generally take longer for the hair to absorb water, but it typically takes longer to dry as well. Products tend to sit on top of the hair, which leads to more build-up. If you have low porosity hair use lighter, hydrating, and liquid-based products. Look for products containing humectants, such as honey or glycerine, as these ingredients can penetrate the cuticle a little easier and attract moisture to your hair. Applying products to wet hair and using steam, or a heat cap can help open the cuticle to allow your hair to absorb the product better. Avoid using too many oils, and heavier products, such as butters, that tend to sit on top of your cuticle and are difficult to wash out. Weekly deep conditioning treatments are recommended to give that extra moisture boost that low porosity hair craves. Low porosity hair typically does not need protein and tends to be protein sensitive. It is best to steer clear of products containing a lot of protein, as well as protein treatments as protein pulls moisture from the hair.
High porosity hair has a cuticle that is wide open making it easy for the hair to absorb moisture, however, because the cuticle is so wide open, moisture easily escapes. High porosity hair typically gets wet immediately and dries quickly. While porosity is typically genetic, high porosity can often be contributed to chemical, styling, and environmental damage. If you have high porosity hair, you want to use heavier products containing oils and butters, to help your hair absorb and trap moisture. Highly porous hair benefits greatly from protein, as the protein helps to temporarily fill holes and strengthen the hair shaft. Look for products and stylers containing protein, and do deep conditioning and protein treatments regularly. Remember that protein is not a moisturizer, conditioning products need to be used in conjunction with protein as protein pushes the moisture from the hair. Failing to do so will result in dry and brittle hair. Avoid using excessive or high heat, as heat can lift the cuticle further, allowing moisture to escape the cortex.
Medium porosity hair, also known as normal porosity, has a cuticle that is slightly open to allow enough moisture to penetrate to the cortex, but not too wide open so moisture does not escape. Medium porosity requires the least amount of maintenance and tends to hold styles well. Deep conditioning and protein treatments are beneficial, however, they are not needed as frequently as high or low porosity hair. Chemical, heat, and environmental damage can cause changes to medium porosity over time. Medium porosity hair does well with a wide variety of products but can be prone to build up. Avoiding heavy ingredients such as butters and heavy oils is best.
So when learning your hair type, make sure you don’t get too hung up on your curl pattern. It is important to know the porosity of your hair so you can choose the right products that keep your waves and curls, happy and healthy.