Understanding Your Hair Porosity – A Strategic Approach to Combating Dry, Frizzy Natural Hair
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Does your hair absorb moisture easily or does it lose moisture almost in a blink of an eye? Do your strands get tangled easily? Or maybe your hair is chronically dry and unmanageable.
The problem may just be your hair’s porosity. Understanding your hair porosity will help you to take a much more strategic approach to some of the moisture issues that you may be having with your hair.
Just what is hair porosity? Your hair’s porosity directly correlates with how much moisture your hair is able to hold, (or not hold) before feeling and looking dry, frizzy and brittle.
Low Porosity Hair: If you have low porosity hair, this means that your hair is resistant to moisture because the cuticle is tightly closed which prevents moisture from being fully absorbed into your hair. The moisture that you apply to your hair by using conditioners and oils, have to get under the cuticle in order to effectively add moisture to your hair. When the cuticles are tightly closed, it does not matter how much you condition your hair; very little of the conditioner will be absorbed into the hair.
One of the best ways that you can determine whether your hair is low porosity is if you find that the conditioners and oils that you apply to your hair do not seem to absorb into your hair. With low porosity hair, the products pretty much stay on top of your hair.
Here’s another way to test for low porosity: Take a strand of your hair and drop it in a glass of water. If your hair strand floats on the top of the water, your hair is low porosity.
To get moisture into the hair shaft, you’ll need to gently raise the hair cuticle. Certainly shampoos that are more alkaline based will raise the cuticle but in some cases, it can also cause damage. I recommend steaming as a way to gently open up the cuticle to allow moisture from the water along with your conditioners and oils to sink in to the hair shaft. When your hair dries, the cuticles will naturally close, trapping in the moisture. You can use a commercial hair steamer which looks similar to a hooded dryer, (check out my hair steamer picks below), or boil a pot of water, remove the pot from heat, drape a towel over your head and the pot and let the steam penetrate your hair for a few minutes.
High Porosity Hair: Hair that is high porosity has usually suffered some type of cuticle damage so the cuticle is abnormally raised. Use of harsh shampoos, rough combing and brushing, chemical relaxers and too much heat contributes to causing permanent damage to the cuticle so it is always “open”. Take a look at the photo of a damaged hair cuticle below. You can see that the cuticle layers are raised and ragged. Cuticle damage makes it easy for moisture to get into your hair – but it also makes it extremely easy for your hair to lose moisture. Hair cuticles that are raised also catch on to neighboring hair cuticles which results in easily tangled curls and coils.
Try the water glass test to see if your hair falls in the the highly porous category: Take a strand of your hair and drop it into a glass of water. If it sinks to the bottom, you’ll have confirmation that your hair is very porous.
Tips for treating high porosity hair…
Use protein treatments. Protein will patch up the chips or holes in hair strands so that moisture is locked into your hair. This method is a temporary fix so you will need to build your routine around a regular protein treatment. If you are using a protein rich product, once a month treatments are all that is needed. For products with less protein, treatments can be done every few weeks.
An apple cider vinegar, (ACV) rinse will adjust the pH balance of your hair. Since ACV is slightly acidic, it will flatten your raised hair cuticles which will improve your hair’s ability to lock in moisture.
Other tips for high porosity hair include using heavy oils or butter and deep conditioning. Applying heavy butters or oils to your coils and curls will help to seal in the moisture. Shea butter is popular and very heavy butter that is very effective for sealing the hair shaft. Oils such as coconut and olive oil are great for penetrating the hair shaft and will prevent moisture from escaping your hair strands. Deep condition your strands by applying generous amounts of your conditioner on your coils and then use a heating cap or sit under the dryer, (wrap a warmed towel or use a plastic cap on your hair to help the moisture absorb into your hair. A hair steamer is another excellent way to deep condition. When using heat, fifteen minutes is all that you’ll need – then rinse.
Normal porosity hair is hair that has no problems with absorbing or retaining moisture. It’s the hallmark of healthy hair that has not been damaged by heat or chemical treatments. Limit the amount of heat that you use on your hair and avoid harsh chemicals and shampoos to keep your hair healthy.
Hair cuticle photos courtesy of Natural Nigerian.
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