What is Low Porosity Hair?: A 5-Step Guide to Help You

If you are tired and frustrated of trying to tame your wild hair and are wondering: “what if I have low-porosity hair?”, “what is low-porosity hair?”, then this article is for you.

We have all the answers to your questions: from testing to see if you do indeed have low-porosity hair to helpful suggestions on how to care for them, here is a thorough guide to help you navigate the question what is low-porosity hair?

1. What is Low Porosity Hair?

Before beginning to understand what is low porosity hair, we first need to know about the structure of a hair strand, and only then can we proceed to see what low porosity hair is.

1.1 Structure of the Hair

The hair structure is mainly composed of three layers:

  • Cuticle Layer: This is the outermost layer. It is made up of flat, hard dead cells that overlap each other in a scale-like pattern, for instance, like tiles on the roof of a house. This layer protects the hair from external damage.

  • Cortex: This is the middle and the thickest layer. It consists of most of the hair’s fiber mass as it is made of fibrous protein. This is the layer that contains the pigments that give your hair its characteristic color.

  • Medulla: This is the central and innermost layer of the hair shaft.

What is low porosity hair?
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1.2 Hair Porosity

The cuticle layer of a hair strand has close-set cuticles with pores between them. These pores allow moisture and hair products to penetrate the hair shaft by opening and closing. This product and moisture retention ability of the hair is called hair porosity.

In simpler words, hair porosity is the ability of the hair to absorb moisture and product and hold it in.

1.3 Low Hair Porosity

Hair porosity is determined by the cuticle pattern on the hair strand. If the cuticle scales are densely packed and smooth, the pores in the hair strand are very small. This entails that lesser moisture, and other hair products like conditioner or oil, are able to enter and leave the hair, making the hair less porous.

Low porosity hair is typically found in people with straight hair, although curly hair is not immune to it either.

2. Signs You Might Have Low Porosity Hair

Low porosity hair has a few tell-tale signs. You can look out for these signs if you are wondering whether your hair has low porosity.

2.1 Product Buildup

Low porosity in hair makes it harder for hair products like oils or conditioner to get absorbed. Since the cuticles are very tightly packed, a minimal amount of product can seep through into the deeper layers of the hair strands. The product tends to sit on the outermost layer of the hair instead of being absorbed, causing product buildup.

Product buildup also makes your hair look greasy rather than glossy because the hair retains barely any product.

2.2 Lack of Volume

Product buildup on low-porosity hair tends to weigh down the hair. Using heavy-styling hair products 1and dry shampoo can make your hair look flat because most of the product sits on the outermost layer instead of being absorbed.

Due to all the product buildup, the hair looks low in volume and is less bouncy. Although, frizzy hair is something you might not have to worry about.

2.3 Washing and Drying Takes a Long Time

Washing low-porosity hair takes longer compared to medium-porosity hair or high-porosity hair. This is because the water takes longer to penetrate the upper surface of the hair, and hence it takes a long time for the hair to get completely wet before you can start washing it.

In the same way, low porosity also causes the hair to take longer to air dry. Even if you are using a blow dryer, it will take longer than a person with medium-porosity or high-porosity hair. Once the hair absorbs the water, the lack of big enough pores increases the water retention capacity of the hair2, making it harder for the water molecules to escape.

3. Tests To Check If You Have Low Porosity Hair

If you observe that your hair exhibits one or more of the above-mentioned signs characteristic of low-porosity hair, there are some tests you can perform to confirm your doubts.

Some of these can be easily done at home, but some might require professional assistance. Once it is clear to you if you have low-porosity hair, you can start caring for it accordingly and look forward to better hair days.

3.1 Float Test

The simplest way to test your hair for low porosity is the float test. Since hair porosity is determined by hair’s ability to absorb moisture, we can judge the porosity of hair by utilizing water. A float test can be performed easily at home and has almost zero requirements.

To perform a float test, take a glass of room-temperature water and drop a few strands of your hair (plucked from different regions of your head) in it. Leave it undisturbed for a few minutes. You have low-porosity hair if the strands remain floating on the water.

On the other hand, if the hair strands sink immediately to the bottom of the glass, you might have high porosity; if they remain distended somewhere in the middle, you probably have medium-porosity hair.

3.2 Spray Bottle Test

The spray bottle test is another test for hair porosity which can easily be done at home. All you need is a spray bottle of clean, room-temperature water and you are all set to go.

To conduct the spray bottle test, take a spray bottle and spritz a fine mist on some clean, dry hair. Observe the water closely. If the water forms visible beads and/or rolls off the top layer of the hair strands, you probably have low-porosity hair. This occurs because low-porosity hair is slow to absorb and retain water.

3.3 Slip-n-Slide Test

Another method to test hair porosity which you can do at home is the slip n slide test. You do not even need anything to perform this, except maybe a strand of your own hair.

In order to perform a slip n slide test, grab a strand of your hair and place your finger at the tip. From the tip, slide your finger toward the scalp in an upwards direction. If the hair strand feels relatively smooth and dense on your finger while sliding upwards, you most likely have low-porosity hair.

Low porosity hair has cuticles that are closely packed together and remain barely open, which gives you less porous hair. This is why low-porosity hair might feel dense and smooth to the touch.

3.4 Dynamic Vapour Sorption

Dynamic Vapour Sorption (DVS) is a scientific technique used to measure how much and how quickly a sample absorbs a given solvent. This test can obviously not be undertaken at home but is a good approach if you want to determine your hair’s porosity by a more sure set means.

This test uses technical means to measure the weight of a hair strand as it is exposed to humidity. As low-porosity hair has a low moisture absorption rate, there will not be much change in its weight. Hence, it can be determined if you have low porosity hair.

3.5 Fiber Swelling

Fiber swelling is another scientific method that can be used to assess hair porosity. Although, this is another test that cannot be performed at home and would have to be conducted in a laboratory setup.

A fiber swelling test determines hair porosity by measuring the dimensions of a hair fibre after it is exposed to moisture. Low-porosity hair absorbs less moisture and hence, would not exhibit much swelling and change in its dimensions compared to medium-porosity or high-porosity hair.

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3.6 Gas Adsorption and Pore Size Analysis

Gas adsorption and pore size analysis is a test that can only be performed in a laboratory and not at home.

In this test, a hair sample containing clean hair strands is exposed to nitrogen gas. The sample is then studied to observe the distribution of the gas absorbed by the hair and the size of the pores present in the cuticle layer.

Low-porosity hair would show lesser amounts of nitrogen gas absorbed by the hair because it is less porous. The sizes of the pores in the cuticles would also be relatively small.

4. What Causes Low Porosity Hair?

Now that you have determined whether you have low-porosity hair, you might wonder what causes hair to be low in porosity. Although, if you do have low porosity hair, then there is no changing it, it might help a little to know the reasons behind it.

4.1 Genetics

Low porosity hair is a genetically inherited quality along with other characteristics of your hair like color, texture, density, etc. This is why not much can be done to change the hair’s porosity.

4.2 Damage

Hair damage from harsh hair products and excessive heat from hair styling products can also affect hair porosity, though not to a great extent.

4.3 Aging

Aging results in the loss of nutrients from the body. This has the potential to make your hair less porous and brittle.

5. Tips to Look After Low-Porosity Hair

Once you have received confirmation that you indeed have low-porosity hair, you can start taking care of your hair in ways specific to your hair porosity. Using low-porosity hair products or hair cosmetics which are specially designed to cater to the needs of low-porosity hair, can prove highly beneficial for your hair.

Apart from employing the use of low-porosity hair products, there are also a few other knicks and knacks that you include in your hair care routine to gain added results.

5.1 Shampoo

Numerous kinds of shampoos are available for low-porosity hair, and you can pick what works best for your hair. Using the right kind of shampoo is step 1 to better care of your hair.

  • Moisturizing Shampoo: Low-porosity hair is usually dehydrated and desperately needs moisturization. Shampoos that are designed with the primary motive of providing moisture and nourishment to your hair can be helpful.

    Example: Alikay Naturals Moisturizing Black Soap Shampoo

  • Clarifying Shampoo: Product buildup is characteristic of low-porosity hair. A clarifying shampoo that cleans your hair and scalp of excess product residue refreshes your hair and makes it lighter. It also allows the outermost protective layer of the hair to absorb more moisture and nourishing ingredients.

    Example: Moroccanoil Clarifying Shampoo

  • Protein-free Shampoo: The inner layer of the hair shaft contains keratin, the main fibrous protein found in the hair. Since low-porosity hair has smaller pores, this protein is not lost easily. Using hair products rich in protein can worsen the condition of low-porosity hair. Therefore, a protein-free shampoo would be the better option.

    Example: Aunt Jackie’s Oh So Clean! Moisturizing and Softening Shampoo.

When shampooing your hair, focusing more on the scalp can prove additionally fruitful. It will help clear out all the buildup from your scalp and keep the roots of your hair healthy.

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Image by Sarah Chai/Pexels

5.2 Conditioner

Less porous hair requires moisturizing products that can seep deep into the inner layers of the hair shaft while not leaving any greasy residue on the outside. A conditioner that nourishes the deepest layer of the hair shaft is necessary for low-porosity hair.

  • Rise-out Conditioner: Rinse-out conditioners are the best bid for low-porosity hair. They sit on your hair long enough to provide a good moisturizing boost and are washed off, leaving negligible greasy residue or product buildup.

    Example: Shea Moisture Coconut & Hibiscus Curl & Shine Conditioner

  • Leave-in Conditioner: A leave-in conditioner with lightweight ingredients and other good moisturizing agents can also be used to for low-porosity hair.

    Example: Aunt Jackie’s Quench Moisture Intensive Leave-in Conditioner

  • Diluting: Diluting your conditioner with some water before applying it to your hair can also be helpful. It will enable the conditioner to be easily absorbed by your hair.

5.3 Use Lightweight Products

Low-porosity hair tends to get weighed down by heavy products, which makes them appear low in volume and greasy. When buying low-porosity hair products, you can be on the lookout for the following products are that lightweight yet highly moisturizing:

  • Humectants: Humectants have particles that have low molecular weight. Their small size enables them to reach into the inner layers of the hair shaft through the cuticle scales. Humectants have the ability to attract moisture from their surroundings and trap it inside the hair fibres, thus boosting the hydration level of the hair. Some common humectants are aloe vera, glycerine, honey, and hyaluronic acid.

  • Emollients: Emollients are a type of moisturizing agent. They form a thin film on the hair shaft, thus boosting moisture retention and making the hair look shinier. A few well-known emollients are coconut oil, argan oil, shea butter, and silicones.

5.4 Employ Heat

Heat, in low amounts, can open up the pores in the cuticle layer of the hair strands. It should be noted that high levels of heat can have an adverse effect and damage the hair.

After shampooing your hair, apply conditioner to the clean and damp hair. With the use of a handheld steaming device or a hooded dryer, warm up the hair follicles, which will relax the cuticles and temporarily open up the pores on the hair shafts.

You can also put on a heat cap, or a shower cap to trap in the warmth around your hair. The warmth will allow the oils and moisture to penetrate deep into the hair. Rinse off the conditioner with cold water after waiting for an appropriate time to let the conditioner do its magic. The cold water will close the cuticles, sealing in the moisture and boosting retention.

You can make this into a weekly deep-conditioning treatment by following these steps on your weekend wash days.

Ron Lach/Pexels
Image by Ron Lach/Pexels

5.5 What to Steer Clear Of?

Knowing what products and ingredients to use to care for your low-porosity hair might not be enough. You might also want to be aware of everything you should steer clear of to avoid messing up your rituals.

You should try avoiding the following:

5.5.1 Butter:

Butter is a thick substance that repels water. When used in excessive amounts in hair products, it forms a coating on the hair strands, making it hard for moisture to seep into the hair. A good example of this can be cocoa butter.

5.5.2 Silicones:

Silicones such as dimethicone smooth the hair cuticles when used in hair products. However, low-porosity hair already has cuticles that are smooth enough. Using products containing dimethicone can make the hair worse.

5.5.3 Acidic Products:

Highly acidic products like apple cider vinegar rinse can close hair cuticles. Hence, they should be avoided.

5.5.4 Protein Treatments:

Protein treatments are usually unnecessary for low-porosity hair because, as already discussed above, less porous hair does not readily lose protein. Therefore, a protein treatment will only result in more product buildup and make the hair stiff.

5.5.5 Using Too Much Product:

As low-porosity hair already absorbs low amounts of products used on it, using too much hair product would be redundant and can have adverse consequences.

  1. Goupalova, Olga. “Once in a Lifetime: Designing Hair and Makeup for the Era of Sound.” (2022). ↩︎
  2. Tao, Ye, and Yuan Ming Zhang. “Effects of leaf hair points of a desert moss on water retention and dew formation: implications for desiccation tolerance.” Journal of plant research 125 (2012): 351-360. ↩︎

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