One of the most commonly discussed and controversial topic in the natural hair community is Porosity. If you are a new Naturalista or you’ve been around the block for a while, you’ve probably heard so many things about porosity and how to determine your hair’s porosity. The reason why porosity is a popular topic in the natural hair space is that it has been argued that knowing your hair porosity will help you figure out why your hair is always dry and help you choose the best hair product for your porosity type.
Therefore in this post, I will be discussing what porosity is and everything you need to know about natural hair porosity, especially when it comes to 4c hair.
Disclaimer and why I believe you should read this point from an educative and objective point of view.
Quick disclaimer, this post will contradict everything you know about hair porosity and it may even leave you more confused than before.
You see, I studied Life Sciences at one of Canada’s top universities, McMaster University, which means that I understand the science of hair and life. And even though I am not a hair scientist, cosmetic chemist, or work in the hair products industry, I am educated in general chemistry and biology. I’ve also been a science student since elementary school, all the way to University. So this article will be coming from the perspective of a Life Sciences graduate.
I also have a natural hair course titled Moisture Retention Blueprint where I educated about the A-Z of 4c hair from my objective and scientific point of view.
Now that I’ve gotten the disclaimer out of the way, we can now get to this full guide about hair porosity.
What is hair porosity?
Simply put, hair porosity is the ability of your hair to absorb and retain water, hydration, and moisture. It is also used to determine your hair’s ability to release moisture.
In other words, hair porosity is used to determine how fast or slow your hair can absorb and lose moisture.
So if you’ve ever wondered why your hair dries out quickly after applying products, you should stick around and be sure to read this post in detail because I will be breaking down, everything you need to know about natural hair porosity.
You see, the hair absorbs and retains moisture differently. Some people’s hair absorbs moisture easily but does not retain it. There are others whose hair doesn’t absorb moisture easily but when it does, it retains moisture for a long time. There are still some whose hair both absorbs and retains moisture easily. These are known as low, normal/medium and high porosity. This will be explained in more detail in this post.
How the cuticles affect your hair porosity
The hair has three structural layers which are the cuticles, cortex and medulla. I discuss basic hair science in more detail in my course, Moisture Retention Blueprint.
The cuticle is the outer part of your hair strands that you physically come in contact with. It’s arranged like shingles on a roof. The hair cuticles act as a gate to receives and release the moisture that you apply to your hair. A tightly closed cuticle layer will not receive moisture as easily as a loosely closed cuticle layer.
So when people talk about hair porosity and moisture retention, what they’re really describing is the health and arrangements of the hair cuticles. Because when the cuticle layers are loosely arranged and open, moisture will freely go in and out, but when it’s tightly arranged and closed, then moisture won’t go in and out as freely.
Why should I care about my porosity levels?
Knowing your hair porosity will help you create a hair care regimen, choose hair products, select the best hairstyle and know how to better care for your hair so that you can grow your hair and increase moisture retention.
How can I find out about my hair porosity?
Remember my disclaimer above where I mentioned that this post will be an unpopular one due to my knowledge of biology and chemistry? This is where I will be dispelling a lot of myth that surrounds how to test your hair’s porosity level.
There are three popular ways to test your hair porosity level. I will be discussing each of them so that you are familiar with them and know how to carry out these tests. I will also be providing my scientific opinion about each method and recommend the best way to truly test your hair’s porosity level.
a. The Float Test
The float test is the most popular way to test for your hair porosity at home. This method has been popularized by YouTubers in the past decade, so it may be the only method you’re familiar with.
This method is used to see how fast or slow your hair absorbs water. You can test your hair by checking how it receives water. To carry out a float test, you need to first wash your hair in order to ensure that your hair is clean and free of products that can affect your results.
To test for your hair porosity using the floating test, do the following:
- Cleanse your hair
- Take a couple of hair strands from your clean hair
- Fill up a glass or a transparent bowl with clean room temperature water
- Drop the hair strands inside and watch how they react.
- If the hair strands sink to the bottom quickly, you have high porosity.
- If the hair strands don’t sink at all, you have low porosity hair.
- If the hair strands sink slowly to the middle of the bowl, it means you have a normal to medium porosity.
The problem with the float test and why I consider it to be junk science
As a naturalista with a science degree, I never understood this method and I was often left confused with my results every time I did this test. The reason is that my hair strands behaved differently every time I did the test. So I went online to do some research and I came across this article by JC of Natural Haven, where she dismissed this test by ruling it to be junk science. You can read the article HERE to see why a 4c hair scientist like JC dismissed this test due to her laboratory experiences.
In another article written by JC, she explained that there are several factors that will affect your hair porosity. Some include your hair length, hair routine, products applied to your hair, the environments you live in, and several others. She also mentioned that your porosity level is a sign of hair damage because all hair has been exposed to some form of manipulation over time, which will affect the health of the cuticles.
She also mentioned in the earlier article that a lot of women don’t clarify their hair before doing the float test. They just dump some shed hair that’s covered in oil and products in water and expect it to sink. Since oil floats on water, it will cause the hair strands to float which will give the impression of low porosity.
If you want to learn more about hair porosity, how to test your porosity and more, be sure to check out my course, Moisture Retention Blueprint where I dedicated an entire module to hair porosity.
b. The Slide Test
The second method to determine your hair porosity is with the slide test, which is the easiest porosity test. This is mainly because you don’t need much, aside from your hair strands and your sensitivity to touch.
To carry out the slide test,
- Take a single strand of your hair in one hand
- Stretch that section as far as your hand can go to give it a false straight look
- Use your other hand to hold the tip of that section of hair. You can do this with your thumb and your index finger
- From the tip, carefully slide your finger down your hair strands towards your scalp.
- If your hair feels rough or bumpy, you have high porosity
- If it feels almost smooth, you have normal porosity
- If it feels very smooth and dense, you have low porosity
The problem with the slide test and why it’s junk science
When you take a look at the structure of the hair, you will notice that the cuticles are arranged on top of each other and they face down as your hair grows out of your scalp. This means that if you run your fingers from the roots to the tips, your hair will feel smooth because you will be sliding your fingers in the direction that your cuticles are arranged in. However, if you run your fingers from the tips to the ends, you will be going against the normal arrangements of the cuticles, which makes it absolutely normal to feel some bumps on the hair shaft.
So as you can see, the slide test is junk science and isn’t an accurate way to test your porosity. Because if you run your fingers down your hair shaft, as opposed to up your hair shaft, you will be raising the cuticles and can come to the conclusion that you have high porosity hair.
c. Spray Test
The spray test is similar to the float test because it’s a way to see how fast or slow your hair absorbs the water that was sprayed on your hair.
To determine your hair porosity using the spray test, here’s what to do.
- Take a small section of your hair
- Make sure that the rest of your hair is set aside with a clip or a band to avoid confusing yourself
- Using a spray bottle, spritz some water on your hair
- Observe how your hair reacts to the water you spritzed on it
- If your hair absorbs the water quickly, you have high porosity
- If your hair absorbs the water slowly, you have medium/normal porosity
- If the hair doesn’t absorb the water at all, you have low porosity hair
The best and most scientific way to test your hair porosity.
After reading through the three ways to determine your hair porosity, you will notice that there isn’t an accurate way to find out what your hair porosity is. So you may be wondering what your hair porosity is and how can you find out.
In my course Moisture Retention Blueprint, I stated the fourth way to determine your hair porosity which is the “obvious method”. This method suggests observing the way your hair responds to hair products and water to determine what your porosity is.
This means that if your hair feels moisturized as soon as you apply conditioners in it and it stays moisturized for a few more days afterward, you can say that you have low porosity hair. However, if your hair feels dry a few hours after applying hair products in your hair, you can confidently say that you have high porosity hair.
Factors that affect hair porosity.
There are many factors that determine your hair porosity levels. Factors such as the ingredients in your hair products, the product line you use, how you manipulate your hair, heat, hair colors, environments, and your hair routine can affect the health of your cuticles.
Over time as your hair grows further away from your scalp, it will lose some cuticle layers, which will, in turn, increase the porosity level of your hair. In other words, hair closer to your roots will generally have low porosity since it’s new hair which has all the cuticle layers in their healthiest state.
Whereas, the hair in the middle part of your hair shaft will have normal porosity due to regular manipulation. And hair towards your ends will have high porosity because it will have fewer cuticle layers. This is also why your twists look thinner at the ends and your hair feels rough and dry on the ends, as opposed to the roots where the hair is thick and healthy.
Can hair porosity change with time?
You can improve your hair porosity from high to normal or normal to high, depending on your hair routine. So if you have high porosity and want to achieve a normal porosity level, you should focus on caring for your cuticle layers so that they stay as healthy as possible. Using gentle hair products that won’t strip your hair of its natural oils, avoiding heat, over detangling, and manipulation can all contribute to having healthy hair.
High porosity hair is a sign of hair damage.
From this same article by JC of Natural Haven, she mentioned a few factors that can contribute to having high porosity hair. If you take a look at these factors, you will also notice that these same factors lead to hair damage. And based on what we know about the health of the cuticles and porosity, we know that raised and chipped cuticles will lose moisture much faster.
Low porosity hair is unrealistic unless you have a TWA that’s less than six months
Having low porosity hair does not exist unless you have a TWA and your hair is less than six months old.
Since low porosity hair generally doesn’t exist if your hair is longer than 3 inches or older than six months, then you can’t really reverse your hair porosity unless you cut your hair. This means that you will generally have normal or high porosity.
Why can’t I reverse my hair from high porosity to low porosity?
If you have high porosity due to severe hair damage such as overuse of heat, bleaching or the use of a hair product that compromises the health of your cuticles, then you won’t be able to reverse your hair porosity. Also, this blog post by Natural Haven explains how you can’t fully close your cuticles, restore chipepd or missing cuticle layers or force your cuticles to open.
Natural hair porosity is very simple. There are four ways to determine your porosity and I recommended the fourth and best way, which is also the most scientific.