Your hair problems could all lead to porosity levels.
Have you ever noticed that your hair seems to absorb moisture super easily, but then struggles to maintain that moisture? If so, you might be dealing with a high-porosity hair texture. While high-porosity hair might be a little bit more high-maintenance, it’s certainly not impossible to effectively treat, maintain, and grow, too.
Below, we’ve asked three hair stylists for their best tips and tricks on how to treat high-porosity hair—from different causes of this specific hair texture, to how to tell if you have high-porosity hair, to how to treat it.
What Is High-Porosity Hair?
High-porosity hair can be a bit of a diva—it does a great job of soaking in moisture that’s applied to the hair, but then loses that moisture too quickly. “The cuticle, or outermost layer of the hair, has what would best be described as scales coating it,” explains Paul Cucinello, a celebrity stylist, beauty expert, and founder of Cucinello Beauty. “These scales are raised when the pH level of the hair is high, and sealed tight when the pH of the hair is low.” High porosity hair has a noticeably dull appearance, a higher pH than average, and a more coarse texture, too.
Because the cuticle is left open in high-porosity hair, it can cause the hair to lose moisture, leading to fragile, frizzy, dry, and damaged hair prone to breakage. “High porosity hair is often wavy or curly, and tangles easily,” explains Brandi Voorhees, a stylist at Sharon Dorram Color at Sally Hershberger Salon.
Different Types of Hair Porosity
According to Sharley Butcher, Lead Educator and Textured Hair Specialist at Curlsmith, there are three different types of hair porosity. “High porosity occurs when the hair cuticles are open, allowing moisture to easily enter and escape,” she explains. “Medium porosity happens when the cuticles are neither too wide open nor tightly closed, striking a balance between the other two porosity types. Finally, low porosity is when the cuticles are closed, making it challenging for water and products to penetrate the cuticle. This porosity type is prone to product build-up.”
Your hair porosity can also change, depending if you have virgin or chemically-treated hair. If you’ve never colored or chemically treated your hair before and your hair stays wet for a long time, the fact that it’s porous is solely due to the pH of your hair, according to Cucinello. “If your hair is bleached or very heavily highlighted to blonde, it is porous not just because of an increased pH level, but also due to chemical processing,” he explains. “When the color molecules are being dissolved during the bleaching process, tiny holes are burned into the hair that allows light to pass through it—this makes it appear to be blonde, but also makes your hair porous.”
Causes of High-Porosity Hair
There are multiple factors that can cause high-porosity hair—the biggest one being genetics. “If your parents have high-porosity hair, then there is a likelihood that you might, too,” explains Butcher. Both heat damage (from excessive use of hot styling tools) and mechanical damage (from vigorous brushing or wearing tight styles) can also cause high-porosity hair.
“Hair in its healthiest natural state has a pH somewhere between 4.5 and 5.5—altering the natural pH of the hair causes high porosity,” explains Cucinello. “This can be caused by many factors; whether your hair is chemically processed, the pH level of the hair care and styling products you use, even the pH of the water you wash your hair with.” Additionally, exposure to chlorine and UV rays can also contribute to high-porosity hair.
How to Tell If You Have High-Porosity Hair
High porosity hair has a noticeably dull appearance, a higher pH than average, and a more coarse texture. “The dead giveaway that you have high porosity is when your hair takes forever to dry,” explains Cucinello. “The best way to tell is to take note of how quickly your hair dries—if it dries really fast, your hair isn’t porous. The longer it takes to dry, the more porous it is.”
Another way to tell is if your hair color processes really quickly, which means your hair is definitely porous. “It’s also a good idea to test the pH of the water you wash your hair in—you can use a water pH test kit to determine what the pH of the water you’re showering or washing your hair in is,” suggests Cucinello.
Finally, you can actually test your own hair to see how porous it is by doing a strand water test. “Take a strand of hair, and let it float in a glass of water—make sure your hair is clean and product-free, as this could affect your results,” explains Voorhees. “Once your hair strand is in the water, if it sinks immediately, this could mean that your hair is highly porous. Medium porosity hair will sink slowly, and low porosity will continue to float.”
How to Treat High-Porosity Hair
There are many ways you can treat high-porosity hair, so that it looks healthy, shiny, and stays hydrated, too. First, Cucinello suggests choosing products that are specifically formulated for color or chemically treated hair. “These products are intentionally formulated to be acidic in order to preserve color or make your hair feel smoother by lowering the pH,” he explains.
It’s also a good idea to make sure you are using a conditioner that has some kind of acid in it—the conditioner could be any form of alpha-hydroxy acid or lipohydroxy acid. “These ingredients lower the pH of the hair by closing the cuticle and creating a super smooth, shiny finish,” says Cucinello. “The longer you leave the conditioner on your hair, the more accurately the pH will be adjusted to that particular conditioner's targeted acidity level.”
Another hack Cucinello likes to suggest to his clients with high-porosity hair is to try the 1-2-3 trick. “When you get in the shower, rinse and condition your hair first,” he explains. “Really work the conditioner through your hair and give it a minute to lower the PH, then rinse. Now, shampoo and condition as usual.”
Change out the filter in your shower head, so that the alkaline water doesn’t wreak havoc on your skin and hair—it can really interfere with the skin’s delicate acid mantle. ' The AquaHomeGroup 20 Stage Shower Filter with Vitamin C E for Hard Water lowers the pH of the hair with vitamin C and is easy to install,’ suggests Cucinello. “Plus, you don’t have to change your existing shower head.”
Protecting your tresses while you sleep is also a good option for folks with high-porosity hair. “Protect your hair at night by sleeping with a satin pillowcase or satin scarf to prevent further damage and breakage,” says Butcher. “Switch out your traditional hair ties for satin scrunchies and avoid tight hairstyles, which can cause further breakage.”
Finally, make sure to keep your hair cool when washing or drying. “Finish washing your hair with a cool rinse and seal in your heat styling with your cool-shot button,” suggests Cucinello. “A lower temperature helps lower the pH (which is why your hair rarely looks good when it’s hot/humid outside, but it's smooth and silky during colder/drier months).” If you’re into tech and you want to try something really cool, grab a BaBylissPRO Cryocare Cold Brush. It’s a finishing brush that gets icy cold instead of hot, so you can boost shine, lock in your style, or simply lower the pH of high-porosity hair.
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