Your hair’s porosity may be less immediately apparent than your hair’s texture or thickness, but it has a much more significant impact on how your hair behaves and what it needs to look and feel its best. If the concept of hair porosity is completely new to you, check out our overview of hair porosity that breaks down the three types of hair porosity and helps you determine whether you have low, medium, or high porosity hair.
Each degree of hair porosity presents unique challenges, and low porosity hair is no different. In this guide we’ll focus on low porosity hair – we’ll learn what it is, find out how to tell if your hair is low porosity, and understand how to care for low porosity hair.
Low porosity hair is hair that is not very porous – or absorbent – and has a hard time absorbing moisture and product. Your hair’s porosity is determined by the structure of your cuticle, the outermost layer of the hair. If you were to look at a strand of hair under a microscope, you would see that it is covered by small “shingles” that overlap one another along its length. These “shingles” form your hair’s cuticle, which can open and close to accept moisture from its surroundings. In hair that is low porosity, the cuticle lays flat and the “shingles” fit tightly together creating a strong outer barrier. This tight structure results in hair that neither readily absorbs moisture nor easily releases it.
Those with low porosity hair often feel that their hair behaves a bit differently, and doesn’t take to “conventional hair wisdom” very well. If you have low porosity hair you have likely noticed that products oftentimes seem to “sit” on top of your hair instead of absorbing. You may notice that your hair takes a longer to soak through when in the shower, and may take several hours (or even days!) to completely dry after a wash. Oftentimes, those with low porosity hair find themselves with hair that is dry, straw-like, and dull, despite using moisturizing treatments and avoiding sulfates. If this sounds like your hair, try one of the easy at-home hair porosity tests.
While low porosity hair is great at retaining moisture, it’s not very good at absorbing moisture in the first place. This doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to moisturize and nourish low porosity hair; it simply means that you will need to give your hair a helping so that it can better absorb moisture. The best way to get low porosity hair to absorb moisture is by coaxing it in with heat, which opens up the cuticle and allows oils and deep conditioning treatments to better penetrate deep into the hair shaft. This is known as the greenhouse effect, and is most easily achieved at home by applying your moisturizing product of choice, wrapping your hair in a shower cap, topping it with a fresh-out-of-the-dryer warm towel, and letting it sit for at least 15-20 minutes. In a pinch, even a simple plop will do the trick, you’ll just need to let it sit for a bit longer. For faster and more thorough absorption, you can try steaming your hair to get the cuticle to open and allow moisture in. This works on the same principle as the greenhouse effect, and is even more efficient at getting your hair to absorb deep conditioners, oils, or masks for long-lasting moisture. Do this at least weekly, preferably after a wash, or even more frequently if your hair is very dry.
When washing your hair, choose only sulfate-free shampoos and pre-poo your hair whenever possible. When conditioning, add a small amount of water to your conditioner and apply it only to completely soaked hair. By watering down your conditioner, you make it easier for your hair to absorb it more thoroughly. And, of course, don’t forget to squish to condish for maximum effect! Finally, be careful when it comes to protein – low porosity hair needs very little protein, if at all. Because of its low porosity, your hair will have a harder time absorbing protein as well as high and medium porosity hair types would, and you may find yourself with the protein just sitting on top of your hair, resulting in dull, straw like hair.