Faith Huffnagle
Updated on August 28, 2023

Have you ever wondered why your hair becomes frizzy in humidity? Or why your favorite hair product may not yield the same results as it once did? These issues may be due to your hair porosity, which has much to do with how moisture interacts with your hair.

Mind that hair porosity is not directly linked to hair type, so doing a porosity test is a must. Read on to understand how high or low porosity hair behaves and choose the right strategies for nurturing and styling your locks.

What Is Hair Porosity

Porosity is your hair’s ability to absorb water, which depends on whether the outer cuticles of the hair are raised or mostly lay flat. Hair porosity is characterized by 3 different categories:

  • low porosity hair – has difficulty absorbing water and products;
  • high porosity hair – easily absorbs and loses moisture;
  • medium (or balanced) porosity hair – normally absorbs and retains moisture.

Curly hair is often high porosity since hair’s natural kinks and turns can cause microscopic tears and rips allowing moisture to enter into the cortex. This is why curly hair tends to absorb moisture from the air and become frizzy. However, a person’s hair type is not directly linked to natural porosity. For example, you can have low porosity curly hair and high porosity straight hair.

Also, your hair porosity can change with age or when hair has been chemically processed. Treatments such as perms, relaxers, highlights, and permanent hair color, as well as UV exposure, pollution and heat styling make your hair more porous. The length of your hair comes into play too: the longer your hair is, the older and more porous your ends will become. The good news is that proper hair care can get damaged, high-porosity hair back to norm, too.

Damaged Porous Hair vs Healthy Hair

Instagram / @friseursalondie2

To know the correct way to treat your hair, it is important to determine your current hair porosity. This will also help you select the best products for your hair and apply them the right way.

How to Do a Hair Porosity Test

People with a certain hair porosity share similar characteristics even if they have different hair types. Low porosity hair may appear less frizzy but can still feel dry after products are applied. High porosity hair can also feel dry but it tangles easier and experiences split ends more frequently. Medium porosity hair can appear shiny and healthy, but it can experience all of the same characteristics as low and high porosity hair if it is heat damaged or has a product build-up.

The best way to determine your hair’s porosity accurately is by doing the hair porosity test, also known as a strand test.

Take a strand of clean hair (with no styling products!) and drop it into an 8 oz glass of room temperature water. If the hair sinks to the bottom, then it’s highly porous. If the hair floats, it has low porosity. And if the hair remains somewhere in the middle, then you have medium or balanced hair porosity.

Hair Porosity Test

Instagram / @thecurlyclubco

Low Porosity Hair

Low porosity hair has difficulty absorbing water due to tightly compacted cuticles. This can affect the way products absorb into the hair, leading to unwanted build-up when styling. This is why regular clarifying should be part of a low porosity hair care routine.

Low Porosity Hair Before and After Clarifying

Instagram / @wavygirljessie

Low porosity hair is often naturally shiny, but can easily feel heavy or greasy after products are applied, so it’s better not to overdo with products. Once hair is wet, it can also take a very long time to dry.

The ongoing challenge for this porosity type is to get the cuticles to lift just enough for proper water and product absorption. Just like the pores on our face, warm steamy environments can encourage the cuticles to lift and stay open long enough to apply your favorite products. If you have low porosity hair, apply your styling products in a steamy shower once the water is turned off. When a deep conditioning treatment is needed, opt for hot oils treatment or arrange a hair spa using a hot towel or a home hair steamer for best results.

High Porosity Hair

High porosity hair can absorb too much water due to raised cuticles or the lack thereof. Products and water absorb too quickly into the hair and, because the cuticle layer remains lifted, they escape just as fast. This cycle of over absorption and quick drying can eventually leave hair feeling tangled, dry, and lacking natural shine.

Dry High Porosity Hair

Instagram /

For healthy hair that is naturally very porous it is best to use products that reduce friction and help keep hair hydrated all day. However, hair that is high porosity due to chemical damage may not respond to water and products in a usual way.

To style high porosity hair, use a detangling spray or leave-in conditioner to gently remove knots and reduce breakage when brushing. This is especially beneficial for long hair before jumping into the shower on wash day. If you follow a curly girl routine, apply the products using a LOC method (a leave-in conditioner, oil to lock the moisture, and styling cream or gel on top). Be sure to always use sulfate-free shampoos and never skip conditioner on your lengths, no matter your hair texture.

Medium Porosity Hair

Medium porosity hair has an even balance of water absorption and retention due to evenly raised cuticles throughout the hair shaft. Water and products can easily pass through the cuticle layer without drying out too quickly. Medium porosity hair can appear shiny and healthy with unwanted frizz under control.

Because medium porosity hair is naturally balanced, the only concern during styling is to ensure your hair continues to remain healthy. For best styling tips on medium porosity hair include using sulfate-free shampoo for everyday use and a clarifying shampoo once a month to remove product buildup (such as silicones which can eventually block water absorption). Use products that are best suited for your hair type and always use a heat protectant when styling.

When it comes to having healthy hair, it’s important to understand your individual hair needs first. Learning your hair porosity can help you achieve longer, stronger hair with predictable results, no matter the environment you’re in.

Featured Image via Instagram

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