How to Treat High Porosity Hair

Woman with curly hair

 Houcine Ncib / Unsplash

When it comes to hair care, there is a lot to consider from cleansing to styling. We know that your favorite YouTube gurus can offer some insight on how to care for your specific hair type, but what works for them may or may not work for you depending on one key factor: hair porosity. We've got the facts on high porosity hair from two experts, but before we share their expertise, there are a few characteristics to look out for: frizz, extreme dryness, and lack of shine, which serve as physical indicators that you're dealing with high porosity hair.

Testing your hair's porosity can be done at home with a few simple steps. Stylist Leigh Hardges says before testing, you'll want to cleanse the build-up from your hair. Next, you'll fill a bowl with water, drop a single strand of clean, dry hair into the bowl of water, and now you have an at-home science experiment. Hardges says to watch the strand to see if it sinks to the bottom of the bowl or floats at the top. "Low porosity hair will stay on top of the water. Medium porosity hair will float and stay suspended in the middle. High porosity hair will sink to the bottom of the bowl."

Meet the Expert

Common Causes of High Porosity Hair

"High porosity hair easily absorbs water and products quickly. However, the moisture is not easily retained in the hair," says Alicia Bailey. "The cuticle is the outermost layer of the hair. If the hair has high porosity, that means that the cuticle is open and rough. Under a microscope, a healthy strand of hair with low or medium porosity will look like the smooth skin on a snake's back. However, high porosity hair would look more like a Christmas tree."

Depending on how you care for and process your hair, you could end up with a porosity shift. Coloring, relaxing, frequent thermal styling, over-manipulation, and even the use of harsh products can affect your hair's cuticles. The hair's cuticles lay flat when healthy and lift when they are no longer in an optimal state. If your hair is in this condition, getting it back into shape will take time and effort, but regaining healthy coils is possible.

Typically, but not always, hair that has been bleached or chemically treated with color or relaxers is also considered to be high porosity. Now that we know the science behind high porosity hair, here are a few tips on properly caring for your hair while it's on the mend. 

Get a Trim

First things first: Hair that's already damaged isn't going to magically repair itself. Schedule an appointment with a professional for a cut, or a major trim. We know, we know. You're working to retain length, and saying goodbye to those ends is going to be difficult, especially if your stylist recommends cutting off more than you expected. Taking this step is the best way to start on the road to a well-conditioned, healthy mane. You're setting your hair up for it's best possible growing conditions by chopping of those split, dull ends. If you have color-treated hair and find your strands prone to split ends, aside from a good trim, try a product like Olaplex's No.3 Hair Perfector ($28). The sulfate- and paraben-free formula help to stop those pesky split ends before they start. Their line comes highly recommended, and it is beloved by stylists for its ability to repair damaged hair.

If you have color-treated hair and find your strands prone to split ends, aside from a good trim, try a product like Olaplex's No.3 Hair Perfector ($28).

Cut Down on Styling

To revive your hair, drastically minimize your heat usage, and only have chemicals applied only (if at all) in a salon setting can be a great help. Also, don't be afraid of protective styling. Bantu Knots, box braids, and even rocking a stylish head wrap can give your hair a much-needed break from manipulation. One thing to keep in mind with protective styling is to watch out for too much tension. If your hair is experiencing breakage, talk with your stylist about the best type of protective style for your hair's current condition.

Use Moisture-Rich Products

Next, take a look at the products you use. If you own anything with sulfates, toss it out. You need ultra-moisturizing cleansers that contain no harsh, drying sulfates. "High porosity hair should be treated with care," says Bailey. "Products that restore moisture, reduces frizz, seals in moisture, and protects the hair from heat are great products for high porosity hair."

Hardges recommends cremes, oils, and butters to aid in moisturizing and strengthening highly porous hair. Jojoba oil is among her favorites. "Jojoba oil most closely mimics the hair's natural oils," she explains. "Citric acid is another great ingredient. It helps to close the cuticle, so the rich butters and oils that have been infused into the hair through conditioning stay in the hair longer." 

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Get a Dose of Protein

Next, you need a dose of protein as soon as you can possibly get it. Protein treatments come in different forms. If you're experiencing severe breakage, you may need an emergency product like ApHogee Two-Step Protein Treatment ($24). An intense treatment like this only needs to be applied once, and you must follow all directions carefully to avoid further damage. Less severe damage can be managed with maintenance protein products like Ouidad's Curl Quencher Moisturizing Conditioner ($20). Protein will strengthen your hair, but it can also be drying—apply a protein mask once a month to condition without breakage.

Use a Hydrating Mask

Black hair requires a lot of moisture when it's healthy, so when it's high porosity, it needs it even more. Get into the habit of weekly deep conditioning. The goal here is to manage your damaged tresses while promoting healthy new growth that doesn't become high porosity. "To restore moisture, I would recommend using the Design Essentials Almond & Avocado Wash Day Deep Moisture Masque. Apply generously to the hair and sit with a plastic cap for up to 15 minutes. Rinse with cool to tepid water to allow the cuticle to close and lock in moisture." For an extra boost, sit under the dryer to help the hair reap all the benefits of your hair treatment.

Design Essentials® Almond & Avocado
Design Essentials Natural Almond & Avocado Wash Day Deep Moisture Masque $15
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Try the L.O.C. Method

As you moisturize your hair, don't let all that conditioning work go to waste by not holding that moisture in. The L.O.C. method will work very well on high porosity hair, especially with heavy butter like shea or mango as the "cream" sealants. Use a lighter hand with the butter if your hair is relaxed, but focus on the ends, every night if necessary. Good oils to use on high porosity hair include:

Relaxed

  • Grapeseed
  • Jojoba

Natural

  • Shea butter
  • Mango butter

Relaxed or Natural

  • Coconut
  • Avocado
  • Almond

Treat Your Hair Gently

"High porosity hair should be treated very gently because it is so fragile," says Hardges. She recommends detangling and combing with a wide-tooth comb working from the ends of the hair working upward, and taking an extra step to care for your hair before bed. "Utilizing silk or satin scarves and pillowcases keep in moisture that cotton is known to absorb." In addition to wrapping the hair with a silk or satin scarf at night, twisting, wrapping, or pineapple, your hair can help keep your curls or straightening hair intact while maintaining the moisture. 

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It may take weeks or months before you notice a difference, but as long as you're practicing good hair care, your tresses will eventually get healthy again. Remember: minimize heat, use chemicals wisely (or not at all), stick to moisturizing products, and treat your hair with TLC. You can get a handle on damaged, high porosity hair and grow healthier, medium to normal porosity hair this way—instead of living with breakage and frizz.

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