If you take your hair care as seriously as we do, you can never know too much about your strands. After all, the more you know, the better equipped you’ll be to tend to your hair so that it’s shiny, healthy, and strong. We often talk about hair texture, an oily or dry scalp, and whether hair has been chemically or color-treated, but have you ever considered your hair porosity? Though not as frequently discussed as the others, having insight into this topic can be a hair care game changer.
Want to learn more about hair porosity? We asked experts about the differences between each porosity level, how to determine your hair porosity, and the salon-grade products to manage your mane’s unique needs. Scroll on for everything you need to know.
What is hair porosity?
Simply put, porosity refers to the hair’s ability to absorb and retain moisture. A few factors determine hair porosity, including things you have no control over (ahem, genetics!). However, how we treat our hair can directly impact it—for better or worse.
The outer layer of each hair strand lays smooth when hair is strong and healthy—think of it like scales on a snake. When we do damage via excessive coloring procedures, overusing hot tools, or exposing our hair to environmental stressors such as hard water and chlorine, our hair porosity becomes compromised. Those snake-like scales? They start to lift, affecting how our hair looks and feels. Surprisingly, porosity also contributes to how hair hangs on to odors.
How do you know your hair porosity?
We won’t lie: There’s no foolproof way to determine your hair’s porosity. However, you can make an educated guess with the water hair porosity test.
“It's really simple to test,” says Redken artist Laura Frazier. “Get a clear glass of water and a strand of your hair—preferably cleansed—and place the strand in the glass. If it floats, it’s low porosity. If it floats at first and then slowly begins to sink or suspend, it’s medium porosity. If it starts to sink immediately, the hair is very porous [and therefore high porosity].”
You can also guess hair porosity by assessing its appearance.
Low Hair Porosity
If your hair looks and feels very strong and smooth—with almost a glass-like appearance—chances are good you have low hair porosity. These strands have an outer layer—the cuticle—that is very strong, and the “scales” lay tightly against one another.
What are signs of low porosity hair?
Although low porosity hair may appear sleek and healthy, it still faces unique challenges. The most apparent giveaways of low porosity hair are:
- It takes a while for water to saturate your hair when washing it.
- Hair requires a long time to dry.
- Products sit on the hair's surface instead of absorbing into strands, leading to build-up.
Medium Hair Porosity
If your hair looks slightly dull and rough but responds well to hair products, chances are good you have medium or regular hair porosity.
“Medium porosity hair stands up well to coloring, styling, and chemical services, but needs to be cared for with a daily routine to preserve the strength of the hair to withstand these processes in the future,” explains Tiffinie Morton, professional stylist.
High Hair Porosity
If your hair looks and feels damaged, dry, rough, and broken, your hair porosity is likely high. Also, wavy and curly hair types tend to have higher porosity.
“High porosity hair is likely difficult to comb through and can even become matted at times,” says Morton. “It soaks up moisture almost instantly yet dries very quickly. It is common to have highly porous ends when the rest of the hair strand appears stronger.”
High porosity hair doesn’t just look and feel damaged. It can be more prone to breakage compared to low and medium porosity hair, making it difficult to retain length.
If you are still unsure how porous your hair is, a professional hair stylist will be able to determine your strands accurately.
Does high porosity hair dry fast?
One of the telltale indicators of high porosity hair is a speedy dry time. The gaps in hair’s cuticle allow moisture to escape quickly after getting wet, causing strands to dry much faster than low or medium porosity hair.
Is frizzy hair high or low porosity?
Hair that becomes puffy at the slightest inkling of humidity in the air is high porosity since the lifted cuticles allow moisture to seep in. On the other hand, if your hair falls flat on muggy days, that’s a sign of low porosity.
Which is better, high porosity or low porosity hair?
Here at Hair.com, we’re big advocates that all hair is good hair. Whether your locks are low, medium, or high porosity, knowing how to properly manage your unique hair type is the secret to unlocking the mane of your dreams. Luckily, the following pro-backed tips and products can help get you started.
How to Care For Low Porosity Hair
Caring for low porosity hair is deceptively tricky. Most of the time, your hair may look and feel strong, but you’ll have to stock your bathroom cabinet with just the right low porosity hair products to ensure your strands truly reap all the benefits.
“Hair with low porosity has a tightly packed cuticle, making it hard for products to penetrate the strand and get the nutrients from them. But once the product is in the hair strand, it is less likely to dry out,” says Morton.
She says that low porosity hair often works well with protein-free products formulated with humectants, which help attract moisture. Also, because this hair type is more prone to product build-up, reaching for light, liquid-based products are ideal.
Matrix’s Total Results Moisture Me Rich line is a good pick for low porosity hair products. The Shampoo’s glycerin (a humectant) helps deliver long-lasting moisture, softness, and radiance while adding lightweight volume. Follow it up with the brand’s Conditioner to soften and replenish hair without worrying about build-up. Used together, you’ll achieve hair that’s four times as moisturized.
Suppose you feel like your strands need a little extra TLC. In that case, Morton recommends the Biolage Professional Advanced Fiber Strong Shampoo for Fragile Hair and Deep Treatment Hair Mask system, which are formulated with Intra Cylane plus bamboo and ceramide to strengthen damaged, fragile hair.
For a styling product that will make your hair look as smooth as it feels without weighing it down, Morton recommends Biolage Professional’s Smooth Proof Smoothing Shine Milk. We also love Mizani’s 25 Miracle Milk Leave-In Conditioner to help reinfuse hair with any oils that washed down the drain during the cleansing process.
How To Care For Medium Porosity Hair
If you have medium porosity hair, you’re in luck! This tends to be the most manageable porosity level.
“You don’t have to work overly hard to protect medium porosity hair, but making good choices throughout the week will help keep your hair healthy-looking,” Morton says.
It’s also good practice to avoid moderate stressors—such as heat styling and UV exposure—which can take you into a high porosity zone. It also helps to give your hair a strengthening treatment every once in a while.
Frazier strongly recommends Redken’s Acidic Bonding Concentrate system, the Acidic Bonding Concentrate Intensive Treatment, and the Redken Extreme Length Shampoo and Conditioner Duo.
“These hair care families are pH balanced to get your hair back around the 4.5 to 5.5 range,” says Frazier. “[They also] add benefits of biotin for strength and growth, or in Acidic Bonding’s case, a little bit of everything for a well-rounded hair care [system].
How To Care For High Porosity Hair
Though high porosity can look and feel damaged, rest assured that not all hope is lost. Finding the perfect balance of moisture is the key to caring for high hair porosity (and taking it easy on chemical processing and heat styling, of course!).
“Too much moisture in high porosity hair can cause the hair to swell and break. However, using products with anti-humectants will help seal the cuticle and prevent it from absorbing too much moisture,” explains Morton.
If you have highly porous hair, swap in a system like Matrix’s Total Results Instacure. The line’s Anti-Breakage Shampoo, Conditioner, and Porosity Spray fill in porous areas of strands with liquid proteins to add strength and resiliency, helping to prevent future breakage. Check out this video with Matrix’s Global brand spokesperson Alfredo Lewis to learn why Matrix Instacure is a good pick for high porosity hair products.
Frazier adds, “You can never go wrong with [the Redken] Extreme hair care family, an in-shower treatment, or a balancing leave-in product.”
She specifically recommends Redken’s One United Multi-Benefit Hair Treatment Spray and Extreme Anti-Snap Split Ends Hair Treatment as her favorite high porosity hair products.
Now you’re equipped with the knowledge you need to properly care for your hair—no matter what porosity you’re working with.
Interested in more products to help you manage hair porosity? Shop Hair.com for the products that professionals rely on in the salon.