Curly Girl Method Science: Porosity 101

Porosity is a key piece of information often ignored when learning to care for curls. Once you understand the science behind porosity you will be able to figure out the problems in your routines in no time. Get all the FACTS about porosity supported by peer-reviewed journal articles.

My Beautiful #RedCarpetCurlsRoyalty,

Understanding your hair’s porosity is by far one of the most valuable pieces of information you can possess when it comes to the health of your crown.  Porosity dictates the pattern in which your hair absorbs and loses moisture. This will be invaluable when it comes time to pick the right products for your mane.

The Curly Girl Method DOES NOT HAVE TO BREAK THE BANK! Many fall prey to the “Product Junkie” crazy in the curly community. This is where you buy every product you see or someone recommends to you, without truly understanding the purpose of the product or the right technique and amounts for your hair. This leaves you with lots of products that you will say don’t work, but the truth is they didn’t work for you. Remember, the CG Method is about finding a HEALTHIER way to care for your hair, this doesn’t mean it must be more complicated.

Porosity is one of those topics where a lot of conflicting information will be found. This leads to unreliable “tests” done at home and a whole host of other haircare issues. So, get the verified facts on porosity down below. I will even include the links to the peer-reviewed journal articles I found on Google Scholar. When researching the science behind topics like this, use Google Scholar instead of Google.

Why? Because Google, for example, ranks its hits using many factors, but one factor is by popularity, so you can imagine that some websites, like Wikipedia and other commercial sites, are more popular than others, as an academic journal article or university website. So you are less likely to get the scholarly source you want from the regular Google search. Google Scholar, on the other hand, offers scholarly research that is prioritized, according to Google, “the way researchers do, weighing the full text of each document, where it was published, who it was written by, as well as how often and how recently it has been cited in other scholarly literature.” Google scholar, in Google’s own words “provides searches for articles, theses, books, abstracts and court opinions from academic publishers, professional societies, online repositories, universities, and other web sites.”

While learning your porosity will not solve every major problem, it can be the key piece of information to help you pick the right products for your hair. If you need the immediate needs of your hair then you can rule out many products that you would have otherwise bought, wasting your time and more importantly your money!

What is Hair Porosity?

According to NaturallyCurly.com,  Porosity is defined as a hole, gap, or opening in the cuticle.

Hair porosity essential boils down to your hair’s ability to absorb and maintain moisture, products, or chemical coloring. To really understand this concept we need to break it down bit by bit.

Our hair is quite fascinating if you really stop to think about it. Our hair, when healthy, is able to take in water and other products (including hair coloring) easily by the little gaps in between the scales in the cuticle. This is where the idea of porous comes into play.

Much like our skin has pores to absorb lotion and water, our hair has tiny little gaps between each scale on the cuticle (the outermost part of the hair. It is made up of dead cells overlapping, which results in “scales.”) Through these gaps, our hair is able to receive the moisture and other products it needs along with being able to retain it.

When discussing porosity we refer to three types:

  • High Porosity – damaged hair
  • Low Porosity – healthy hair, hard to moisturize
  • Medium Porosity – Ideal porosity, accepts and holds moisture well, healthy hair

 What Causes an Increase in Porosity? (I.E. Damaged Hair / High Porosity) 

According to an article in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology Symposium Proceedings, an increase in porosity is called the weathering of hair. Weathering is the progressive degeneration from the root to the tip of the hair cuticle and then later the cortex due to routine everyday wear and tear. Long hair is especially susceptible to weathering. Features of weathering include damaged cuticles, longitudinal fissures known as split ends and eventually breakage.  Increase in porosity is caused by many factors such as:

  • Natural  Weathering of hair (mechanical handling, I.e. tight high buns, brushes, combs, etc)
  • Genetics (Genetics and curl pattern contribute to how tightly the cuticle layer adheres.)
  • Stress
  • Age
  • Exposure to elements and environment
  • Exposure to chemical treatment
  • Excessive shampooing or unnatural products

Let’s take a deeper look into one of the factors so you can understand how damage occurs. A very popular factor is bleaching, also known as chemical treatment.

Bleaching oxidizes the existing melanin (hair pigment) in the cortex. Darker hair requires longer bleaching times. Red Hair is more difficult to bleach than brown hair. The oxidation reaction destroys some of the disulfide bonds (the strong bonds that form our curl structure) within the keratin and can damage the cuticle making it porous. A 2008 article about porosity in the Journal of Cosmetic Science, found that the “chemical damage (oxidative bleach) nearly TRIPLES the hair surface area in the first minute if bleaching due to the increase in the number of pores, followed by a sudden drop after 10 minutes of bleaching from smaller pores breaking down into larger ones.”

As we age, we become more susceptible to porosity being an issue for us. This is why proper care (CG Method) is so critical. It will prevent damage from taking over our beautiful crown as well as help us repair the on-going damage sustained.

Your hair shaft documents the history of the cosmetic practices you have gone through. Hair grows one centimeter a month, that’s roughly half an inch a month. So that means it takes two years to grow 24cm of hair. Curly hair often grows out instead of down like straight hair. Thanks to shrinkage we think our hair isn’t growing but it is. That is why long hair is so susceptible to damage. The longer the hair grows, the weaker it is. The roots of your hair will be a different porosity than the ends because the roots are still connected to the scalp so it’s healthy hair, while the ends of your hair have endured roughly 700 washes, the application of hot styling tools, and other procedures such as relaxers, bleaching, permanent coloring. This causes an increase in the damage of the hair and therefore different porosities. It is possible to have multiple porosities on your head.

Let’s take a closer look at the specific problems each porosity experiences.

High Porosity

High porosity hair has the most damage. The little scales on the cuticle are so damaged they are not able to close and seal in the moisture. The malnourished cuticle layers have already begun to crack and peel away. As a result, all moisture added by water and products is quickly released into the atmosphere through the gaps in the cuticle. The leaves nothing but dry, damaged hair, very prone to split ends and breakage.  Since the layers of the scales are unable to close properly, high porosity hair is able to receive moisture quickly but, unfortunately, it’s lost just as quick as it is gained. High porosity hair often dries quickly because there are so many gaps in the cuticle layer. Remember the cuticle serves as the “door” of the cuticle, it lets moisture in and out. the purpose of the cuticle scales is to seal in the moisture for as long as possible. High porosity hair is unable to do this, and therefore moisture is often an issue. The scales on the cuticle layer are raised and unable to close, this results in loss of moisture and is why protein is a perfect solution. Protein acts as spackle, temporarily filling the gap, sealing in moisture. Common causes for high porosity hair include age, overuse of shampoos, combs, and towels, exposure to the sun and environment (i.e. cold winter winds), and frequent exposure to chemical treatments. Some characteristics of high porosity hair are:

  • Absorbs too much water
  • Hair dries very quickly
  • Unable to retain moisture for long
  • Tangles very easily due to it being dry
  • Frizzy 
  • Looks dull 
  • Low Porosity 

Low Porosity Hair

This porosity battles the completely opposite spectrum of issues than high porosity. Low porosity hair will not absorb moisture easily due to how tightly sealed the scales on the cuticle are.  Low porosity is technically considered healthy. The cuticle itself isn’t damaged but it does get so dry it mimics damaged hair. Since the scales are sealed so tightly water and product can not easily enter and leave the strand. This results in products sitting right on top of the hair weighing it down, but never actually penetrating into the hair strand to treat the source of the problem. Kind of like a Band-Aid if you will. Low porosity hair is often very shiny due to the fact that the scales are sealed down so tightly (the sunlight is able to reflect off the scales).  Coloring and other treatments are often too difficult to penetrate due to the scales being so tightly closed.  Some characteristics of low porosity hair are:

  • When water is hitting the hair in the shower, water often beads up on top of the hair
  • Moisture isn’t easily received 
  • Hair takes a very long time to dry
  • Looks healthy but doesn’t have volume or elasticity 
  • Does not absorb products well
  • Doesn’t absorb hair coloring well
  • Often shiny 
  • Products sit on top of the hair 

Medium Porosity

Medium Porosity or also known as Normal porosity is perfectly healthy hair. This is the goal. This means the scales on the cuticle correctly raise up and down allowing the permeability of moisture, products, and chemical processes. The scales allow for the perfect amount of product and water to absorb into the cuticle. Some characteristics of normal or medium porosity hair are:

  • Shiny
  • Healthy
  • Lots of volumes
  • Perfectly moisturized 
  • The ability to make others around you jealous at how awesome your hair looks

Tips to Help Improve Your Porosity Struggles

Now that we have examined the types of porosities and their problems how about we discuss some tips to help remedy those problems!

I have created two articles with tips on porosity. Each article has seven tips when used consistently, helps repair the damage we have caused to our hair. Once we repair the cuticle our hair care issues slowly fade away. Take a look at the tips, and comment below any tips I did not mention that you found helpful!

  • For high porosity hair tips, click here.

 

  • For low porosity hair tips, click here.

How to Determine Your Porosity

Now that we have all the tips there’s still one more thing you need to know about porosity…How to determine your own! Unfortunately, at this moment there is no scientific, concrete factual way of proving your porosity at home. The only accurate way to determine porosity is with a lab analyzing the hair.  Here is an explanation on three different way to determine porosity, ranked from the most INACCURATE ways to the most ACCURATE way:

  1. Do the Float Test

The float test consists of taking 1-2 strands of freshly shampooed hair (with no product in it) and putting them in a glass of water for 5-10 minutes. Make sure to stick your finger into the water to pop the air bubble and get more accurate results. The idea behind this test is if the hair is porous it will absorb much more water than if it were not porous. With that rationality, it means high porosity hair will sink to the bottom because the weight of all the water pulls it to the bottom of the glass. Low porosity hair will float to the top because it will not allow water into the strand causing it to be heavy and sink down. With no water weight, it will just float to the top. Last but not least, normal porosity will float somewhere in the middle. This is a highly unreliable test as many factors can affect the results. It may be a very popular test but it is not accurate.

  1. Look up the characteristics of each porosity and compare it.

Now before I wrote this article, you had to look through multiple sites to find the characteristics of all hair porosities. I just made your search easier by putting everything in one article. Researching and comparing the characteristics of the porosities is how I determined my porosity. At the beginning of my journey, I noticed water never beaded up on my hair, if anything it would take in massive amounts of moisture at a time, but less than two hours after I would wash my hair, it would be insanely dry, all the moisture was gone. This is how I figured out I was high porosity. Look at the bullet points of characteristics I included above and compare your hair behaviors to the characteristics.

    3. Hair Analysis

The only truly accurate way of determining your porosity is by getting a sample of your hair examined in a lab. My Mane Bio offers this service for curly girls. You send them a sample of your hair and within four weeks they analyze your hair to tell you your:

  • Porosity
  • Elasticity
  • Width
  • Overall Hair health

These hair samples are studied under a microscope for the most accurate results possible. This is the only true way to get all the information you need about your own hair. Please do not rely on social media influencers or YouTubers to provide you with this key information. If you take the time and spend the money on this full analysis, it will save you so much time, money, and frustration down the line.

Did I mention the website has a database of products to search through with specific filters such as:

  • Protein (big protein, hydrolyzed, amino acids)
  • Aloe Free
  • Coconut Free
  • Humectant Free

The Foundational Hair Analysis sells for $44.00. This test measures the porosity, elasticity, width, and overall health of your hair including comparing hair measurements and condition at the root vs the tip. Note any findings related to the overall type (straight, wavy, curly, kinky) of your hair. Provide at least three pictures of your hair taken through the microscope.

The Total Haircare Analysis sells for $89.00. Measure the porosity, elasticity, width, and overall health of your hair including comparing hair measurements and condition at the root vs the tip. Note any findings related to the overall type (straight, wavy, curly, kinky) of your hair. Provide at least five pictures of your hair taken through the microscope. This package also includes;

  • Reviewing the ingredients of up to five products you are currently using to determine compatibility with your hair type, hair goals, and climate where you live (i.e., humidity and dew points).
  • Give recommendations for hair care product ingredients that should be avoided based on your specific hair type. Make step by step recommendations for cleansing, conditioning, and styling techniques to achieve your hair goals and help you embrace your natural hair texture. Address specific lifestyle and hobbies that may be affecting your satisfaction with your hair. Discuss the possible effects of the type of water you use to cleanse and condition your hair.
  • Your purchase includes up to three follow up email exchanges with our scientists to answer any specific questions you have related your Hair Bio and hair type.

Confused about which package to purchase?

The Foundational Analysis is great for those who love doing your own research and feel pretty comfortable with your hair. Maybe you have a pretty good idea of your porosity and elasticity but you just want to make sure. Or, you are really wondering about your hair changes from root to tip. Of course, it could be that you are just super curious and want to see a few pictures of your hair really, really close up!

The Total Haircare Analysis is great for those who need lots of information and ideas for how to love your natural hair texture. Maybe you are fed up with your hair and feeling a little confused about what your hair wants. Or, perhaps you used to be happy with your hair but now you can’t seem to figure it out. MyManeBio will happily hold your hand and explain the information we gather about your hair in ways you can understand.

Can I change my Porosity?

This is a very common question and the answer is yes! You absolutely can change the porosity of your hair over time. By following the CG Method, and these tips I gave you, you can absolutely improve your hair porosity as the health of your hair improves. I started off as high porosity but now with proper care, almost two years in my hair more mimics normal porosity! Unfortunately, low porosity doesn’t change. It simply gets healthier over time whereas high porosity has a better shot at becoming medium porosity.

 

Adrienne

Adrienne

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About Red Carpet Curls

About Adrienne Monroe and Red Carpet Curls : In this section you’ll get to meet your guide…me! I’ll tell you more about my Curly Girl Method Journey along with all the resources you can expect to find on this website. You will also find out exactly what makes Red Carpet Curls different from any other Curly Girl Method Website.

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