Hair Porosity 101: Understanding Your Hair's Absorption & Retention Power

When your hair just won’t cooperate – won’t hold certain styles, colors, or moisture – it's incredibly frustrating.

From product choice to hair damage and genetics, there lots of possibilities why your hair’s acting unruly.

Regardless of what the problem is, there's a major underlying factor you may not have considered: your hair porosity.

Understanding your hair porosity will help you...

  • choose the right products
  • use the right styling techniques
  • pick the right treatments for your hair type

What is hair porosity?

Hair porosity is a measure of your hair's ability to absorb and retain moisture.

While hair porosity can change depending on the health of your hair (especially if you’re dealing with one of the 4 common types of hair damage), your baseline hair porosity is determined by the structure of your hair cuticle – which is the outermost layer of your hair shaft.

Like shingles on a roof, your hair cuticle has many overlapping scales (dead skin cells) that protect the inner layers of your hair shaft. The structure – or pattern – of these scales reveals whether you have low, medium, or high hair porosity. 

What's my hair porosity?

If you peered at a strand of your hair under a microscope, you’d see one of three cuticle structures…

1. Low porosity hair (low absorption, high retention)

Low porosity hair has a tightly packed cuticle layer, making it less porous and so, more resistant to moisture absorption.

This hair type tends to repel water, yet, once it’s wet, will take longer to dry since water molecules cannot easily escape once they've been absorbed.

Hair with low porosity is resistant to chemical treatments (like perms and coloring), and is prone to product build up as ingredients tend to sit on top of the cuticle without fully absorbing into the hair shaft.

You'll need to make a solid effort to get moisture into your hair cuticle… but once it’s absorbed, your hair will do a great job of holding in hydration!

Tips to manage low porosity hair

  • Use warm water or steam to gently open cuticles for better product absorption
  • Apply lightweight and water-based styling products that won't weigh down your hair
  • Routinely deep clean your hair with a clarifying shampoo – or apple cider vinegar rinse – to break down and clean away product build up
  • Take Growth Complex to infuse vitamins and nutrients into your hair from the inside out!

2. Medium porosity hair (good absorption and retention)

Medium porosity hair has a slightly raised cuticle layer, giving it a balanced structure that easily absorbs and retains moisture.

This ‘Goldilocks’ hair type is more manageable, holds hair styles better, and is less prone to product build up.

You’re free to use all kinds of products – but it also means you should practice a balanced hair care routine to protect and maintain your ideal hair porosity.

Tips to manage medium porosity hair

  • Avoid the 4 common types of hair damage
  • Regularly apply deep conditioning treatments and leave-in conditioners to maintain hydration
  • Occasionally deep clean your hair to remove product build-up, dirt, and dead skin cells
  • Take Growth Complex to support a healthy hair cuticle structure

3. High porosity hair (high absorption, low retention)

High porosity hair has a raised cuticle layer with holes and gaps that allow it to quickly drink up moisture. Unfortunately, that means this hair type can also lose hydration just as fast.

This hair type is much more susceptible to environmental damage like heat and humidity, meaning it can easily frizz out, dry out, tangle up, and break.

High porosity hair may struggle to hold a curl, and retain chemical treatments like coloring – meaning your color may fade faster than normal, ugh!

You’ll need to use intensive moisturizing and sealing techniques to prevent dryness and breakage with high porosity hair.

Tips to manage high porosity hair

  • Opt for styling products that contain ultra-hydrating properties to help lock in moisture
  • Use rich and nourishing overnight treatments like Nourish & Repair Serum to hydrate while you sleep
  • Wear your hair in protective hairstyles, like a low, loose bun or braid.
  • Take Growth Complex to give your body hair-strengthening vitamins and nutrients

How to do a hair porosity test

You probably don’t have a microscope handy to see what your hair cuticle looks like, but you can still get a general idea of your hair porosity with a couple of straightforward tests at home.

Keep in mind hair porosity can vary across different sections of your hair, especially if you have color-treated or damaged hair.

So, it’s a good idea to assess porosity at multiple points on your head to get a more accurate understanding of your hair's overall porosity level.

Option 1: Float test

Step 1: Grab a fresh strand of hair

After brushing your hair, pull out a strand of hair from your hair brush. Be sure to get a clean strand, free of products to get a more accurate test result.

Step 2: Place hair strand in a glass of water and observe

Place your clean hair strand inside a glass of water and observe how it acts.

You likely have low porosity hair if the hair strand floats on the water's surface for a prolonged period. This means it’s not absorbing much water.

You likely have medium porosity hair if the hair strand sinks slowly to the bottom of the glass. This means it absorbs water moderately.

You likely have high porosity hair if the hair strand sinks rapidly to the bottom of the glass. This means it absorbs water quickly.

Option 2: Air-dry test

Step 1: Cleanse your hair

Start with freshly washed and completely clean hair. Use a clarifying shampoo to remove any product build up or other residue.

Step 2: Air-dry your hair

Allow your hair to air dry without applying any styling products, as they can interfere with the test results.

Step 3: Observe your hair's behavior

As your hair dries, observe how it behaves.

You likely have low porosity hair if your hair took a long time to get wet and water seems to bead up on the surface without being absorbed.

You likely have medium porosity hair if your hair absorbed water without difficulty and doesn't take too long to dry.

You likely have high porosity hair if your hair quickly absorbed water, then feels dry shortly after being wet.