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What High Porosity Hair Is (And How to Care for It)

Jun 14, 2023Jun 14, 2023

High porosity doesn't mean high maintenance.

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Ever wonder why certain hair products—like shampoos and conditioners, leave-ins, or hair masks—do wonders for your friends with similar curl patterns, but leave your hair in a frizzy heap? Or why products that seem to do wonders for every user on TikTok render your 'do greasy or cause unprecedented breakage? While many have been led to believe that hair thickness and type are the only characteristics to bear in mind when shopping for haircare, there is, in fact, another important factor that's often overlooked: Hair porosity, of the ability of hair to retain and absorb moisture. Low porosity hair struggles to maintain moisture, while high porosity hair absorbs it like a sponge.

"To have high-porosity hair means that the cuticle scales are raised due to over processing, damaged by chemical services like color, perms, relaxers, or rough manipulation from heat and other hair care tools," Alicia Bailey, a licensed master cosmetologist and the CEO & Global Hair Education Director of Iman Yvonne Beauty, explains. "The hair will absorb color, hair products, and water quickly, but will have trouble holding onto the color or moisture due to the cuticle layer being open. High porosity hair appears frizzy, feels dry, is usually fragile and will break fairly easily."

Therefore, having high porosity hair means hydrating strands, doing damage control, and ameliorating frizz and breakage. Just as she detailed the best practices and products for low porosity hair, Bailey took the time to break down everything there is to know about high porosity locks, from how to craft an ideal haircare routine to how to shop for the best products.

Because hair porosity isn't visible to the naked eye and can't necessarily be felt through the tips of your fingers, it can be difficult to understand whether you fall on the low or high end of the spectrum. But luckily, there's a tried-and-true test that can be done in minutes to test the porosity level of your hair.

First, you'll need to wash your hair thoroughly to ensure there's no sweat, product, or buildup caked onto your strands. Then, brush your hair through with a clean brush, and take a strand of hair that comes out in the brush. Drop it into a clear glass of water.

After a few minutes of allowing the hair to rest in the water, take a look. If the strand is floating, you have low porosity hair. If the strand is sinking, you have high porosity hair. And if the strand is somewhere in the middle of the water, you have medium to normal porosity hair.

Whereas low porosity hair needs lightweight products that won't cause buildups, Bailey explains that for high porosity hair, "It is best to use products that pack a punch with moisture." In that vein, she advises, "I always use a leave-in conditioner on the hair as a layer prior to applying any styling products on the hair."

Other maintenance of this hair type revolves around combatting dryness and ensuing breakage. Bailey says, "I encourage regular cuts and trims, using a moisturizing and reparative shampoo, followed by a moisturizing conditioner."

Because of this emphasis on moisture, those with high porosity hair should also avoid products with harsh ingredients. Bailey suggest steering clear of haircare formulas with alcohol and sulfates, and recommends using clarifying shampoos in great moderation, if at all.

"I love to use OLAPLEX for anyone with high porosity hair," says Bailey. "I recommend the OLAPLEX Hair Repair Treatment Kit for my guests to use at home to reinforce what I have done in the salon. This kit provides visible results after just one use. I find with continued use, the hair becomes stronger and healthier, even dealing with the most compromised hair. The kit comes with N°0, which is the Bond Building Treatment, N°3 is the Hair Perfector, N°4 is the Bond Maintenance Shampoo, and N°5 is the Bond Maintenance Conditioner."

Pros: expert-approved; value kit; improves hair strength

Cons: none found

Customer Review: "This system is AMAZING!! Even after one use I noticed a huge difference! My hair is very long, easily tangled, and had breakage, so I bought this repair kit. My hair is SO CLEAN, smooth, detangles very easily, and it so much thicker and healthier! I've only been using these products for about 2 weeks!! LOVE!!!" -Olaxplex

I personally swear by this hair mask from Act+Acre, which is meant to repair damage by providing intensive hydration. Simply apply it evenly through clean, damp hair with a comb, leave it on for five to 10 minutes, wash out, and voilà! It always leaves my hair feeling smooth and conditioned, and my curls are consistently more defined after each use. I even like to place a shower cap over my hair while the conditioner sits in order to maximize the moisture.

Pros: contains natural ingredients like castor oil; editor-approved; easy to use; free of sulfates, silicones, parabens, and phthalates

Cons: small amount in bottle

Customer Review: "I love this mask. It really made my dry, frizzy greying hair soft and manageable." -Act+Acre

This shampoo specifically targets damage so that users observe a significant improvement in their hair after each wash. Highly moisturizing yet cleansing, it’s suitable for all hair types and textures and is color safe to boot. Customers love the formula for how soft it leaves hair feeling, with one reviewer calling it the best shampoo she’s used in her life. The formula also eschews harsh cleansing ingredients like sulfates, opting instead for mild surfactants that thoroughly cleanse the scalp and strands of buildup, sweat, and pollutants without stripping hair of its natural oils.

Pros: vegan; targets damage; free of silicones and sulfates; color safe

Cons: some users with oily skin found it too thick; strong scent

Customer Review: "I started to use this shampoo and conditioner and saw a different after the first use. My ends feel softer, my hair is overall shinier and not weighed down." -Sephora

This conditioner (and its corresponding shampoo) is made with high porosity hair in mind, specifically targeting concerns like breakage, split ends, frizz, and damage from heat tools and hair color. It promises to smooth out dreaded frizz in even the most humid locales, and to improve elasticity so you can find less hair in your comb after each brush. Its clean formula is packed with natural ingredients, too, such as coconut oil, moringa leaf extract, and false daisy extract, each of which support healthy hair and a balanced scalp.

Pros: color safe; clean; fights frizz; shine-enhancing

Cons: contains some alcohol; strong scent

Customer Review: "I have bought this and the shampoo, and love both. Very conditioning, makes my hair super soft. You gotta scrunch it in there good until it feels slippery. Smells amazing and makes my hair look great." -Sephora

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Gabrielle Ulubay is an E-Commerce Writer at Marie Claire and writes about all things beauty, sexual wellness, and fashion. She's also written about sex, gender, and politics for publications like The New York Times, Bustle, and HuffPost Personal since 2018. She has worked extensively in the e-commerce and sales spaces since 2020, including two years at Drizly, where she developed an expertise in finding the best, highest quality goods and experiences money can buy. As a film school graduate, she loves all things media and can be found making art when she's not busy writing.

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