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When we think about porosity, it is usually in terms of three distinct types, low, medium, and high. High porosity hair has a raised cuticle that easily receives, and then releases moisture. Low porosity hair, conversely, has a cuticle that lays flat. Low porosity hair is more of a challenge to moisturize than other types due to its cuticle structure, but once it is moisturized, it tends to stay that way. Where normal porosity falls in all this is a bit more nebulous. I’ve heard it defined in numerous ways, but the clearest one is this: if you can detangle your hair with shampoo, you have normal porosity hair. I contend that there is actually a fourth porosity type: multiple porosity. It is this type that can make identifying your hair’s porosity a challenge. It stumps you when you drop a few clean hair strands into a bowl of water, because it will often stand straight up rather than float or sink. Multiple porosity hair is common for several reasons that I’ve listed below.
Hair’s porosity changes as it grows, generally from low to normal/high, and then to low again.
All hair grows out of our scalps as low porosity, and as it gets longer, it is exposed to environmental stressors such as dry indoor air, hard water, and sunlight. It generally experiences some damage, and tends to undergo a change in its porosity. Some hair, however, is less resistant to this damage, and is, consequently, less likely to see a change in its porosity. This is wholly determined by genetics, so if you see someone on YouTube with coarse, straight, thick, tailbone-length hair that reflects light and is rarely prone to breakage, don’t think they have a miracle regimen. They got it from their mama.
For most of us, as our hair grows out, porosity will increase, but still remain in the normal range. When we wait a little too long to get a trim, suddenly, our ends will become frizzy and difficult to manage. They will become resistant to hydration from conditioners, and not want to clump. They will want to pull away from each other, too. The mid-shafts of the hair, however, will be heavy, as they are of a higher-porosity, so they will readily accept the moisture that is provided (think of a sponge absorbing water and weighing more when it is fully saturated than when it is dry).
Chemical damage in certain areas of your hair can alter porosity.
Transitioning hair is a great example of this. You might have beautiful, healthy new growth, and then below it older chemically processed hair that is dry, frizzy, breaking, and resistant to hydration. This hair won’t reflect your true curl pattern, and you will likely find that you need to set it to get it to blend it with the new growth. Another common scenario for an alteration of hair’s porosity in certain spots is when you get highlights on virgin natural hair. This bleached hair is generally thinner, finer, straighter, and frizzier than its neighbors. If it has incurred a lot of damage, it will be stretchy, spongey, and possibly even sticky.
Sun damaged hair can have a higher or lower porosity than the rest of your hair.
For many of us, there is one area of hair that is drier, frizzier, and less likely to curl than the rest. For me, that area is the back of my head. This section tends to tangle and break easily, and is hard to moisturize.
Silver strands can have a higher or lower porosity than the rest of your hair.
It is often said that gray hair has a coarser and more wiry texture than the other hairs on your scalp. With it, one would assume a lower porosity, however this is not always the case. Many glitter-blessed gals have noticed their silver strands are more porous than the rest, not less.
Lastly, naturally high porosity hair can be mixed with other porosity types.
Hair that is naturally high porosity is more affected by the environment than other types. This does not mean that it is damaged, or unhealthy. It does tend to be fine, delicate hair that loses moisture easily and does not respond well to over-manipulation. It can easily become over-processed when color-treated. Damage on naturally high-porosity hair tends to be very noticeable: dry, hard to condition, and prone to breakage.
- If your hair has multiple porosities, you may find it a challenge to find a one-size-fits-all hair strands approach to caring for it. Know that you DO NOT need to have a different regimen for the different areas of your hair. Follow these tips to keep all your hair healthy.
- Don’t skip the trims. They are the best way to avoid split, frayed, frizzy ends. Snipping them off will allow your hair to spring up and have more life and bounce.
- Get serious about steam. Ideally, get regular professional hair steaming treatments for maximum moisture. Many curly hair salons offer this service. It involves using a steamer to open the cuticle, applying conditioners, and then sealing with a cool shot. This will provide maximum hydration to your curls without weighing them down. Alternately, use a hothead when doing deep conditioning treatments. This handy cap uses the heat of your head to provide a toasty, steamy environment to help moisturize your tresses.
- Massage conditioner into your ends. Regardless of their porosity, the ends of your hair can benefit from a little extra moisture. High porosity hair will only absorb as much as it needs. Low porosity hair will benefit, too (just make sure you applying the conditioner right after you have rinsed out your shampoo with warm water).
- If you have any high porosity hair that is sticky, or stretchy like spaghetti, this is an indication of serious damage that requires help from a professional.
- If you have predominantly low porosity hair, avoid protein-heavy treatments, and instead opt for conditioners that supply hydration along with a very small amount of hydrolyzed protein.
- Read product reviews. Chances are, that if a product works for reviewers with different curl patterns and porosity types, it will be a good choice for you.
Some multiple porosity best picks include:
- Genedor Beauty Superfruit Antioxidant Shampoo
- Curl Company Co Wash Conditioning Creme Cleanser
- Mielle Organics Mongongo Oil Hydrating Conditioner
- Curl Junkie BeautiCurls Leave-in Hair Conditioner
- Uncle Funky's Daughter Curly Magic Curl Stimulator
How do you care for your multiple porosity hair? Let us know in the comments. For more on porosity, click here.