When it comes to porosity and its effects on curly hair styling, naturally curly consumers are well ahead of the curve. In the past few years, natural curlies have evolved home-grown styling techniques beyond those that only emphasize curl type to ones that include porosity and its impact on curly hair wearability.

Porosity – Its Highs and Lows

Porosity is all about water and how your hair absorbs it. All hair is porous, and curly hair is more porous than natural, uncolored straight hair.

Highly porous hair has a cuticle layer that is raised and open. The hair quickly absorbs moisture, but loses it just as fast. Very porous hair can absorb more than twice the amount of water and moisture than hair with normal or low porosity can. It loves rich, moisturizing conditioners that contain protein, and even takes to pure protein treatments well.

But the more porous your hair is, the more prone it is to lose tensile strength and to break when soaking wet. If oils, butters and silicone products are applied in the wrong order or amount, your hair can get weighed down from within and build up in the hair shaft make it bloated, limp and lifeless. With porous hair that’s relatively dry and lacks sufficient moisture in the shaft, when dewpoints rise, get ready for a frizz fest.

In hair with low porosity, the cuticle layer is more tightly closed. Hair is slower to absorb water and longer to release it, so low porosity hair holds moisture quite well. But with fewer surface openings for product to be absorbed into, build up on the hair’s surface can happen quickly. Too much conditioning and excessive stylers may coat the hair and rob it of its vitality and bounciness. Some styling products may even sit on your hair or create a white cast. And because there’s little margin for absorption on low porosity hair’s smooth surface, excessive or pure protein treatments may cause the crispy, straw-like feel of protein overload.

Achieving Your Personal Porosity Best

The key to working with your hair’s porosity is how you layer your products on wet, clean hair. Those products closest to your naked hair have the most impact.


All porosities can benefit from condition-washing, alternating with the occasional gentle, effective cleanser to clarify. Use one that does not strip hair or neutralize the fatty acids in the hair shaft. Sulfates are not recommended.

Deep conditioning treatments also benefit all degrees of porosity, especially moisturizing ones with good detangling properties. How much they soften, enrich, moisturize and strengthen is the key. Experiment with the level of protein to see what works for you. Proteins help smooth the cuticle by filling in the gaps. The general rule of thumb is the higher the porosity the higher the protein content. The same rule of thumb applies to rinse out conditioners.

Since very porous hair absorbs ingredients faster, heavy silicones and oils on naked wet, clean hair will sink in and bloat the hair. Curlies with higher porosity may want to try henna, cassia, or clay treatments combined with a moisturizing conditioner. These help to smooth and coat the hair shaft and temporarily lower porosity. Do a final rinse with cool water to seal the cuticle. Leave conditioner in; you can even add more after rinsing.

Lower porosity curlies may find a warm water rinse helps to open cuticles for styling product. Leave enough conditioner in to cover and clump, but rinse enough to dilute product and avoid coating. And since your hair holds moisture more efficiently, you may not even need a rinse out conditioner. Try going straight to a leave-in from your co-wash.

Leave-ins and Stylers

Leave-ins and conditioners containing protein help clump curls and minimize frizz in highly porous hair. Protein smooths, but it can also dry, so seal by smoothing or scrunching in a buttery product, emollient or your favorite carrier oil. If your hair is on the lower porosity spectrum, use proteins that can wash off easily, like amino acids. Fine, low porous hair tolerates proteins better than coarse low porous hair. And for low porous hair that’s well moisturized, a light leave in and a good gel may be enough to maintain low-frizz in most dew points.

Porosity is a continuum. Don’t be afraid to experiment and have fun with it.

Karen Mcintosh (Suburbanbushbabe in CurlTalk”> is grateful to the straight hair gods who ignored her. Share your views with Karen in CurlTalk or her blog

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