Balancing your porosity levels could help you combat common hair concerns like frizz and lack of shine
You already know that you need to choose hair products and treatments according to your hair type to prevent frizz and boost shine, but hairstylists say that there’s another factor you need to consider when you’re shopping at the haircare aisle—hair porosity.
To know what this means, you first need to understand the structure of your hair strands. “90% of the hair is made up of keratin, an insoluble helical protein that makes hair impermeable to most external substances, thus protecting it,” says Dr Rinky Kapoor, consultant dermatologist, cosmetic dermatologist and dermato-surgeon, The Esthetic Clinics. “Many essential and non-essential amino acids can also be found in the hair, such as proline, leucine and arginine. Of these, cysteine forms disulphide bonds between molecules, which gives hair its strength. There are some weak links in the hair structure that are made of hydrogen bonds as well.” She further explains that the hair shaft can be divided into three layers. “Medulla is the soft, innermost layer. Cortex is the thickest component, containing long keratin chains called macro and microfibrils that give hair its elasticity and resistance. And the cuticle is a thin, scaly, keratin-rich outer layer that is composed of cells layered over each other like tiles on a roof,” Dr Kapoor elaborates.
It’s the structural makeup of this outermost layer that determines the porosity of your hair. “Hair porosity refers to your hair’s ability to absorb and retain moisture. There are three categories of porosity: high, normal and low. The cuticle layer in high porosity hair is raised or has gaps, so water is taken into the hair shaft easily. When the cuticle layer is raised, your hair will feel dry and lacklustre, since hair doesn’t reflect light when the cuticle isn’t laid flat, thus resulting in a dull appearance,” says celebrity hair and makeup artist, Florian Hurel. “In low porosity hair, the cells of the cuticle are tightly placed, so the penetration of products applied is minimum. It is also hard for water to penetrate this type of hair, and it takes a long time for your hair to air-dry,” says Dr Kapoor. With medium porosity, the cuticle cells are less tightly bound, so hair looks healthy and lustrous, and is also easier to style and colour.
What causes high or low hair porosity?
“Repeated chemical and heat styling treatments like blow-drying, straightening, perming, colouring, etc, as well as exposure to environmental pollution and harsh ultraviolet radiation can all weaken the bonds between the cuticle cells, rendering the shaft more porous. This makes it difficult for the hair to retain moisture, and severely affects the strength and lustre of the hair,” explains Dr Kapoor. To check what category your hair belongs to, run your fingers through the strands when they are free of any products. If they are smooth to touch, the porosity is low. Hair that looks dry and frizzy and is rough to touch has high porosity. “Healthier ingredients, regular deep conditioning, moisturising and little to no heat regimens can help keep normal porosity strands at optimum health,” says Hurel.
What products should you use for low porosity hair?
“For low porosity hair, shampoos that don’t leave a lot of residue behind are your best bet. Look for products that contain honey or glycerin, as they can penetrate the hair cuticle more easily than products that contain oils, which might sit on top and weigh them down,” Hurel explains. Another important tip? Apply products when your hair is wet and warm. “Heat can lift the hair cuticle, allowing oils and moisture to penetrate the hair shaft easily. Wash your low porosity hair with warm instead of cold water to help the cuticle open. After conditioning, rinse with cool water to close the cuticle and seal the moisture inside the hair,” he advises.
If your hair has high porosity, this is what you can use
If your hair is highly porous and rough, do not wash it with hot water, as this will only increase the gaps between the cuticle layers, making your hair even more dry and rough. It’s best to shampoo with cold or lukewarm water. Look for thicker oil-based ingredients for intense moisture that also seals the cuticles. “Incorporating protein treatments in your regimen is important to help high porosity hair gain strength and not break as frequently. Choose deep conditioning products and treatments such as masks for hydration. Seal your cuticles with hydrating natural butters or oils to protect them and promote a glossy look,” says Hurel. “A home remedy that works as a natural sealant and conditioner for this hair type is the combination of apple cider vinegar and aloe vera,” he adds. Avoid products with sulphates, parabens and silicones, as they will make your hair drier. It’s also important to use the leave-in variety of conditioners and serums that don’t need to be washed out to create a protective barrier for your hair. “With this type of hair, one should avoid too much colouring and heat styling. Using a heat protectant product before you blow-dry or style your hair with any other heating tool is mandatory to protect your hair from damage,” concludes Dr Kapoor.