Do you feel like your hair is in a never ending battle between moisture and dryness? Is your hair rough to the touch? Is it dull and frizzy? Caring for your hair when you are constantly battling these problems is enough to give anyone the blues. But the resolution, may be as simple as knowing the porosity of your hair. Hair porosity matters to the health and maintenance of your hair.
Porosity is the quality of being porous, or full of tiny holes. Liquids go right through things that have porosity. (http://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/porosity). The hair’s ability to absorb and hold moisture is the building block to healthy hair. Categorizations are based on this definition and provide us with three distinctive hair types; high, low, or normal porosity. High porosity hair absorbs the most moisture because the cuticle (outer layer of the hair shaft) is open and thus extremely porous. In low porosity hair, the hair is not very porous and the cuticle is tightly closed and requires manipulation to open. Finally, in normal porosity hair the cuticles are slightly raised and therefore better able to receive moisture.
If you are interested in acquiring a true scientific assessment of your hair’s porosity you can send hair samples to a lab to be analyzed. Labs use a process called gas sorption (J Cosmet Sci. 2008 Jul-Aug;59(4):303-15), which essentially determines how much gas can be taken into hair. Laboratory tests are expensive and may not be accessible to everyone, however there are some ways to determine porosity yourself.
At home tests
At home tests are popular, quick, and easy and most of them are fairly reliable. They will give you a better understanding of your hair, and how to care for it. Porosity can vary in different parts of your hair. For this reason, you may want to test strands taken from multiple sections of your hair. Additionally, porosity can change over time, so you may want to revisit these tests periodically.
- One of the most popular tests for hair porosity is the Float test or the Strand test. This test has been under much heated debate lately. You’ll find that some websites and bloggers still use this as the benchmark test to determine porosity. While others maintain that it is highly inaccurate and leaves room for error. There are many variables (ie, product on the hair, hair density, natural hair oils, surface tension) that can skew the results of this test. But you can take the test and judge for yourself. What you’ll need for this test is a strand of freshly washed hair and a glass or bowl full of water. Place the strand of hair in the water and wait 5 minutes. If the hair sinks, you may have high porosity hair. If your hair floats, you may have low porosity hair. If your hair sinks at a pace that is neither too fast or too slow you may have normal porosity hair.
- Another popular test is the The Slip’n’Slide: For this test, ensure your hair is freshly washed (do not add product). While your hair is still damp, feel your way through your hair until you capture one strand. Use your index finger and thumb to slide up your hair shaft (from end to root). If you feel little bumps or catches along the way you may have high porosity hair. If your hair feels slick and hard and your fingers move quickly up the strand this may indicate low porosity hair. Normal porosity hair will feel smooth. This test can also be performed on dry hair.
- The Feel test: For this test, you will need to wash your hair but leave it fairly wet. Next step is to simply feel your hair in its unaltered state. Low porosity hair will feel rough and straw-like. High porosity hair will feel sticky or gummy, as if there were product still on it. And normal porosity hair will just feel wet.
- Spray bottle test: Again, use freshly washed hair that has no product on it. Using a fine mist, lightly spritz a section of your hair. Hold the sprayer at least 6-8 inches away. Notice whether the hair beads up and rolls off (indicates low porosity), or if it is quickly absorbed and disappears (indicates high porosity).
- Wet hair test: You can perform the final two tests on wash day. Before you shampoo your hair, simply wet it and observe how long it takes for your hair to become saturated with water. Low porosity hair can take quite a few minutes before it actually feels wet while high porosity hair will feel saturated immediately. Conversely, notice how long it takes for your hair to dry. The quicker the hair dries the higher the porosity. Sometimes the hair may dry mid-styling. On the other hand, hair that takes a long time to dry has less porosity. Women with low porosity hair often complain about the hours and hours required to dry their hair.
Clearly, there are some fundamental differences between low and high porosity hair. But that’s not where it ends. Understanding how porosity affects the characteristics and care of your hair is the next step.