Each month on The Feisty House, we explore another method for retaining natural hair length (in other words, finding ways to keep natural hair from breaking). Length retention is a major hair goal of mine, and of many other naturals, so hopefully these posts have been helpful! Last month we explored moisturizing and sealing. In October, we learned the benefits of maintaining a healthy pH. Related to that concept is today’s topic: knowing and understanding your natural hair’s porosity.
Porosity relates to how porous or open your cuticles are. If your natural hair has low porosity, your cuticles lay flat and tight along the hair shaft, preventing moisture from getting into or out of your hair. Natural hair with high porosity is made up of cuticles that are raised and open and let moisture into the strand very easily, but also allow moisture to escape easily too. Normal natural hair falls somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. As we learned in October, products that are basic (pH above 7) are good for low porosity hair because they raise the cuticle and allow moisture to get into the strand. Acidic products (pH below 7) are great for high porosity hair because they help to seal the cuticle and prevent moisture from getting out.
There are several ways to test your natural hair porosity. The easiest (in my opinion) is a quick water test. All you need to do is fill a glass with room temperature water. Then pluck a strand of your clean hair directly from your scalp. Put the hair into the glass and wait a few minutes. If after a few minutes your hair is still at the top of the glass, you have low porosity hair–your hair was unable to absorb the water in the glass. If your sinks to the bottom of the glass, you have high porosity hair–your hair quickly absorbed so much water that it became heavy enough to sink to the bottom. And if your hair floats somewhere in the middle? You guessed it–your hair is normal (lucky you!)
Throughout my natural hair journey, I assumed my natural hair porosity was high because my hair was always dry. I figured whatever moisture was getting in was immediately leaking out, and so I’ve always treated my hair as if it was highly porous. Last week, totally out of curiosity, I decided to test the porosity of my hair. Can you believe it’s something I’d never done? I plucked a hair out of my head after shampooing and put it into a glass of water. My hair never sank to the bottom. It didn’t even make it below the surface of the water! I couldn’t believe that I’d thought I had high porosity hair all these years. Instead, my hair is the complete opposite! I have low porosity hair, which means it’s really difficult for my hair to absorb moisture or products, and because of that, it is prone to dryness. Low porosity hair is also protein sensitive (which makes sense, because my hair has always been very anti-protein)–there’s already a lot of protein in the cuticle layers blocking moisture from getting in, and so naturals with low porosity hair should stay away from deep protein treatments.
Because I have low porosity hair, the challenge for me is getting moisture in, not keeping it there. Using heat during deep conditioning is one way to lift the cuticles and get moisture in. Products with a higher pH (above 7) lift the cuticle and allow moisture in. Some low porosity naturals mix baking soda, which has a high pH, with their conditioner to lift the cuticle and let the moisture of the conditioner into their hair. I tried the Cherry Lola Treatment this weekend, which uses baking soda, and I had pretty good results, but I’d want to try it again before I give it the stamp of approval.
Low porosity naturals usually have pretty good results with products that use glycerin. Glycerin is a humectant. Like other humectants (including honey), glycerin attracts water molecules. Conditioners with glycerin attract water to the hair and help your hair absorb that moisture. My hair has never had a good relationship with glycerin though, and I stay away from products that have any glycerin in them. Perhaps in the summer, when it’s more humid and there’s actual moisture in the air, I’ll try using glycerin again (glycerin can dry out your hair if you use it in a low-humidity environment).
I was just complaining about my hair the other day, and I’m hoping a good deep conditioning session with my overhead dryer will do the trick. I probably don’t need to use the Kimmaytube leave-in anymore. I need to be on the hunt for a good leave-in for low-porosity hair. Any suggestions out there?