A head-and shoulders shot of a woman with curly red hair against a pale blue/gray background.  Share on Pinterest

If you buy something through a link on this page, we may earn a small commission. How this works.

Hair porosity is a term that’s used to describe how well your hair is able to absorb and retain moisture and oils.

If you have low porosity hair, it means the structure of your hair doesn’t easily allow moisture to be absorbed into your hair shaft. This can make it harder for water to saturate your hair when it’s washed.

Because this type of hair tends to repel moisture, it can also be more challenging to process and style.

Let’s take a closer look at the characteristics of low porosity hair, as well as some tips and advice on how best to care for it.

Your hair is basically a collection of dead cells that are arranged in a distinct, three-layer pattern:

  • The cuticle is the outermost layer of your hair. It comprises individual cuticles that overlap each other, like the tiles on a roof.
  • The cortex is the middle and thickest layer. It contains fibrous proteins and pigments that give your hair its color.
  • The medulla is the central, innermost layer of the hair shaft.

With low porosity hair, the cuticles tend to overlap each other and are tightly packed together. Because there are no spaces between the cuticles, it makes it harder for water, as well as products like oils and conditioners, to deliver moisture to the hair shaft.

Usually, if you have low porosity hair, it’s due to genetic factors.

Using chemicals and heat on your hair typically doesn’t cause low hair porosity.

When heat or styling does damage the cuticle layer, it’s more likely to result in high porosity hair. That means the cuticles are raised and have spaces between them. This can makes it hard for the hair shaft to retain moisture.

Products sit on your hair

If you have low porosity hair, you may find that hair products tend to sit on your hair instead of being absorbed.

For instance, you may apply an oil or moisturizer to the ends of your hair. Half an hour later, you may notice that the product is still on the surface of your hair. It may even come off on your fingers if you touch it.

Your hair probably absorbed very little, if any, of the product.

Washing and drying takes longer

With low porosity hair, washing and drying can take longer than you’d expect. Because water isn’t easily absorbed, you may find it can be difficult to get your hair really wet and for the water to fully penetrate your hair.

Then, once your hair is wet, it can take a long time to air-dry. Even using a blow dryer may take longer than it does for others who have hair that’s the same length and thickness as yours.

If you’re not sure what type of hair porosity you have, here’s an easy way to find out. Just follow these steps:

  1. Shampoo and rinse your hair well to remove any product buildup. Clean hair will give you the most accurate results.
  2. Dry your hair as usual.
  3. Take a strand of your hair and drop it into a clear glass of water.
  4. Watch the hair strand to see where it floats.

What the float test can tell you

Hair that floats to the top for a while before sinking toward the bottom of the glass likely has low porosity.

Hair that floats somewhere near the middle of the glass likely has medium porosity.

Hair that sinks to the bottom of the glass fairly quickly is typically more porous. That means it has high porosity.

When you have low porosity hair, you may be tempted to apply a larger quantity of a product, or more than one hair product at a time, in an effort to saturate your hair.

But because the cuticles are so close together, not much product will penetrate, no matter how much you apply.

The key is to find products that have the right formulation for low porosity hair. These products will have ingredients that can more easily penetrate your hair.

Another important tip is to apply products when your hair is wet and warm. Heat can lift the hair cuticle, allowing oils and moisture to more easily penetrate the hair shaft.

If you want to know what types of ingredients and products tend to work well for low porosity hair, here are some suggestions.

Shampoo

Shampoos that don’t leave a lot of residue are your best bet. Look for products that contain honey or glycerin. These ingredients can penetrate the hair cuticle more easily than products that contain oils.

Some shampoos that may work well include:

Conditioner

Try diluting your conditioner with a small amount of water when you apply it to your hair. This can help make the conditioner more easily absorbable and less likely to just sit on your hair.

Some conditioners that may work well include:

  • Davines OI All in One Milk. Milk conditioners like this one have a thinner consistency, which makes it easier to be absorbed. It also won’t weigh your hair down and leave it feeling oily. Spritz this conditioner on damp, towel-dried hair for softening results.
  • DevaCurl One Condition Original. This creamy, daily use conditioner is well-suited for curly, low porosity hair.

Deep conditioner

Sometimes your hair may need a little extra boost of moisture. One way to do this is with a weekly deep-conditioning treatment.

It can help if you use a steamer, heat cap, or hooded dryer when you condition your hair.

Or, you can put a shower cap over your hair once you’ve applied the deep conditioner, then use a blow dryer on the warm setting for a few minutes to heat up your hair under the cap. This can help open the cuticles.

For low porosity hair, you’ll want to stay away from protein treatment conditioners. Protein formulas can increase the risk of hair breakage since they tend to pull moisture out of the hair.

Some good choices for low porosity hair include:

Styling products

If you’re looking for effective curl- and style-enhancing products, these may work well:

With low porosity hair, it’s not easy for moisture and oils to penetrate the hair shaft. It can take longer for your hair to become saturated when you wash it. It may also be more challenging to process and style your hair.

However, there are certain ingredients that can make low porosity hair easier to care for. Knowing the types of products to use, and which ones to avoid, can make a difference in the manageability and health of your hair.