Low porosity hair is not difficult hair or problem hair. It is hair that is easily maintained in a healthy condition, strong and elastic. It doesn't need a lot of help to keep its integrity, it just needs gentle handling and a little personalized care. So why do people complain about having a hard time moisturizing low porosity hair, then? What are we missing? Why isn't conditioner the quick path to moisturized hair? Why does oil and conditioner seem to sit on top of your low porosity hair, but soak in for everybody else?
If your lower porosity hair feels dry, wiry, tangly or brittle it not necessarily lacking oil or conditioner - it's lacking hydration and flexibility. Hydrating lower porosity hair takes a different mindset - and a special bag of tricks.
Don't confuse silky or slippery hair with low porosity hair. Some people have hair that slides. Headbands slip back, ponytail holders slide down. That's not necessarily low porosity although it's more likely to be low porosity. Low porosity hair is usually more porous on the ends. Maybe a little more, maybe a lot. Most people's hair is not the same at the roots as it is at the ends. Don't neglect your ends!
The cognitive process begins with the word "moisturize."
Moisturize: A catch-all term. Moisture is water. Not conditioner, not oil. You don't drink oil when you're thirsty.
Hydrate: Provide and maintain adequate water. Ah, now this is what your lower porosity hair needs! Hair contains water. Well-hydrated hair is more elastic, more flexible, and less frizzy or fluffy than dehydrated hair. Hydration is all about water in and around your hair. Here's a post with more information about how much water your hair holds within the fiber.
Low porosity hair is what we all have coming out of our scalps. But for some people, it tends to stay low porosity as it grows and only rough handling combined with exposure to bleach (peroxide) or swimming pools or salt water and lots of sun over years can make it porous.
Low porosity hair tends to run in families. And so does hair are behavior that may help keep your hair from becoming porous. Any texture hair can tend to be lower porosity and any hair width, fine (narrow), medium or coarse (wide) can be low porosity.
Low porosity hair has cuticle scales that lie tightly against the surface of the hair. It does not readily allow water in (when immersed in water), nor does it readily lose the water that is contained within the hair - it does not dehydrate quickly from its internal material. That doesn't mean it won't get frizzy or limp in humidity or feel dry and tangly. For that matter, low porosity hair can also dry out in sun and wind and with lots of swimming. It just means that low porosity hair is better buffered against dehydration than more-porous hair. Low porosity hair may be more resistant to hair dye and other chemicals as well, but only if you handle it gently and don't expose it to multiple insults; for example permanent hair color + high heat styling. Or lots of summer sun + swimming in chlorinated pools or salt water.
Lower porosity hair does not have many chipped and broken cuticles sticking up, ready to be broken off with abrasion, thus it tends to remain lower porosity. That also means there are fewer binding sites for cationic conditioning ingredients, which is one reason it is difficult to use standard hair conditioners and get a good result.
|Red "+" signs indicate (roughly) potential binding sites|
for cationic hair conditioners in this low porosity, coily hair.
|Red "+" signs indicate potential binding sites for conditioner|
in this porous, coily hair. There are many more resulting
from chipped and broken cuticles.
The problem with using baking soda and soap bars and acid to try to moisturize hair:
I have read that alkaline solutions make cuticles open and acidic solutions make cuticles lie flat or "close up" too. Think like a scientist, though. Everybody's hair is just a little different - not just the fiber itself, but what we've done to it, where we live (water, sunshine, temperature) and what we've put on it. Is it really possible that everybody's hair will display the exact same behavior in acidic and alkaline solutions? Of course not!
In my experience with hair analyses, it is unpredictable whose hair will swell and thus become more porous in acids and bases (alkaline solutions). Some people's hair is very sensitive to vinegar solution, but not citric acid or vice versa. Some people's hair does not swell in baking soda solution, but does in the lather of a strongly alkaline soap bar. You cannot easily predict how your hair will respond. If your lower porosity hair is acid and alkaline-sensitive and you use an alkaline soap bar followed by a vinegar rinse because the soap is supposed to "open" the cuticles and the vinegar is supposed to "close" them, you have just permanently damaged your hair without meaning to. Maybe a little, maybe a lot. Only time will tell. And it doesn't matter if you have coily "Type 4" hair or wavy "Type 2" hair or straight "Type 1" hair. Your hair is unique. Only your hair "knows" whether it will respond badly to being subjected to acidic and alkaline solutions. Do what works for you and observe how your hair responds.
Lower porosity hair needs different terminology
When we say want to moisturize our lower porosity hair - we're really trying to say something more complicated - but also very simple.
We want it to feel soft. We want it to be flexible. We want it to not tangle excessively. We want our curls and waves to be as well-defined as they can be. We want our straight hair to be smooth and reflective, not flyaway. Whereas our porous-haired counterparts can get those benefits with creamy deep conditioners or oils, we just get a limp or greasy or tacky-feeling and unsatisfactory result.
What do we want?!
Lubrication (slip) and detangling
Weight but not "heavy" and please, oh please no greasyness and no coated-feeling build-up!!!
Definition (tolerable frizz and flyaway index)
Low Porosity Hair Hydration How-to (one or more of these may work for you)
Work at the surface of the hair with these tips: You can do a lot of hair-hydrating to soften, add flexibility and lubrication with products that never need do anything but stay on and around your hair shafts.
- Leaving in conditioner: For low porosity hair, leave-in conditioners are used to add lubrication, weight and flexibility and provide softness. We are not expecting a leave-in to "soak in" with low porosity hair. We're using it for a superficial effect, like a styling product. If you find that leave-in conditioners seem to sit atop your hair, try this trick:
- The trick for low porosity hair: Use leave-in conditioners on dripping wet hair, or apply them and then quickly move your head under and then back out of the shower spray (or pour some water over your hair) for good coverage and dilution. Conditioner for leaving in can be used alone or added to a gel like homemade flaxseed gel to combine effects, improve coverage and get it all done in one step. You may not need much leave-in or left-in conditioner and diluting & distributing it with the shower spray or mixed into a styling product can be a necessary step because you're using it for a superficial effect. Your leave-in helps style your hair, plain and simple. You can also mix a little conditioner with distilled water in a spray bottle to apply a leave-in.
- Film-forming humectants: Here is a link to a post about these ingredients. Film-forming humectants really are the bee's knees for low porosity hair. Flaxseed gel (linseed) or okra gel (homemade), aloe vera gel, pectin, hydroxyethylcellulose, marshmallow root, slippery elm, panthenol, xanthan gum, Hydroxypropyltrimonium honey; all these ingredients form clear, flexible films over your hair that trap water near your hair to keep it hydrated or moisturized - but without being heavy, creamy or oily. Protein also falls into this category, more on that below. These ingredients can keep hair hydrated extremely well and also have great styling benefits. Hydrated hair is flexible, well-defined and soft. Look in the "Product List by Ingredient Category" page to see how these ingredients translate into hair products. The list is near the end of the page.
- Protein: Protein for lower porosity hair acts as a hydrating (or moisturizing) agent. Protein slows water loss from hair. Larger proteins form hair-hugging, water-grabbing films over hairs that trap moisture near your hair. Smaller proteins can do this and also settle in around the cuticles and keep the water in your hair longer. This is different than oils which just trap water. Proteins grab water from your wet hair and hold on to it so when your hair dries, it stays better hydrated. Moisturized!
- Fine and medium hair can usually tolerate more frequent protein than very coarse hair. Because protein adds some extra support to hair, it can make coarser hair feel rough and dry and abrasive if used too often.
Work at and beneath the surface of your hair with these tips:
- Oil Pre-Shampoo treatments: <-- Click link for a post about how to make oil pre-shampoo treatments work with your hair. With low porosity hair - getting a benefit from oil sometimes means knowing some tricks for using it. Using a hair-penetrating oil on your hair like coconut oil or sunflower oil or olive oil or my oil blend for several hours before you wash your hair can add softness, lubrication and weight to your hair. Because you wash after this treatment, you won't have greasy feeling hair, but the softness and definition remains. Oils do not create build-up like conditioners can (with the exception of cocoa butter and plain shea butter or other solid-at-room-temperature plant butters). These are ideal treatments for lower porosity hair because even though your hair doesn't soak up loads of oil, it can benefit from it. And because low porosity hair can be build-up prone, oils can be a good option for deep conditioning.
- Trick for low porosity hair: Use a very light touch for an oil pre-wash treatment. Enough oil to add some shine, or maybe a little more to add some weight and make your hair feel a little "dirty." Use this only on the ends if your hair becomes greasy easily. Leave on for 2-4 hours. Use a good shampoo to cleanse, if you're using a very mild shampoo, you might want to do a second wash with shampoo diluted with water if you used more oil than you needed.
- Heat: 1) Heat may increase your hair's porosity slightly but not in an aggressive way that makes it as vulnerable as do acids and alkaline solutions. See this post for more details. So heat gives your hair a greater surface for binding conditioners. 2) Heat liquefies ingredients, the act of wrapping your hair to apply heat improves product distribution, and more conditioner will adhere to your hair with heat. Use heat with deep conditioning treatments if your hair is feeling extra dry or tangling more than usual. Using heat can double the amount of conditioner that binds to your hair.
- Deep conditioning: Lower porosity hair does not pick up as much conditioning as hair that is more porous. If your hair needs an intense burst of softness, detangling or hydration, use a deep conditioner, or your usual conditioner with a little oil and whatever else you like added.
- - Add heat to the treatment, barely warmer than body temperature.
- - Leave it on 5 minutes for hair that is easily over-conditioned or gets too soft, 10-30 minutes for the most intense effect.
- See this post for more details about how to work with heat and timing for deep conditioning.
Other hydration boosters:
Aloe vera rinse: Combine 1 part aloe vera juice (the drinkable kind) with 1 part water. Add a small squirt of glycerin if you like. Apply with a cup or squeeze bottle, work through and leave on for a minute or two. Rinse. The reason to dilute with water is to keep the pH around 5 because aloe vera juices can be quite acidic which is harsh hair and may irritate your scalp and eyes.
Honey: Mix warmed honey (do not let it boil, it will become hard when cool) into conditioner or with warm water or warm herbal tea. Apply to hair as usual for conditioner, leave a honey rinse on for a few minutes. You can use this with heat too.
Banana: You must be careful with bananas! Banana has amazing hydrating and shine-enhancing power. Blend up 1/4 to 1/2 very ripe banana (lots of brown spots on the skin) and apply it to your hair - with some warmed honey if you like. Leave on with heat for 3-5 minutes.
A better idea is to use baby food banana puree if you have never used banana before.
No green bananas. No solid-yellow bananas. I am not kidding. It's really hard to wash out banana chunks and for some reason, when you put banana in your hair which has not been pureed to complete mush - it forms chunks.
But when it is good - it is so good! Honey and banana combination can soften hair a lot.
Yogurt: Stick with non-fat plain yogurt if your hair is easily weighed down. The lactic acid in yogurt hydrates hair and there are some proteins that are small enough to be "active" in your hair. Use this before a very thorough cleansing to avoid any lingering yogurt in your hair.
Your low porosity hair is what everybody else is trying to mimic with deep conditioners and hair repair agents. Don't dry it out! Wear a hat in the sun. If you get a lot of sun exposure, use some protein if your hair tolerates it.
Avoid high-heat styling tools.
Protect your hair while swimming, when out in the wind.
Protect your hair from intense sunlight.
Protect your hair from intense sunlight.
Use lower peroxide hair color or plant dyes to color hair - or get your hair as healthy as possible to let your natural color be it's most intense.
Every day give your hair some hydration. If you aren't wetting your hair daily, mix up a spray bottle with distilled water, a small amount of conditioner, and other goodies like aloe vera juice or a hydrolyzed protein additive or boil the distilled water with marshmallow root or horsetail or nettles. Mist your hair with this to provide water, lubrication and ingredients with lasting hydration to keep your hair supple all day.