Sep 3, 2023

Moisturizing Low Porosity Hair: Here's How To Do It

Moisturizing low-porosity hair can be tricky, but you can definitely do it!

Formulate user Barbara wrote in with some thoughts about low-porosity hair:

Low porosity hair is so confusing. I know I need to moisturize it, but it's super difficult. I don't think anything it really working. I've tried some very fancy treatments like Olaplex but it's not actually making my hair feel any better. My hair just always looks the exact same, no matter what. I've tried applying oil, too, but it just makes my hair look greasy and unwashed, and I can't leave the house for like 24 hours afterward because it takes so long to sink in (and I have to apply just the right amount, otherwise it just keeps on sitting on the surface). What is actually effective when it comes to moisturizing low-porosity hair?

Thanks for writing in, Barbara! 

Before we answer your questions, we want to go over some basics about what low porosity hair is, and how someone can tell if they have high or low porosity hair. This is a bit of a niche topic, and might not be familiar to all of our readers!

What is porosity?

Porosity refers to how open or closed the cuticle, the outermost layer of the hair fiber, is. Cuticles are made of teeny tiny little individual scales that point downwards, like shingles on a roof. If the cuticle scales are uniformly smoothed down, moisture isn't able to penetrate the hair fiber. The hair is considered to be low porosity. Alternatively. If there are gaps in between the scales, moisture is able easily to go in (and out) of the cuticle.

Basically, the more moisture that can enter the hair fiber, the higher the porosity. The less moisture that can enter the hair fiber, the lower the porosity. 

How do you tell if your hair has low or high porosity?

One of the most well-known ways to test the porosity of your hair is the strand test. Wash your hair to remove any buildup, and then put a single strand into a cup of room-temperature water. If the hair fiber is still floating on the surface of the water after 15 minutes, you probably have low-porosity hair.

If you're still not sure after having completed the strand test, consider this: low porosity hair tends to have the following characteristics:

  • Once it gets wet, low-porosity hair takes a long time to dry. It's difficult for water molecules to enter the cuticle and it's also very difficult for them to leave. 
  • Low porosity hair easily acquires buildup. Again, because the cuticle is closed, ingredients struggle to enter the hair fiber. For the most part, they end up hanging out on its surface, instead of going in.
  • Low-porosity hair is slower to absorb water. If you spray water on low-porosity hair, it won't be absorbed very quickly. Instead, you might see beads of water form on the surface of the hair. 

Of course, the most straightforward way to find out is to take a super high-powered microscope and examine individual hair fibers - you'll be able to see for yourself the missing scales. But those microscopes are pretty expensive, and unless you're a cosmetic chemist, you probably don't have access to one. But if you do, try it out! It's always super interesting to examine hair super, super up close. 

How do you moisturize low-porosity hair?

While it's tricky to moisturize low-porosity hair, it's definitely doable. Below you'll find our advice, as well as advice from experts within the beauty community with whom we spoke to for this story. 

Don't skip the shampoo

"A major mistake when it comes to low porosity hair is skipping shampoo," says hair expert and beauty blogger Sarah Roberts. "This type of hair tends to attract a lot of product buildup, and cowashing or using a cleansing conditioner is not sufficient to clear this buildup." This might sound counterintuitive - if your goal is to moisturize your hair, it wouldn't hurt to try to wash with a super moisturizing co-wash right? Wrong! Because low-porosity hair is prone to buildup, it's essential to use a slightly stronger method of cleansing, like a low-poo shampoo. This way, the buildup is removed and newly applied products are able to actually sink into the hair fiber to deliver nutrients and moisture.

Use a clarifying shampoo as needed

Sarah continues, "A clarifying shampoo, on the other hand, helps to get rid of the accumulated dirt and product, while at the same time, opening up the cuticle slightly for deeper conditioning and moisturizing." Product buildup can be difficult to remove, and every once in a while you'll need something stronger than your usual shampoo. Go for a clarifying sulfate-free shampoo to get the job done. It'll make your conditioner work even better afterward since all that nasty cuticle-clogging buildup will have been removed.

Try out baggying...

"Baggying is a technique often recommended for low porosity hair, where the hair is covered with a plastic bag or shower cap after applying conditioner or moisturizer. This creates a warm environment, facilitating the product's penetration into the hair shaft," shares Dr.T N Rekha Singh, certified skin specialist and dermatologist.

Product formulator Nate Masterson explains further: "Baggying really takes after its name and essentially it's about applying a moisturizer or conditioner to your hair, and then wrapping it in a plastic bag so that the moisturizer or conditioner really soaks into the hair follicles. It is extremely beneficial for low porosity hair because it creates humidity under the plastic bag, which may help the hair cuticles open up more and allow more moisture to be retained."

...Or a hot oil treatment...

"Before moisturizing, consider a pre-treatment like a hot oil treatment or a steam treatment. These methods can help open the cuticles and enhance moisture absorption," says Dr. Singh. Hot oil treatments in particular are useful for low-porosity hair - the heat of the oil causes the hair cuticle to more readily accept the nutrients immediately available from the oil. And as the oil cools, the hair cuticle is pressed back into place, leaving the hair fiber healthy and protected.

...Or the LOC method

"The best way to keep moisture in the hair when you have low porosity hair is to layer products in the LOC method, liquid-oil-cream," says cosmetologist and hair expert Ghaninma Abdullah.  "When your hair is saturated with water (liquid), smooth oil through your hair. You can choose a heavy oil for very textured hair and a light oil for wavy or straight hair. Then apply a styling cream to lock everything in. But remember that low-porosity hair can take a long time to dry, so using this method will make it dry even slower. Because of this, you might want to blow dry your hair on cool with a diffuser to dry your roots. Then allow the rest of your hair to air dry."

Most important of all, remember that though your hair's cuticle is in good shape it still requires moisture! Delivering that moisture can be pretty tricky, but the results are certainly worth it - it'll help your hair to remain flexible rather than brittle and prone to breaking. Keep in mind that everyone's hair is unique, and yours may require quite a bit of experimentation. You're already on the right path by knowing that your hair is low porosity - you now know that you don't need products that repair the hair fiber, you need products that provide moisture and shine. 

Good luck - you've got this!

Wanna learn more about the ins and outs of hair and skin care? Here's what you should read next:

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