Porosity 101

Porous: full of pores or permeable by water, air, etc. Porosity is your hair’s ability to absorb those things. Porosity has become quite a hot topic as of late but is not the simple blanket answer that people would like it to be.

Porosity is how the colorist measures the structural integrity of the hair. It tells the colorist how much this hair can handle. When it comes to porosity and what it means to the consumer it seems they stop at the photo below and think that’s all she wrote. Many believe that their self diagnosed low porosity hair is responsible for their hair being dry, dull, or frizzy. Unfortunately that statement contradicts itself and there is much more to porosity than the picture below.

I have had a number of consultations lately that involve my clients explaining to me the results of their at home porosity float test. Most of these curly girls go on to explain that when they did the experiment their hair stayed floating on the top of the water. Thus they diagnose themselves with “low porosity” hair.

If you were to peak at your hair under a microscope you would find it is covered in what looks like fish scales. On curly hair, those scales (your hairs cuticle layer) are raised and at every point where the hair bends to curl the cuticle is opened even more. This is why 4c hair is often so brittle. Have you ever tried drinking through a straw with a hole in it? Shit’s impossible!  The tighter the curl the more naturally porous the hair is it absorbs like crazy but loses the moisture just as fast.

Why your hair floats.

Ok MissEhrin, then why did my hair float? Answer that since you’re so smart!

Like I explained, your cuticle is raised and looks a lot like an open pine cone (which also floats). Between each of those cuticle scales are pockets of oxygen which keeps the hair floating like little pool floaties!

You know when you’re washing your hair and it seems like you’ve been letting the water run on you hair for EVER but your hair still isn’t saturated? It’s wet but you can tell the water is just sitting on top of your hair? Ok, so picture an open pine cone. Now turn it upside down. Now picture 3-4 more upside down open pine cones hanging from the first one. This is your curly hair under a microscope. As you can see water has to go against gravity to get into your hair this is what makes scrunching so effective. Now do you understand the straw with a hole in it reference? If your hair is dry (or a better more realistic term DEHYDRATED), this would indicate higher porosity, more openings means more moisture escaping. Like a sponge that has been left out and is now too dry to even receive moisture it takes a while for the water to permeate the hair when water is absent. This is why you’re in the frizz fight you’re in.

From the ABCH study portfolio. A visual of the hair’s cuticle and explanation of how haircolor is seen differently when hair is wet vs dry.

So why is it important for my clients to know their hair’s porosity?

It’s  not.

That’s my job.

I explain to clients what porosity is and the best treatments to balance it and keep it balanced. As a colorist, understanding porosity is crucial to best knowing how the hair will interact with the color.

Envision your pine cone hair again. Now imagine each pine cone was open a little more or less than the one next to it and each pine cone had damage to its scales all in different places. This is how we “grade” porosity. It’s graded from 1-5 and you can literally have all 5 grades within a single strand, you could end up with 5 different shades of color within that same strand even though you applied the same color all over. When thinking about a single strand of hair it isn’t a big deal but all 5 grades of porosity all over you entire head is a disaster that often happens in the bathrooms of DIY at home colorists. It happens to “professionals” as well when they do not have a full understanding of how porosity actually effects the end result.

From the ABCH study portfolio. A visual of all 5 grades of porosity.

The term “porosity” is what I call a “grown up” word. (Ride with me I have a 6 year old.) It’s a word mommy uses but you don’t need to. The reason is that if I’m doing my job, your hair’s porosity shouldn’t be an issue and as far as knowing so you can choose the right products, again, is my job.

I do not push products or condone product addiction. Four items are all you need for a full regime. Anything more than that is just because you want it (and that’s OK if you have disposable income.) However, don’t be sold to by big companies playing with your emotions getting bloggers you follow to use words that play on your feelings. As a Board Certified Haircolorist, understanding and balancing the grades of porosity within the hair is my mission.

Find a knowledgeable, trust-worthy stylist that will be honest with you and pay that stylist what their knowledge is worth.

Stop guessing and get a hair wife in your life.