High porosity hair

How to Treat High Porosity Hair

To revive your hair, drastically minimize your heat usage, and having chemicals applied only (if at all) in a salon setting can be a great help. Also, don’t be afraid of protective styling. Bantu Knots, box braids, and even rocking a stylish head wrap can give your hair a much-needed break from manipulation. One thing to keep in mind with protective styling is to watch out for too much tension. If your hair is experiencing breakage, talk with your stylist about the best type of protective style for your hair’s current condition.

What Is High Porosity Hair? Plus, How To Care For It According To Hairstylists

Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including health, wellness, sustainability, personal development, and more.

William Gaunitz, FWTS, is a certified trichologist, fellow with WTS, and founder of Advanced Trichology.

We carefully vet all products and services featured on mindbodygreen using our commerce guidelines. Our selections are never influenced by the commissions earned from our links.

There is no shortage of descriptors that we can associate with our hair—each coming with a unique set of benefits, attributes, challenges, and treatment needs. Even if you find two people with fairly similar texture patterns, their hair density, scalp needs, strand thickness and length will add up to very different care and styling routines.

Hair porosity is one of those tricky little descriptors that can play a big role in the overall feel and appearance of your hair. In general, you’ll fall into the category of low or high porosity—or somewhere in between.

To come, how to tell where you fall and a guide to caring for high porosity hair.

What is high porosity hair?

Porosity refers to how susceptible your hair is to water: essentially, to what degree the outer layer of the strand takes in or keeps out water.

“The outer layer of the hair strand is called the cuticle layer. The cuticle layer is made of little tiny cuticles that lie slightly over one another,” hairstylist Danielle Malary explains. Think of this as you would shingles on a roof—and your porosity comes from how tightly those shingles are packed together.

“Hair porosity describes how the hair’s cuticle absorbs and holds on to moisture in its pores—hence, the term porosity,” says hairstylist Miko Branch, co-founder of hair care brand Miss Jessie’s. So when your hair is high on the porosity spectrum, it means it’s very porous, and thus the cuticles are more sparse than they are dense, so it’s able to absorb a lot of water.

In contrast, you can have low porosity hair: “When someone has low porosity hair, the hair tends to have trouble absorbing moisture because the hair is resistant to water,” says Malary. “When the hair has low porosity, the cuticles are packed so tightly onto each other, it makes it very difficult for moisture or water to penetrate the strand.”

Can hair porosity change?

Even if you had low porosity hair in the past, that porosity can change. “According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), hair that is extremely porous are hair strands that are damaged by things such as UV exposure, hair bleaching, chemical relaxers, or intense heat over long periods of time,” explains certified trichologist and founder of Alodia Isfahan Chambers-Harris.

“Exposure to these things leads to increase in porosity levels causing your hair to have high porosity,” Chambers-Harris adds. So the more you expose your hair to UV, heat, and chemical damage, the more porous it becomes.

Characteristics of high porosity hair

Still, it can be hard to tell if your strands are highly porous right now. Below, a few signs you may fall into this category:

  • Your hair gets wet quickly
  • Your hair dries quickly
  • Your hair tangles easily
  • Your hair generally feels dry and rough
  • Your hair is often frizzy
  • Your hair breaks easily
  • Your hair doesn’t hold style very long

How tell if you have high porosity hair

Still unsure? Call upon one of the following tests:

The water test

The classic test to see what your porosity is is called the water test. It’s super simple: Grab a glass of water, and a strand of hair (like from your brush). Drop in the hair and see if it floats or sinks to the bottom. If it floats, you have low porosity hair. If it sinks to the bottom, you have high.

The finger test

“Take a small section of hair at the crown area, holding onto the ends, and slide your thumb and index finger up and down the hair strand toward the scalp. If hair feels rough the porosity level is higher,” certified trichologist and founder of Colour Collective Kerry Yates explains.

Visit a stylist

If you’re still not sure, it’s best to visit a stylist. These experts can help you identity your hair porosity level and ensure you’re using the best routine for your strands.

How to care for high porosity hair

High porosity hair is also highly sensitive, so take these care tips seriously:

  • Skip the harsh treatments and hot tools: “Just like the texture of hair is genetic, so is the porosity of hair. However, there are also other ways to alter your hair’s porous ability (porosity) and zap away its moisture—using products with drying agents, chemical relaxer treatments, overuse of heating tools (i.e., blow dryers, flat irons, etc.), and damaging sun exposure,” says Branch. “When you have high porosity hair, it can easily become damaged, dull, broken, tangled, weak, and frizzy from all this.” This is because when you use harsh treatments or daily high heat, you can actually damage and remove some of that outer layer of the cuticle, making it more porous.
  • Only use low heat or air dry: “Freshly washed, high porosity hair will absorb the moisture very quickly—and dry very quickly,” says Branch. Take advantage of this key characteristic. Since it dries easier and quicker, you likely won’t need to blast it with high-wattage blow dryers to get the job done. Frédéric Fekkai, founder and CEO of FEKKAI Brands, agrees: “For high porosity hair, you should use low heat, so, therefore, best to let hair air dry.”
  • Protect the strand: Because the hair’s outer is so fragile, don’t subject it to too much wear and tear via overstyling, brushing, and washing. And regularly coat the hair with hydrating products to help reinforce that outer cuticle. “Three words: moisturize, moisturize, moisturize. Locking in that much-needed protective moisture to strengthen high porosity hair results in stronger, supple, shiny, healthy, and super happy hair,” says Branch.
  • Use color-protecting shampoos and conditioners: “Porous hair is difficult to color,” says Fekkai. It makes sense: When you dye hair, the formula is depositing pigments between the circles into the hair shaft, resulting in your new hue. When your cuticles are dense, these pigments stay nestled in there; on the other hand, when the cuticles are looser, the pigments fall out (yes, literally fall out) easier. Keep color-safe products on hand to keep your color vibrant longer.
  • Stick to creamy, dense products: “The challenge of having high porosity hair is that since the outer layer is fragile, the hair is unprotected,” says Branch. “This type of hair requires super-creamy, nutrient-rich hair care products that seal in moisture—from cleansers and conditioners to leave-ins and deep treatments to everyday styling.”
  • Use a pre-shampoo treatment: “The good news is that when you have high porosity hair, essential proteins and hydrating oils are also easily absorbed—so take advantage of it,” says Branch. Essentially, the gaps in the cuticle are able to suck in all the goodies in your products that lower porosity hair will often block or keep out. For this reason, “Put a treatment mask on before shampooing,” says Fekkai. He agrees that you should be opting for one with dense nutrients, oils, and butters: “More porous hair requires use of products with less water,” he says.
  • Opt for low-effort styles close to your natural pattern: This is more about effort put in for lasting payoff: “Porous hair does not hold style as long,” says Fekkai. Given you know that your hair likely won’t hold shape for hours on end, perhaps stick as close to natural as possible—it will save you a headache later when your hair is falling flat or out of shape. Or for a special occasion, in which a ‘do seems in order, consider using higher-hold styling products.

The best ingredients for high porosity hair

When shopping for high porosity hair products, look for these ingredients:

  • Proteins or bond-builders
  • Moringa seed oil
  • Shea butter
  • Aloe vera
  • Jojoba oil
  • Fatty acids
  • Coconut oil
  • Squalane

The best products for high porosity hair

Wash and styling products are often marketed toward your hair type, not necessarily the porosity level of your hair. To narrow down your search, experts explain what type of products you should use below.


You may sense a theme here: Highly porous hair is begging for moisture. To ensure your strands stay soft post-rinse, add a leave-in conditioner to your routine. Look for a rich, creamy formula rather than something light and water-based.

Curl cream

As mentioned above, letting your strands air dry is much preferred. For those with curly strands, have a curl cream (read: not just a curl gel) on hand for shaping that’s both nourishing and functional. If you choose to diffuse your curls, use a heat protectant beforehand.

Hydrating shampoos

Yates notes that all products used on highly porous hair should be hydrating—yes, including your shampoo. Look for a rich formula, preferably one that’s silicone free, Yates adds. One expert pick: Shea Moisture High Porosity Moisture Replenish Shampoo.


Chambers-Harris recommends using deep conditioners (or hair masks) rather than lightweight formulas if you have highly porous strands. This type of product often contains less water and more nutrient-dense butters—perfect for highly absorbent hair.

Repair treatments

“Damaged hair can lose its luster by being porous like scratched glass,” celebrity hairstylist Bradley Leake explains. One way to ensure your hair gets repaired is to use bond-building products like the Epres Bond Repair Treatment weekly.

Best products for high porosity hair

LOVE Smoothing Conditioner

How to Treat High Porosity Hair

Del Sandeen is a contributing writer with over 20 years of experience in editorial. She has an expertise in natural hair and Black women’s issues.

Nigella Miller

Nigella Miller is an NYC-based natural hair and grooming expert with over 13 years of experience.

Hallie Gould

Hallie Gould is Byrdie’s editor in chief + GM. She has a decade’s worth of experience as a writer and editor, and her bylines can be found in such publications as ELLE, Cosmopolitan, and InStyle.


In This Article

Common Causes Get a Trim Cut Down on Styling Use Moisture-Rich Products
Get a Dose of Protein Use a Hydrating Mask Try the L.O.C. Method Treat Your Hair Gently

When it comes to hair care, there is a lot to consider from cleansing to styling. We know that your favorite YouTube gurus can offer some insight on how to care for your specific hair type, but what works for them may or may not work for you depending on one key factor: hair porosity. We’ve got the facts on high porosity hair from two experts, but before we share their expertise, there are a few characteristics to look out for: frizz, extreme dryness, and lack of shine, which serve as physical indicators that you’re dealing with high porosity hair.  

Testing your hair’s porosity can be done at home with a few simple steps. Stylist Leigh Hardges says before testing, you’ll want to cleanse the build-up from your hair. Next, you’ll fill a bowl with water, drop a single strand of clean, dry hair into the bowl of water, and now you have an at-home science experiment. Hardges says to watch the strand to see if it sinks to the bottom of the bowl or floats at the top. “Low porosity hair will stay on top of the water. Medium porosity hair will float and stay suspended in the middle. High porosity hair will sink to the bottom of the bowl.”

Meet the Expert

  • Leigh Hardges is a hairstylist at Maxine Salon in Chicago.
  • Alicia Bailey is a hairstylist and Director of Education at Design Essentials.

Common Causes of High Porosity Hair

“High porosity hair easily absorbs water and products quickly. However, the moisture is not easily retained in the hair,” says Alicia Bailey. “The cuticle is the outermost layer of the hair. If the hair has high porosity, that means that the cuticle is open and rough. Under a microscope, a healthy strand of hair with low or medium porosity will look like the smooth skin on a snake’s back. However, high porosity hair would look more like a Christmas tree.”

Depending on how you care for and process your hair, you could end up with a porosity shift. Coloring, relaxing, frequent thermal styling, over-manipulation, and even the use of harsh products can affect your hair’s cuticles.   The hair’s cuticles lay flat when healthy and lift when they are no longer in an optimal state. If your hair is in this condition, getting it back into shape will take time and effort, but regaining healthy coils is possible.

Typically, but not always, hair that has been bleached or chemically treated with color or relaxers is also considered to be high porosity. Now that we know the science behind high porosity hair, here are a few tips on properly caring for your hair while it’s on the mend.

Get a Trim

olaplex No. 3 Hair Perfector

First things first: Hair that’s already damaged isn’t going to magically repair itself. Schedule an appointment with a professional for a cut, or a major trim. We know, we know. You’re working to retain length, and saying goodbye to those ends is going to be difficult, especially if your stylist recommends cutting off more than you expected. Taking this step is the best way to start on the road to a well-conditioned, healthy hair. You’re setting your hair up for it’s best possible growing conditions by chopping of those split, dull ends. If you have color-treated hair and find your strands prone to split ends, aside from a good trim, try a product like Olaplex’s No.3 Hair Perfector ($28). The sulfate- and paraben-free formula help to stop those pesky split ends before they start. Their line comes highly recommended, and it is beloved by stylists for its ability to repair damaged hair.

If you have color-treated hair and find your strands prone to split ends, aside from a good trim, try a product like Olaplex’s No.3 Hair Perfector ($28).

Cut Down on Styling

To revive your hair, drastically minimize your heat usage, and having chemicals applied only (if at all) in a salon setting can be a great help. Also, don’t be afraid of protective styling. Bantu Knots, box braids, and even rocking a stylish head wrap can give your hair a much-needed break from manipulation. One thing to keep in mind with protective styling is to watch out for too much tension. If your hair is experiencing breakage, talk with your stylist about the best type of protective style for your hair’s current condition.

Use Moisture-Rich Products

Miracle Curls Curl-Defining Oil Hair Treatment

Aussie Miracle Curls Curl-Defining Oil Hair Treatment $5.00

Next, take a look at the products you use. If you own anything with sulfates, toss it out. You need ultra-moisturizing cleansers that contain no harsh, drying sulfates. “High porosity hair should be treated with care,” says Bailey. “Products that restore moisture, reduces frizz, seals in moisture, and protects the hair from heat are great products for high porosity hair.”

Hardges recommends cremes, oils, and butters to aid in moisturizing and strengthening highly porous hair. Jojoba oil is among her favorites. “Jojoba oil most closely mimics the hair’s natural oils,” she explains. “Citric acid is another great ingredient. It helps to close the cuticle, so the rich butters and oils that have been infused into the hair through conditioning stay in the hair longer.”

Get a Dose of Protein

ApHogee Two-Step Protein Treatment

Next, try a dose of protein as soon as you can possibly get it. Protein treatments come in different forms. If you’re experiencing severe breakage, you may need an emergency product like ApHogee Two-Step Protein Treatment ($24). An intense treatment like this only needs to be applied once, and you must follow all directions carefully to avoid further damage. Less severe damage can be managed with maintenance protein products like Ouidad’s Curl Quencher Moisturizing Conditioner ($20). Protein may strengthen your hair, but it might also be drying—apply a protein mask once a month to condition without breakage.

Use a Hydrating Mask

Design Essentials® Almond and Avocado

Design Essentials Natural Almond and Avocado Wash Day Deep Moisture Masque $15.00

Black hair requires a lot of moisture when it’s healthy, so when it’s high porosity, it needs it even more. Get into the habit of weekly deep conditioning. The goal here is to manage your damaged tresses while promoting healthy new growth that doesn’t become high porosity. Bailey recommends using the Design Essentials Almond and Avocado Wash Day Deep Moisture Masque ($15). “To restore moisture,” she says. “I would recommend using the Design Essentials Almond and Avocado Wash Day Deep Moisture Masque. Apply generously to the hair and sit with a plastic cap for up to 15 minutes. Rinse with cool to tepid water to allow the cuticle to close and lock in moisture.” For an extra boost, sit under the dryer to help the hair reap all the benefits of your hair treatment.

Try the L.O.C. Method

As you moisturize your hair, don’t let all that conditioning work go to waste by not holding that moisture in. The L.O.C. method will work very well on high porosity hair, especially with heavy butter like shea or mango as the “cream” sealants. Use a lighter hand with the butter if your hair is relaxed, but focus on the ends, every night if necessary. Good oils to use on high porosity hair include: