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What is Porosity?

by Trichologist, Dr. Kari Williams

Photo from hairfinder.com

I was conducting a consultation recently with a new client transitioning to natural hair and she had lots of questions. As I began answering them for her I had an Aha! Moment- “These are great questions and great topics for my blog article.” I ended up thanking her for the consultation because she highlighted a lot of things women are confused about when it comes to their hair. Therefore, I have decided to dedicate the next couple of posts addressing her questions in hopes of helping many more women navigate their way through understanding their hair on a scientific level.

“What is porosity and do I want my hair to have high porosity?”

Porosity is the hair’s ability to absorb water and chemicals deep into the cortex layer of the hair strand (where all of the chemical and structural bonds are located). The hair strand has a cuticle layer that covers the strand like shingles on a roof. When the hair has a high porosity it means that this cuticle layer is lifted and there is high absorption into the cortex. Although this may sound like a benefit it is actually the opposite. Too much porosity reduces hair’s ability to retain moisture and can lead to breakage. The lifted cuticle layer allows for extra absorption, but the water evaporates just as quickly creating a much drier hair strand. The raised cuticle layer cannot hold the water inside. These dry, fragile strands break very easily, lack luster and shine and are rough to the touch.

A test that you can use to test the porosity of your hair strand is to take a small section of dry hair and comb it smoothly. Hold the ends of the hair with the thumb and index finger of one hand and slide the fingers of the other hand up towards the scalp. If your fingers do not slide easily or the hair ruffles up, then your hair is porous. The more ruffles formed, the more porous the hair. If no ruffles are formed, then the hair is less porous and the cuticles lay closer to the hair shaft.

Hair strands become more porous during chemical processes like relaxing and coloring the hair lighter. These processes require direct access to the cortex layer of the hair strand that causes the cuticle layer to become weak. Usually women who have relaxed their hair or colored their hair complain of dry hair strands that seem to never get better. If this is you, a strict conditioning regimen that is moisture and protein focused is essential to preserving your strands. If you skip conditioning treatments you may become a victim of severe hair breakage.

When working to restore porous hair strands it is important to remember there is no product that can permanently repair damaged hair strands, only temporary solutions. Some of those temporary solutions are incorporating protein treatments into your conditioning regimen. Proteins bind to the hair strand, fill in gaps and reinforce the cuticle layer so that it can retain moisture better. Treatments that contain wheat proteins are excellent at repairing the strand without drying out the hair too much. Do not become over zealous with the protein treatments. Too much protein on a regular basis can cause drying of the hair strand as well.

Another temporary solution is to look for acidic products that can restore the cuticle layer. Hair is naturally acidic (has a pH lower than 7). Typically shampoos and conditioners for color treated hair are the most acidic. If your hair is not color treated look for products formulated for damaged hair. For women who are looking for more homeopathic ways to help porous hair, apple cidar vinegar rinses (ACV) can help. The acidity of the vinegar will temporarily smooth down cuticle scales and cause them to constrict, reducing the porosity of the hair. ACV also helps to reduce frizz, increases shine and decreases tangles. When using ACV, you should dilute it with water and rinse through the hair after using your shampoo and conditioner. Rinse the ACV from the hair with cool water. If your hair feels dry, then this is a sign that you need to dilute the ACV more before applying it to your hair.

Ultimately, porous hair strands need to be cut off or you will experience chronic dryness and breakage. In the meantime, try these temporary solutions until you are brave enough to face the shears. Once you do you will be happier and your hair will thank you for it.

Dr. Kari is a Trichologist and Owner of Mahogany Hair Revolution in Los Angeles, CA

For more information on Dr. Kari visit www.drkariwilliams.com or follow her on Twitter @drkariwilliams

For updates on Facebook LIKE her fan page Mahogany Hair Revolution

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