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Beauty 365 Archive
May 15th, 2012
Hair Science 101: What is Porosity? The Layman’s Explanation

By Dr. Uzoma for Beauty 365 

Disclaimer: I am not a hair scientist, cosmetologist, or anything of that sort. However, I do have an extensive science background and I have reviewed a vast amount of literature. With this information, I will explain this topic as clearly as possible.

There’s plenty of talk about hair porosity on the Internet and hair forums but there aren’t always clear explanations of the science. This series is aimed to give you a simple and clear explanation of the science of hair.

Porosity is defined as “the ability to absorb fluids[1]. It is typically described in relative terms. . . For example, a sponge has a higher porosity than a brick. In this example, the brick would have low porosity and the sponge would have high porosity. With regards to hair, porosity refers to the hair’s ability to absorb water or chemicals.[2]

A good analogy is one I saw on Natural Selection Blog. It likens hair to a sponge. As you know, a sponge has small holes where water can be absorbed.

A Normal Sponge is like hair with good porosity. Image courtesy of Natural Selection Blog.

A normal sponge is like hair with normal porosity. It can absorb water and it releases water at a slow rate.

Covered sponge = low porosity. Image courtesy of Natural Selection Blog.

A sponge covered in plastic wrap or in a plastic bag is like hair with low porosity. If you were to submerge the covered sponge in water, no water or very little water would be absorbed.

A sponge with large holes cut in it is like hair with high porosity. The large holes will allow water to enter in easily. However, these holes will also allow water to leave the sponge quickly. As the water leaves, the hair will dry out faster than the normal sponge.

Afro textured hair tends to have low porosity naturally and is usually less porous than Caucasian or Asian hair types unless it has been chemically processed. Hair with “good” porosity retains moisture well and accepts chemical treatments, if desired.[2]

Hair Porosity Tests[3]

The following questions will help you determine whether or not your hair is overly porous:

  • Does your hair continuously soak in moisture without ever actually feeling moisturized?
  • Is your hair chronically dry despite your best conditioning efforts?
  • Does your hair appear/feel puffy, frizzy, swollen, or tough to the touch?
  • Does your hair have a natural, reddish toned cast to it that is usually more pronounced in spring and summer time?
  • Does your hair hold styles and curl well?

If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, you may have a problem with your hair’s porosity level.

At-home TestsIt is best to test your porosity level on freshly cleaned and dried hair.

Test 1: Wet your hair. Before you start to shampoo your hair, notice how long it takes for your hair to actually feel soaked and fully saturated with water. Hair that “wets” easily is typically porous. If your hair takes quite some time to actually get fully wet, your hair is less porous. Or your hair could be coated with heavy oils and other products. As your hair dries (air dry), note how quickly the drying takes place. Porous hair dries very quickly, and in some cases, the ends of the hair may be dry before your body is fully dried! Hair that takes longer to dry is typically less porous.

On fully dried hair, note whether your hair feels rough and tangles easily. Hair that “catches” on itself, does not move well, and tangles easily, is usually porous, or is in need of a trim.

Test 2: Gently hold strands of your dry hair between your index finger and thumb, and then slowly slide your fingers along the length of the strand. You should be moving from the scalp to the ends. If you feel an overall uneven texture as you move along down the shaft, your hair is slightly porous.

Test 3: Take a few strands of “harvested” hair (shed hair from your comb, hair brush, etc.) and place them in a bowl of water. If the hair sinks in less than a minute or two, it is porous. The sooner your hair sinks, the more porous it is. If only one part of the strand sinks, you have a spotty porosity problem. This is not uncommon.

Lab Tests: You can also send hair samples into a lab to be analyzed. Search “Hair Analysis Porosity” on Google for several analysis centers.


Next in the Hair Science 101 Series: What affects hair porosity and how to correct porosity issues.

So, leave a comment and let us know if you are able to determine the porosity of your hair? All other questions/comments are welcome, too! :)




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[2] The Science of Black Hair: A Comprehensive Guide to Textured Hair Care by Audrey Davis-Sivasothy, Page 47

[3] http://blackhairscience.com/my_hair_porous.html

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, May 15th, 2012 at 3:15 pm and is filed under Dr. Uzoma, Guest Beauty, Guest Blogger, Hair, Hair Care, Hair Science 101. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

4 Responses to “Hair Science 101: What is Porosity? The Layman’s Explanation”

  1. Stephanee, Beauty365 says:

    Thanks Uzoma. I’m going to try these tests. I feel like the edges of my hair are in the front and back might be less porous which makes it rough, frizzy and hard to style.

  2. Ugochi @ Beauty 365 says:

    dude, my hair is super-porous. looking forward to the porosity correction posts!

  3. Dr. Uzoma @ Beauty365 says:

    @Stephanee Try the tests out and let us know.

    @Ugochi Stay Tuned!

  4. Ugochi @ Beauty 365 says:


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