For a few years, the ‘hair in water’ hair porosity test has been the go-to method for testing how porous your hair is. In this post I share why I don’t think it is very effective and introduce another way to help identify what your hair porosity is. 

When I came across the concept of hair porosity a few years ago I was excited. I was excited because I had issues with my hair retaining moisture and wanted to get to the bottom of it. Hair porosity is about how porous your hair strands are, and the test helps you determine how your hair deals with moisture.

There are three porosities; low, medium and high. High porosity means your hair is very porous, think of pouring water or oil through a strainer, it goes through easily. Medium porosity is akin to pouring a thick juice or smoothie through a fine strainer, some of the juice will get in but most will stay out. Low porosity is akin to trying to get a smoothie through a quadruple layered muslin cloth – difficult.

The ‘hair in water’ method works by taking a couple strands of hair from various sections of your head, and placing it in a glass or bowl of clean water. If the hair sank to the bottom it was said to be high porosity. If the hair sank midway in the water, you had medium porosity. If the hair stayed on top of the water, you had low porosity. 

Whilst this was fun to do, I had varying results as my hair would stay on top then sink to the bottom then sat in the middle. I knew I didn’t have medium porosity hair because at that time in my hair journey, I had bleached my hair and had a lot of damage. 

After the many inconclusive tests, I was left more confused, then I got to thinking and asking myself some questions:

1. I know hair reacts differently to different temperatures, does that affect the result? Would the hair sink in hot water and float in cold water? I know that hot water opens the cuticles which means the hair will allow moisture in, making it heavier in hot/warm water and more likely to sink. On the other hand, cold water snaps the cuticles shut, meaning it’s less likely to absorb the water.What temperature of water should I be testing in?

2. Another question formulated in my mind. If the hair is just washed, it would likely be conditioned – from my post about conditioners you know most conditioners leave a film, even natural conditioners will have oils, waxes or fatty alcohols which don’t wash away with just water, so a film will be left on the hair – how does this film affect the final result?

3. Yet another question surfaced. I live in an area that has hard water, from washing my hair in filtered water, I know filtered water is softer and saturates the hair much quicker than when I wash at home with the hard water. Does the type of water I use in the test matter?

With so many parameters to consider, it is very unlikely that an accurate result can be arrived at with the ‘hair in water’ test. 

3 Reasons Why the hair in water test body beautiful woman with question marks around her head

How To Determine Your Hair Porosity

Now you know the ‘hair in water’ method can result in false positives, what do you do? 

Knowing your hair porosity is very important as it can help with a number of the decisions you make about your hair, such as the type of products you use or the temperature of the water you wash your hair with. Knowing this will help save you time and  money as it will streamline what you spend on. 

To determine your hair’s true porosity follow these two steps:

1. Before shampooing your hair, stand under warm water and let it completely saturate your hair, notice how long it takes. This alone is not a determiner, especially if you have water repelling products on your hair such as sealants or you have product buildup, however it is a good indicator. If the water just falls off your hair and it takes longer than 2 minutes to fully saturate, you may have low porosity hair. If your hair starts soaking through almost immediately you likely have high porosity hair, and medium porosity if it doesn’t soak through immediately but does so in about 1 to 2 minutes. 

2. After washing your hair with a sulphate free clarifying shampoo, apply a natural hair conditioner and rinse with cold water. Do not apply any further conditioning or styling products – such as a leave-in conditioner or gel – just style your hair how you would to let it air dry. Once your hair is dry, notice how long it takes before your hair requires moisture again. 

When your hair dries, if it immediately feels like you just walked through the Mojave desert, you more than likely have high porosity hair. If your hair feels soft and easy to manipulate up to 2 days after washing, you may have medium porosity hair. If your hair still feels soft 2+ days after washing and conditioning, you may very well have low porosity hair. 

As a continuous experiment for the next 4-6 weeks, notice how long your hair stays soft and moist before needing to be remoistened. If you need daily moisture, you may have high porosity hair and if you can go 4+ days without needing to remoisten, you likely have low porosity hair. 

High Porosity Hair 

High porosity hair is usually associated with hair damage, whilst I agree, I think we need more research into this phenomena. It is the most difficult to maintain because it responds to all products but seems to drink them up as the products evaporate/disappear almost as quickly as you apply them. This hair porosity would do well with product layering and having a great sealant added after the moisturiser or conditioning agent. 

You will need to moisturise more often, but doing so will help your hair stay moist and easy to manage. It will also make your wash days much quicker as it reduces your detangling efforts significantly. 

Low Porosity Hair 

With Low porosity hair, it is difficult to get moisture in due to the cuticles being so rigidly shut. The good thing is, the hair has the moisture from the hair follicle nourishing from within, so in actuality, all you need to do is make sure the outside of the hair strand is protected. 

This porosity needs heat to raise the cuticles in order to add moisture, so hair steaming is great, just remember to close the hair’s cuticle with cold water or a low pH hair conditioning product afterwards. 

Using light, watery products on this porosity such as a hair mist or light oils such as our Revive Scalp Oil is sufficient when you feel your hair needs it. You could also use a light leave-in conditioner once or twice per week if necessary. Only apply products when you know your hair needs it as this porosity is prone to product build up.  

Medium Porosity Hair 

Medium porosity hair sits between the other two porosities, and is seen as the ‘healthy porosity’. It is easy to maintain as you can use almost any type of product to maintain moisture levels in your hair, all you need to do is experiment with the amount to use for efficacy. Be mindful of the length of time in between moisture sessions, never let the hair get too dry. In order to prevent dryness which can lead to hair damage, remoisten your hair just before you need to. 

I share more about maintaining moisture levels in this post.

Have you tried the ‘hair in water’ method to test your hair’s porosity? Did you find it useful? Try out my suggestions above and let me know your thoughts in the comments. You can also connect with me on our Facebook page  or via the contact page

Until next time,

Be Great x

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