So what does this roof photo have to do with hair care? Keep reading to find out.
When I went back to natural, I never thought much about the care of my hair. When my hair was chemically treated, I relied mainly on a professional stylist. I initially thought that taking care of my natural hair would not be that difficult. After all, I only had one inch of hair after my big chop! In the beginning, it was indeed very easy. When my hair started to grow, I found myself scrambling to do research about how to care for my new mane.
Information-wise there was the internet, books and multitudes of YouTube videos, but I soon learned that each head of hair is about as unique as a fingerprint. No two people have the same hair, not even family members. What works for one person may not work for the next person. Natural hair care can be very complex. Even many professional stylists do not know how to care for naturally curly or kinky hair because traditional beauty schools do not teach stylists how to care for it. Most stylists learn by trial and error and this is exactly how I learned.
Curly hair care, especially for kinky curly hair, is largely dependent upon three factors: hair density, hair texture and hair porosity. Hair density refers to how many strands of hair are located on a scalp. High density hair is very thick or dense. Low density hair is thin (scalp is visible). Hair texture refers to the individual strands of hair. If the strands are thicker than fabric thread, the hair is considered coarsely textured. If the strands are thinner than fabric thread or barely visible to the naked eye when held up to the light (think spider web), then the strands are considered fine. Hair porosity refers to how much or how little moisture can get into the hair. I will discuss porosity in this post. Contrary to popular belief, curl pattern, which is how loose or tight the curls are, is of very little value to hair care.
First it is important to begin with a tiny bit of scientific hair anatomy. Individual strands of hair are made up of an outer cuticle, middle cortex and inner medulla. Oddly enough, not all strands of hair have a medulla. Even on the same head there may be some strands with a medulla and some without. For the purpose of this post, I will discuss only the cuticle layer.
The cuticle layer visually appears similar to overlapping roof shingles. If the roof shingles are lying flat and it rains, the water runs down the roof with very little water getting underneath the shingles. This is analogous to low porosity hair which is the type I have. It’s hard to get moisture in this type of hair because it just runs down the hair strands like water off a goose’s back. If the roof shingles are sticking up, then water can get in easily, but can also escape easily. This is analogous to high porosity hair. Both low porosity and high porosity strands are thus difficult to moisturize. Normal porosity hair is easy to moisturize, relatively that is.
So you may ask, “How do I find out my hair porosity?”. Take a strand of clean, dry, shed hair (still has a bulb on the end) and place it into a glass of water. If the hair sinks to the bottom, your hair is most likely high porosity. If your hair stays floating at the top (even overnight), then your hair is most likely low porosity. If your hair stays in the middle, then your hair is most likely normal porosity. This method bothers me because it is oversimplified and does not always work. Using the following characteristics may better help:
Low porosity hair usually takes forever to dry—sometimes a day or two if left to air dry (no blow drying, etc). When applying product, the product (conditioner, moisturizer, gel) just sits on top of the hair sometimes appearing white. Also, your hair usually feels dry as hay despite your best efforts. High porosity hair dries very quickly – less than an hour if left to air dry. This type of hair absorbs product extremely well even appearing to drink hair products. High porosity hair does not remain moisturized for a long duration, despite your best efforts.
Did I lose you yet? Okay, I will simplify the care for these hair types. If your hair is low porosity, you must use warm everything! This means warm water, warm rinse out conditioner, warm protein-free deep conditioner AND warm leave-in conditioner. Yes, many low porosity hair types are sensitive to protein. (See prior post on Building a Hair Care Regimen). Placing the bottle of conditioner upside down in a cup of hot water should suffice. I would not recommend the microwave for heating conditioners. Sitting under a steamer, hooded dryer or heat cap will also safely heat up conditioners and assist with penetration into low porosity strands. If your hair still feels dry as a bale of hay, try squeezing warm water and warm leave-in conditioner into the hair. This can be done by twisting or twirling small sections of hair. The warm temperature helps to lift the cuticles that are closed down tightly. The squeezing and twirling ideally is forcing moisture into the strands. There is also the acronym L.C.O. which stands for Liquid (water or leave-in conditioner), Cream (conditioner or another moisturizer) and Oil (jojoba, argan or sweet almond oil). This acronym refers to the order in which these products are applied to the hair. Additionally, low porosity hair sometimes responds better to air drying. It may take a couple of days to fully dry, but it will be worth it because your hair will stay moisturized longer. If it is winter time, try using a dryer on low heat.
If your hair is high porosity, try doing the final rinse with cool or cold water. The final rinse is done after cleansing, conditioning +/- deep conditioning with a protein-rich deep conditioner. Yes, high porosity hair types usually do well with protein-rich deep conditioners (See previous post on Building a Hair Care Regimen). A final cold rinse will close down the cuticles and help to seal in the moisture. The preferred acronym for high porosity hair care is L.O.C. which stands for Liquid, Oil and Cream applied in that order. Heavy oils such as olive, avocado and castor oils are recommended for high porosity hair. The oil and the cream are thought to further seal in the moisture and help the hair to stay moisturized for a longer period of time.
If your hair is normal porosity, Congratulations! Just cleanse, condition and style your hair. You are so lucky!
You survived this post! Leave comments or questions below.
Photo of my low porosity mane. Photography by April Buffington.