Friday, January 23, 2009

Hair Porosity

Okay, impatient people, LOL. Here are my thoughts on porosity.

There are a lot of myths out there about hair porosity and how it relates to curly hair care and maintenance. Let's see if we can't set some of the record straight.

Porosity is, simply put, the hair's ability to absorb and retain moisture. Porosity is a critically important factor in determining one's curly hair care. Since moisture is what defines and shapes our curls, the inability to keep moisture within the hair shaft will defeat the most valiant efforts to maximize curl potential.

If you don't know your hair's porosity, you won't be able to make the best product and maintenance routine choices to maximize the amount of moisture your curls retain. The existing "curl classification systems" never, ever mention porosity in their classification process. Since lack of moisture is one of the biggest causes of frizz, I personally find that odd in the extreme. Just one more reason I don't find those systems very helpful or informative.

Your degree of porosity is directly related to the condition of your cuticle layer. Healthy hair with a compact cuticle layer is naturally resistant to penetration. Porous hair has a raised cuticle layer that easily absorbs water, but is quick to lose moisture as well. The texture of your hair is not an indication of its porosity. Different degrees of porosity can be found in all hair textures. For example, although coarse hair normally has a low porosity and is resistant to chemical services, coarse hair can also have high porosity as the result of damage or previous chemical services.

There are three different levels of porosity:

Hair with low porosity is considered "resistant" hair. Low porosity is when the cuticle of the hair shaft is too compact and does not permit moisture to enter or leave the hair shaft. Hair with low porosity is much more difficult to process, is resistant to chemical services, and has a tendency to repel product rather than absorb it. Chemical services performed on hair with low porosity require a more alkaline solution than those on hair with high porosity, to raise the cuticle and permit uniform saturation and penetration.

Hair with average porosity is considered "normal" hair. With normal porosity, the cuticle is compact and inhibits moisture from leaving or entering the hair shaft; however, it allows for normal processing when a chemical service is performed -- according to the texture -- and will readily absorb and retain product properly formulated for this hair type.

Hair with high porosity is considered "overly porous" and is the result of previous overprocessing. Other factors that can also affect porosity include heat damage, chlorine/hard water/mineral saturation, sun damage, or use of harsh ingredients. Overly porous hair is damaged in some way, and is dry, fragile and brittle. It has an open cuticle that both absorbs and releases moisture easily; it processes very quickly and can be easily damaged even further if extreme care is not taken when a chemical service is performed. Although overly porous hair absorbs product quickly, it is often dry as the open cuticle does not allow for product retention within the hair shaft. Chemical services performed on overly porous hair require less alkaline solutions with a lower pH, which will help to prevent further overprocessing.

Porous hair accepts haircolor faster and permits darker color than less porous hair; however, although overly porous hair takes color quickly, color also fades quickly. While hair with low porosity is difficult for chemicals to penetrate and takes a longer processing time, the color will last much longer.

You can check porosity on dry hair by taking a strand of several hairs from four different areas of the head (front hairline, temple, crown and nape). Slide the thumb and index finger of your other hand down each hair strand from end to scalp. If it is smooth, you have normal porosity. If your fingers move very fast up the hair strand and it feels exceptionally slick, dense and hard, you have low porosity. If your fingers "catch" going up the strand, feel like they are ruffling up the hair strand, or if the hair strand breaks, your hair is overly porous.

Unfortunately, porosity issues stemming from irreparable hair damage CANNOT be permanently corrected. Only time can truly mend damaged hair. You can, however, create a temporary fix until the damaged part grows out by "reconstructing" the hair shaft with protein treatments. Protein fills in any holes within the cortex (inner layer of the hair) and also helps to fill in the gaps exposed by a raised cuticle.

Individuals with coarse hair, however, must be cautious: putting additional protein on coarse hair can dry it out even more. For those with a coarse texture, acidic treatments such as apple cider vinegar rinses are likely a better alternative as your hair already manufactures an overabundance of protein naturally.

(Which brings to a small derail. I know people are tired of me harping on the excessive use of shampoo bars. If, however, you have porous hair, you are not doing yourself any favors by using them. These bars are fairly alkaline and raise the cuticle, the exact opposite of what people with overly porous hair are trying to achieve. Your goal is to establish a routine and determine the most effective product use for your hair without swimming upstream in the process.)

So, what does this mean for the curly girl? It means you need to determine your hair texture and your hair porosity, and then think about what types of products are best suited to your particular hair type. Other factors will come into play, but these two hair properties are the most important properties to know.

Next, I'm going to touch briefly on hair elasticity and density. Although not nearly as critical as texture and porosity, they still play a role in determining the most effective curly hair care routine.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Hair Texture

I've already covered some of this on my web site under Curly Hair Basics, but I'm going to expand on it here.

Hair texture is the thickness or diameter of the individual hair strand. Your hair texture plays one of the most important roles in how you should care for your curls, not only through daily maintenance, but also when considering any chemical services such as haircolor or texturizing. Even how your hair is cut needs to be adapted to the texture of your hair.

There are three different textures: fine, medium and coarse. Not everyone has the same uniform texture over their entire head, however; for example, you can be fine at the nape and coarse at the hairline (especially if those pesky grays are starting to pop up). The hair textures are:

Fine Hair
Fine hair can appear very limp or flyaway and does not hold a style well. It frequently seems dry, when in fact it is quite often over-moisturized. It is very easy to over-process and is quickly damaged by chemical services if great care is not taken. Products with a lot of humectants and emollients should be avoided in favor of those with protein.

Medium Hair
Medium hair is what is considered “normal” hair, meaning it has a mid-range texture. It does not require any special considerations for chemical services and usually processes normally. Undamaged hair with a medium texture can generally support products with a wide range of ingredients.

Coarse Hair
Coarse hair is much thicker and stronger than fine or medium hair, but typically does not bend and cannot hold a style well. It is also often dry and brittle, due to an overabundance of protein. Coarse hair is much harder to process and is often very resistant to chemical services. Products with a lot of protein should be avoided in favor of those with humectants and emollients.

Hair texture is key to establishing the best routine for your hair. As I've said before on many other occasions, those popular "curl classification systems" that help you in identifying your wave pattern from a visual perspective are absolutely useless when it comes to caring for your curls. Let's say you and I have the same exact visual spiral pattern, so we both consider ourselves "3b." And let's say we both have about the same thickness of hair (density) but my hair is fine and yours is coarse. Those curl classification systems would still lead us to believe we have the same hair type because we are visually almost identical, right?

However ... if we try to use the same products because our hair "looks" the same, guess what is going to happen? If we are using products with heavy proteins, my hair is going to look fabulous and yours is going to look like frizzy, crackly dry straw. If we use products with heavy emollients and humectants, your hair will look like a million bucks and I'll have a flat, limp mess. You cannot look to those visual classification systems for information on how to properly care for your curly hair. Only your hair properties -- texture, porosity, density and elasticity -- can tell you that.

Here's another interesting tidbit for you: did you know that different hair texture types respond differently to the kind of cutting they receive as well? For example, fine hair needs to have a cut with more weight because it tends to lie flat no matter how short it is. Short cuts can be problematic for coarse hair that is very thick because hair with a coarse texture expands naturally in an east-west direction. Even with a curly dry cut, the methodology remains the same, but the stylist has to take all kinds of other factors, including your hair texture, into consideration.

There are special considerations with color as well. The melanin (color pigments) contained within your hair shaft are grouped more tightly in fine hair, so color takes faster and can look darker than expected (because less light is able to reflect through those tightly packed color molecules). With coarse hair, the hair strand has a larger diameter and the melanin pigment is not so tightly packed, so it can take longer to process and can look a bit lighter.

Other than porosity, I would call hair texture the most important hair property there is. Your curly hair care routine will hugely improve when you start taking your hair texture into consideration.

Next: Porosity

Monday, January 5, 2009

Starting with the Basics

It's been a while since I've blogged, but I've had a busy holiday season, coupled with my daughter's birthday. I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday as well.

Although I don't have time for a full post tonight, I think I'm going to start talking more in depth about hair properties with my next couple of posts - things like texture, porosity, density, and elasticity. Those who know me know the "curl classification systems" pretty much drive me bonkers, since they don't give a clue on how to properly take care of curls according to type. It's time to demystify the mystery.

First up ... hair texture.