The Ultimate Low Porosity Hair Routine for Soft, Healthy Coils

Mar 23, 2019

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Low porosity hair can sometimes feel like a struggle.

For those with low-po hair, you know exactly what I’m talking about: the constant dryness, the breakage, and no matter what you do, moisture just sits atop your hair.

This can seem overwhelmingly frustrating considering how much time, effort and money we spend on our hair.

a GIF of Shirley from Community with the caption "The lord is testing me"

Thankfully, there’s a tried and true low porosity hair routine (based on evidence-based science) that can ensure our curls and coils are happy and healthy.

In other words: having a solid and effective low porosity hair routine is the key to keeping your lo-po hair soft and moisturized.

Let’s dive in.

What Is Natural Hair Porosity?

Hair porosity is our hair’s ability to retain moisture. In essence, it is the ability for our hair cuticles (which are much like the pores on our face) to open up and take in the water we are giving it.

Simple, right?

There are, generally speaking, three types of hair porosity: low, medium, and high. And most curls fall into one of these broad categories.

Natural Hair Porosity

Natural hair porosity is the ability of your hair to absorb water and/products.

Low porosity natural hair has a low absorption rate, because the cuticles are stubbornly flat, tight and closed. It is difficult for this hair porosity to absorb moisture.

High porosity natural hair has a high absorption rate, because the cuticles are raised, open and cracked. It is difficult for this hair porosity to retain moisture.

Low porosity hair is when your the cuticles on your hair shaft are tight and flat. The cuticles are so tightly shut that moisture and products have difficulty penetrating into through the cuticles and into the hair.

Translation: low porosity hair is dry AF with high product buildup potential.

On the other hand, the cuticles in high porosity curls are raised (like the shingles of a roof), reducing moisture retention.

Both of these hair porosity types will experience dry hair if not properly moisturized. The trick is to know which hair type you are to manage it.

How To Know If You Have Low Porosity Hair

There are two inexpensive easy tests to do at home that will help you determine if you have low porosity hair.

Pull a strand out of your head and let it float in a cup of warm water. Wait four minutes. If it floats, you have low porosity hair. If it sinks, you have high porosity hair.

Another test is to slide your fingers up the shaft of one strand of hair. Do you feel any prickles or bumps? If yes, you have high porosity – your cuticles are lifted and open. If it’s smooth all the way up, you have low porosity hair.

Or… you can take our hair facts quiz to determine your porosity.

Your New Low Porosity Hair Routine

Low porosity naturals have it rough. On the one hand, our curls are naturally dry because the oils from our scalp, called sebum, cannot travel down our hair shaft.

But to add insult to injury, our hair cuticles are so tightly closed that moisture can’t penetrate it anyways.

This also means that the nourishing (not to mention expensive) products we put into it, like oils, leave-ins, deep conditioners, can’t enter the hair shaft.

Fortunately for us, there are some key steps that you can incorporate into your hair routine to cater to the woes of low porosity hair.

Here are 5 things you must add to your low porosity hair routine for moisturized, healthy curls:

1) A Low-Po Wash Day

Wash day as a low porosity natural looks very different from our high-po counterparts.

Shampoo

Having a proper clarifying shampoo for low porosity natural hair is a non-negotiable for low-po naturals.

In other words: low porosity hair must use shampoo on a weekly to biweekly basis to keep the scalp and hair clean.

Remember that product buildup readily occurs in this hair type, so keeping your scalp clean and healthy will ensure your hair can accept new products.

Always start off with a pre-poo to offset the harsh detergents of the shampoo. Olive oil and avocado oil are great light-weight pre-poos for low porosity hair.

shampoo for low porosity hair routine_TGIN moisture rich shampoo

TGIN Moisture-Rich Sulfate Free Shampoo

Best for TYPE 4, low porosity

Best suited for coilier textures, this shampoo will ensure no product is left behind. Best of all, most of the hydrating ingredients (such as amla oil extract and sugar cane), are right up front in the ingredient list, meaning your hair won’t feel stripped after using it. A must-have product.

Shea Moisture Bamboo Charcoal Deep Cleansing Shampoo

Best for TYPE 3 – 4a, low porosity

This is a great shampoo if you have low porosity natural hair, but also great if you have scalp issues such as flakiness, dryness/oiliness, or itchiness. It contains tea tree and willow bark extract, which will calm the scalp and assist with skin turnover, which is essential if dealing with any of the above scalp issues.

Deep Condition and Chill

Deep conditioning in your low porosity hair routine can be summarized in two words: moisture and heat.

Look for deep conditioners that are full of moisturize-boosting ingredients such as honey. Keep in mind that low porosity naturals are normally protein-sensitive, so opt for protein-free deep conditioners and use a light protein treatment monthly (more on this later).

an image of best products for fine type 4 natural hair_tgin honey miracle hair mask

TGIN Honey Miracle Hair Mask

Best for TYPE 4

One of the most superior ingredient list of any deep conditioner on the market. The plethora of film-forming humectants are incredible for moisturizing natural hair of all porosity. The proteins in this formula are also small enough for even the most protein-sensitive low porosity natural. A must have!

best deep conditioner_camille rose algae renew

Camille Rose Naturals Algae Renew Deep Conditioner

Best for TYPE 3 – 4a

A cult favourite deep conditioner, This deep conditioner contains essential plant-based oils and butters loved by all naturals: manuka honey, mango butter and aloe vera, and also includes ceramide-containing hemp seed oil and blue-green algae. And it smells like mint chocolate chip!

best products for Type 3 hair_shea moisture deep treatment masque

Shea Moisture Raw Shea Butter Deep Treatment Masque

Best for TYPE 2-3

The OG of deep conditioners. It contains deep sea kelp and shea butter to provide deep hydration right into the hair shaft. This mask is great for looser curl patterns. For best results, use in the shower after shampooing (in replace of a regular conditioner) for 15 minutes.

Now, one of the best ways to leverage your porosity as a low-po natural is to use heat or steam to lift your cuticles.

Because of your tight and flat cuticles, deep conditioners have a hard time penetrating into your hair shaft. However, using heat and steam during your deep conditioning session will encourage your curls to uptake the treatment.

Steam, which is vaporized water, can easily penetrate into your hair because of how small the molecules are. Coupled with a deep conditioner, your hair will be able to reap the full benefits of both the water and the treatment.

However, steamers are expensive and bulky. Hot head thermal caps are a great alternative – they harness the heat capacity of flaxseeds to bring the heat to your coils.

Once you’ve applied your deep conditioner and put on your plastic bag, throw the hat into the microwave for 40 seconds on each side. Put the cap on your head for 15-20 minutes, and rinse out the conditioner with cold water.

You’ll find that the deep conditioner penetrated deeper into the hair and you’ll be left with soft, supple hair.

an image showing a hot head thermal cap_best products for fine type 4 natural hair

Hot Head Thermal Cap

Best for TYPE 4, low porosity

This is a must have tool for low porosity naturals. Deep conditioning as a low porosity natural is essentially fruitless if you’re not opening up your cuticles to let the product in. And the heat supplied by this product will do just that! A much more effective deep conditioning strategy than the baggy method, and best of all: it’s more affordable and compact than a steamer.

Moisturizing and Styling in Your Low Porosity Hair Routine

If you’re using the right shampoo and deep conditioning with heat, you should find that your lo-po hair is primed and ready to accept all the moisture from your leave-ins.

When moisturizing low-po hair, always use your water-based products before your oil based products and gels. A good general rule of thumb: layer your products from lighter consistency to heavier consistency.

On damp hair, section off your hair and apply a generous amount of leave-in conditioner. Next, apply your cream styler (your secondary source of moisture) and lock it in with an oil or gel.

Avoid leave-ins and stylers that contain proteins, coconut oil and mineral oil. Look for products that contain water as the first ingredient, and have rich plant-based ingredients for nourishment.

a picture of camille rose curl love moisture milk

Camille Rose Curl Love Moisture Milk

Best for TYPE 3c-4

This buttery, soft leave-in contains incredibly moisturizing ingredients such as avocado oil, rice oil and aloe vera (aka the moisture G.O.A.T.)! Plays well with creams and gels for defined twist-outs and good for all porosity types, especially low porosity naturals.

an image of tgin daily moisturizer

TGIN Butter Cream Daily Moisturizer

Best for TYPE 3 – 4a

No other moisturizer exists on the market quite like this one – not only does it have amazing slip, but it’s rich formula with shea butter and vitamin E will help promote hydration all week long.

shea moisture curl and style milk

Shea Moisture Curl & Style Milk

Best for TYPE 2-3b

A light-weight, hydrating leave-in moisturizer. Perfect for Type 2 and 3 naturals with loose curls and waves. Be light-handed when applying and focus on your ends for more volume and curl definition.

Earthtones Naturals Curl Enhancing Jelly

Best for TYPE 3c-4

A Canadian-based brand, Earthtones Naturals focuses on holistic, natural ingredients – and this gel is no exception. Its formulated with some ingredients such as aloe leaf juice, panthenol and sea kelp!

Kinky Curly Curling Custard

Best for TYPE 2 – 3b

This gel is a cult classic. Long before the plethora of hair gels for natural hair, this gel was holding it down for the curls. Great for looser curls (Type 2 and 3) looking for hold and definition.

2) Protective Style

Protective styling is a guaranteed win for all naturals, regardless of porosity type.

Low porosity hair is notoriously dry. So once you moisturize your hair, it is imperative that you keep the moisture in at any cost.

Protective styling is a great way to do that. If properly installed, they can help retain the moisture in your hair and help achieve your natural hair goals.

By putting your hair in a long-wearing style, such as braids, weaves, wigs and buns, you are not only keeping your hair moisturized, but you are also sheltering your hair from the winter elements.

But, before you put your hair in a protective style, be sure to: 1) deep condition, 2) seal in the moisture with a moisturizing leave-in conditioner, and 3) plan to take down your style no later than every 6 weeks.

3) Use Protein Strategically

Our hair is made out of a protein called keratin, a heavily-bonded protein that keeps our curls bouncy and elastic. It’s also abundant in other areas of our bodies such as our skin and nails.

Protein treatments not only work to keep our moisture-protein balance aligned, but they also fill in cracks and holes in the surface of our cuticle layer. In other words: protein can decrease our porosity levels.

Remember: the cuticles of low porosity hair tends to lay flat. Too much protein will further lower our porosities and make product penetration even harder.

Protein treatments are still necessary to keep our moisture-protein balance in check, so use them sparingly. Do a protein treatment monthly using a light to medium mask. Avoid products that contain pesky proteins – look out for ingredients such as:

  • Hydrolyzed proteins
  • Hydrolyzed silk/wheat/keratin/rice protein
  • Collagen
  • Peptides
  • Amino acids
a photo showing aphogee two minute reconstructor how to take care of natural hair monthly

Aphogee Keratin 2 Minute Reconstructor

Best for TYPE 4

This protein treatment is AMAZING for a protein up-keep, reversing heat damage and healing moisture overload. Your hair will be defined and bouncy immediately after washing it out. 

For looser curls and waves – apply in the shower every 3 months for 2 minutes. Only apply where your curls are most pronounced. For Type 3c-4c, use on a monthly basis for 15 minutes.

4) Be Wary of Coconut Oil

Studies have concluded that coconut oil has a high penetration ability, allowing it to fill in gaps and cracks in the cuticle layer. Similar to protein, this can reduce our porosity and decrease product penetrability.

Not a good thing for us low-po naturals!

Many low porosity naturals claim that coconut oil dries out their hair, so be wary of using coconut oil.

5) Focus On Your Ends

Nothing screams unhealthy low porosity hair like brittle, dry ends.

At every step in your curly hair routine, your ends should be a top priority. This is especially true in the winter, a time when your ends are at its most fragile.

Leave-in conditioners need to be concentrated at your ends first, and then applied to your roots. The same goes with your deep conditioner.

Your ends are your hair’s elders – so treat them with respect!

6) Give Yourself a Scalp Massage

Healthy hair starts at the scalp.

For starters, it’s an efficient way to stimulate follicle activity because it promotes blood flow in your scalp.

Scalp massages are also a great way to loosen dirt buildup. Dirt and grime can latch onto hair follicles, slowing down hair growth. It can also weigh down new growth coming in, resulting in new growth hair loss.

Grab your favourite oil, put on some Netflix, and gently work some of that oil into your scalp using the pads of your fingertips (and not your nails). In a few months, you’ll notice thicker, healthier hair.

7) Vitamins, Exercise and Diet

As much as we hate to admit it, no routine can truly thrive without some sort of health and lifestyle change.

If you are determined to have long, healthy, moisturized natural hair, you must incorporate vitamins into your life, either in the form of oral supplements or diet.

Did you know that your hair, skin, and nails are the last places in your body to receive nutrients? So, if you aren’t eating right or taking your supplements, your body will prioritize your essential organs first (such as the heart, brain, and lungs).

This is why when you’re deficient in critical nutrients, you will immediately notice it in your hair, skin and nails.

Exercise is another key part of a healthy hair routine, and a healthy physical life. Exercising naturals swear that exercising regularly, in addition to a healthy diet, boosts their hair growth cycle significantly.

Healthy hair starts with a healthy body. If you focus on what you consume just as much as what products you put on your hair, you’ll notice a significant increase in your hair health.

The Bottom Line

There are many ways to maintain a healthy low porosity hair routine. By deep conditioning, protective styling, exercising, and using the rest of the above tips, you are ensuring that your hair is at optimal conditions for growth.

The Curl Market is a natural hair blog catered to helping black naturals grow their curls into a long, luscious manes.

We use the latest evidence-based scientific research to provide you with the top tips on growing your curls, regardless of hair type.

We also provide lifestyle tips, both self care and mental care, to ensure you are optimizing your body’s natural hair growth cycle – because you can’t grow natural hair if you’re stressed out!

Come as you are.

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WRITTEN BY

Ayana Aden

Ayana is The Curl Market’s brand founder. When she’s not deep in natural hair research or creating content, she’s hanging on the couch with her husband and her cat, reading a book or scrolling through TikTok. Follow her on Instagram at @ayanaaaden

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Learning your curl type is an important step in learning how to take care of your natural hair. It can help you understand what products will work best for you, how often to shampoo, how to style your natural hair, and other key information.

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