In this age of COVID-19, a lot of us are still figuring out how to survive when a lot of our comforts are shut down. And taking care of natural hair just adds to the complications. If you’re looking for some general tips to taking care of your natural hair during COVID-19, check out this article.
This post is a deeper dive into the basics of natural hair care. Well, one basic in particular:
Determining your hair type.
Figuring out your hair type is key to maintaining your natural hair, because it dictates what kind of products will work for you, what styling tools to look for and which to avoid, and what protective styling methods will lead to healthy hair and hair growth.
Please note that this post isn’t meant to cover EVERY aspect of hair types. Hair types are more numerous and varied than most popular resources note. This post is meant to give broad strokes about hair types that you can use to start creating your natural hair routine.
Now…on to hair types…
The fallacy of curl patterns
Most naturals are familiar with the idea of curl patterns. You know….3c, 4a, 4b, 4c….
I want you to throw all that out the window.
Why? Because how curly or straight your hair is has little to do with how effective a product will be. Curl pattern is one of the biggest misconceptions in the natural hair care industry and keeps folks spending their hard-earned dollars on products that will not work for them.
Instead, you need to pay attention to how well your how absorbs water from the products you use. That will give you much more insight into the products that work for your hair.
The factor that’s far more important in determining what hair care routine to follow is your hair’s porosity. Your hair’s porosity can change based on any number of factors like age, diet, your hair care routine, environmental factors, and more. So just be prepared that as the external factors in your life change, so will your hair and your hair care routine.
The truth about hair types
Your hair strands are made of layers or scales. The tighter those layers fit together, the smoother the individual hair strand feels as you run it through your fingers. If you feel smoothness as you run a strand of hair between your fingertips, that’s a sign of low porosity hair.
Low porosity hair is both a blessing and a curse. One the one hand, low porosity hair is better than any other hair type at trapping and retaining moisture for days at a time. Low porosity hair doesn’t need to be moisturized as frequently, which is great for your pocket book and your social schedule because you don’t need to spend as much money on products, and you don’t need to spend as much time scheduling your wash day around…well…life.
On the downside, low porosity hair has the most difficulty absorbing moisture from products. Remember those flat layers we talked about earlier? Well, because the layers of low porosity hair tend to fit together very well, it’s difficult for moisture to escape. It’s also difficult for moisture to enter the hair strand.
The only way to get moisture into low porosity hair is to apply heat when moisturizing or conditioning. The heat encourages the layers of the hair strand to separate so that moisture can get in.
Something to note: your hair’s porosity can also vary in a single strand. Your newer hair is closer to the scalp and more likely to have the layers of your hair intact. As you reach the ends of the hair strand where the hair is older and more prone to environmental damage and breakage, the porosity may change and become higher. This also means the ends of your hair are more fragile and need extra attention and TLC.
For higher-porosity hair types, those layers don’t fit so well together, so the hair strand will feel rough (coarse) as you run it through your fingers. Again, moderate and high porosity hair types are a blessing and a curse. There are more products on the market that work for porous hair types, which means folks with those hair types have an easier time finding products that work for them. Also, higher-porosity hair can more easily absorb moisture. And not just from products. It can also absorb moisture from the environment for someone who lives in a humid environment, which might be a blessing or a curse depending on how you like to wear your hair…
But that’s a post for another day.
The curse of high-porosity hair is that it also loses moisture very easily. Those layers of the hair strand don’t fit together so well and in turn let moisture escape. Folks with higher-porosity hair types should be prepared to spend more on moisturizing products because they will need to moisturize more frequently. On the plus side, adding heat isn’t always necessary to moisturize high-porosity hair, which provides some extra freedom to go about errands without being attached to a heat source. Most folks with high porosity hair can use their favorite conditioner to their hair, nix the heat, and still end up with highly moisturized hair. It’s a nice idea, right? Add your conditioner, put on hat, go outside and run some errands, come home and rinse…
One method would be to think about your styling routine. If you regularly need to spritz your hair with water to keep it damp so you can achieve that perfect style, your hair is absorbing the water and is high porosity. If your stays damp during or takes forever to dry after styling, your hair is probably low porosity.
Another way you can determine your hair’s porosity is by cutting a strand (or preferably a few) and dropping it into a container of water. If it drops to the bottom, the hair is absorbing water and becoming heavy. That’s high porosity (i.e high water absorbing) hair. If the hair floats to the top, that means the strand is low porosity (i.e. doesn’t absorb much water) hair.
Personally, the cup method isn’t my favorite way to determine hair porosity.
That’s because porosity can vary by hair strand. So, the middle of your scalp can have a different porosity than the front or back. Some of this difference will be due to genetics, but a lot of it will be due to environmental factors (for example, maybe you sleep on your back, so the back of your hair rubs against your pillow as you sleep, which results in the back of your hair being less protected than the rest of your hair and higher hair porosity for the back of your hair).
The best way to determine your hair's porosity
Instead, my favorite way to determine hair porosity is by experimenting with different products. It does require spending money on products that might not work for your hair type. But personally, I think it’s the best way to really understand your hair type and what products to look for and which to avoid. No one forgets that experience of using the wrong product.
Pick a leave-in moisturizer that’s thick and creamy or has a lot of butters in it. Then, look for a leave-in product that’s pretty much all oils or contains no butters. Test them both according to the instructions on the container. When using the heavy leave-in, if it leaves residue or flakes in your hair, especially to the point that you can’t go outside and need to rewash, your hair is probably low porosity. You’ll probably look like you went outside in the middle of a snow storm. If your hair was able to absorb the heavy product with no problem, then your hair is probably high porosity.
Do this same experiment with the oil-based or light leave-in. If your hair feels healthy and moisturized after using the oil leave-in, your hair is probably low porosity. If your hair feels just okay or maybe even dry, your hair is likely high porosity.
That’s because lightweight products like oils are easier for low-porosity hair to absorb. They tend to not leave a residue. But high-porosity hair does better with heavy butters and thick creams, which help people with that hair type absorb and retain moisture.
And that is your first key into figuring out what products to look for. You’ll probably come away from this experiment loving heavy creams and products containing butters, or you’ll learn that you need to avoid them. But at least you’ll know. And you’ll be better able to search for products that will do the most good for your hair overall.