When shopping for your favorite shampoos and conditioners, leave-ins, and other haircare products, you have to consider a number of factors: hair type, hair thickness, curl pattern, and, of course hair porosity. But unlike thickness or curl level, hair porosity is invisible to the naked eye, and can therefore be difficult to understand or shop for. However, being aware of your hair's porosity level makes a huge difference in the products you shop for and how you use them. Low porosity hair, for instance, "has an outer layer that has a tight cuticle," according to Alicia Bailey, a licensed master cosmetologist and the CEO and Global Hair Education Director of Iman Yvonne Beauty. Thus, this hair type has a difficult time absorbing moisture—so it's important to use products that penetrate hair follicles without causing buildup that blocks growth.
"It is best to use lightweight products on the hair," agrees Bailey, who warns against overloading low porosity hair with too much protein or with thick, creamy butters that sit on the hair shaft.
But with so many hair products on the market that make such similar promises, how can one determine which products have the right consistency for use on low porosity hair? I had Bailey to break down everything there is to know about shopping for this hair type, from what to look for, to what to avoid, to which products she swears by.
What to Look For
"People with low-porosity hair should gravitate towards ingredients that are lightweight," Bailey tells us. "Water-based products that can easily penetrate the hair are great choices."
And when it comes to hair oils? "If the product has oil in it," she says, "look for lightweight oils like jojoba, babassu, black seed oil, argan or aloe vera. These oils all have a good comedogenic rating, which means they won’t clog the pores of the skin. Therefore, they are very lightweight for the hair and scalp." Options like olive oil and castor oil, on the other hand, may be too heavy for low porosity hair.
What to Avoid
There are also a number of ingredients that Bailey says low porosity hair owners should stay away from.
"People with low porosity hair should avoid products that are high in protein," she says, explaining, "sometimes people with low porosity tend to be protein sensitive."
Because low porosity hair needs an environment that facilitates moisture absorption, she also advises, "Avoid heavy butters and creams which could just sit on top of the hair shaft and cause buildup. Additionally, avoiding silicones is wise because they create a barrier and sit on top of the hair making it difficult for the hair to absorb moisture."
The Best Products for Low Porosity Hair
- Best Shampoo for Low Porosity Hair: Mielle Organics Pomegranate & Honey Shampoo
- Best Conditioner for Low Porosity Hair: PATTERN by Tracee Ellis Ross Medium Conditioner
- Best Leave-In for Low Porosity Hair: PATTERN by Tracee Ellis Ross Argan Hair & Scalp Oil Blend
- Best Styling Product for Low Porosity Hair: Verb Curl Foaming Gel
- Best Tool for Low Porosity Hair: Modern Elements 1875W Ionic Pro Rollabout Tourmaline Dryer
The Best Shampoos for Low Porosity Hair
Bailey says that she loves this whole collection from Mielle Organics, explaining that its products are “infused with babassu oil and citrus extracts,” among other natural ingredients, for a formula that supports hydrated hair from the inside out. She also notes that the products in the line are “lightweight and prevent frizz”—an absolute lifesaver during humid summers. The line was made with curls (specifically type 4 hair) in mind, but Mielle promises it works on all curl types and patterns.
Pros: expert-approved; made with low porosity and curly hair in mind; made with natural ingredients; cruelty-free; free of sulfates, SLS, and SLES; affordable; detangling
Cons: may be too thick for looser curl types
Customer Review: "I highly recommend anyone on the fence about purchasing this product to go ahead and make the purchase. I was looking for a detangling shampoo for my 4C hair and this shampoo was Amazing. This was my first time trying a detangling shampoo. It lathers well and the smell is great. " -Sally Beauty
This shampoo is made for all hair types and curl patterns, with a formula that’s meant to both condition hair and thoroughly cleanse it of buildup and sweat. It’s infused with soothing ingredients like lavender oil, argan oil, tea tree oil, and turmeric root extract, all of which work to soothe irritated scalps and relieve dryness from root to tip. It also contains rosemary leaf, an ingredients that’s gained online popularity recently for its ability to foster healthy hair growth.
Pros: free of silicones, sulfates, SLS, and SLES; relieves irritated, dry scalps; works on all hair types and curl patterns; supports hair growth
Cons: some users say it doesn't lather easily
Customer Review: "I have type 2B hair with low to medium porosity. This scalp shampoo is amazing! My scalp felt so clean and so did my hair. I followed it with conditioner and then blow dried my hair and the frizz was GONE! I get bad frizzes all over so this is a win for me." -Sephora
Scalp scrubs are excellent options for those who suffer from scalp and hair buildup, flakiness, dandruff, and more, and this one from Ceremonia works on all hair types but is made with thick, curly hair top of mind. Featuring Bolivia mountain salt, papaya enzymes, and prickly pear extract in its unique formula, it’s designed to banish buildup for good without stripping hair of its moisture. Customers love it for its frizz-defying impact and for the thoroughly clean feeling they experience after each use.
Pros: made with natural ingredients; supports scalp health; supports hair growth; vegan; cruelty-free; free of gluten, sulfates, SLS, and SLES
Cons: too harsh for use on every single wash
Customer Review: "Talk about the ultimate reset for your scalp! This is the perfect weekly bath/self-care routine, I love the smell and texture and it ends up being a scared scalp massage. Perfect way to start or end my weekend and my hair and scalp is refreshed for the week ahead." -Sephora
If you’re experiencing severe buildup issues that have made their way to your scalp (causing symptoms like itchiness, greasiness, dandruff, acne, and thwarted hair growth), consider this scalp scrub from one of my favorite haircare brands, Fable & Mane. It’s made to provide instant relief to irritated scalps through a formula that includes neem leaf, amla, and ginger, which is a natural antiseptic. Reviewers love how well it lathers and how clean their hair and scalp feel after just one use.
Pros: free of silicones, sulfates, SLS, and SLES; vegan; clean; banishes buildup; supports scalp health and hair growth
Cons: contains some protein
Customer Review: "It foams up really well when you massage it into your scalp. The product feels really nice and even though it’s a scrub, it easily rinses out. The texture of the product definitely helps with getting rid of any and all buildup! My scalp truly felt amazing!" -Sephora
The Best Conditioners for Low Porosity Hair
Bailey recommends this particular conditioner from Tracee Ellis Ross’ popular brand, Pattern Beauty. She says that it “blends jojoba oil and olive oil and provides hydration without weight.” Indeed, this conditioner is made specifically for low to normal porosity hair, promising to provide lightweight moisture that won’t clump into nasty buildup that disrupts users’ curl patterns. It’s also made to tame frizz and flyaways—the perfect option for curly girls like me who struggle with their baby hairs.
Pros: expert-approved; free of sulfates, SLS, SLES, and parabens; tames frizz; moisturizing; made with low porosity hair and curls in mind
Cons: none found
Customer Review: "Get this ASAP! Literally the best conditioner I've ever used on my hair! And I've tried a lot!! I have 3A/B low to medium porosity hair and this leaves my hair so soft and hydrated. The consistency is thick too so you only need to use a little." -Sephora
SheaMoisture has long been a favorite among customers with curly hair, and with good reason. This conditioner is made with low porosity and curly hair in mind, boasting a weightless formula without any added proteins. It also includes ingredients like grapeseed, sunflower seed oil, soybean oil, and jojoba oil for balanced, lightweight moisture that doesn’t leave any buildup. It also contains shea butter, which smoothes down frizz and nourishes hair damaged from breakage, pollution, styling, or heat tools.
Pros: doesn't contain protein; cruelty-free; free of parabens; color-safe; made with low porosity hair in mind; affordable
Cons: strong scent
Customer Review: "Wow! My hair was suffering from protein overload and nothing was working to get my hair balanced again. After the first wash with these products, my hair felt moisturized and almost back to normal! My wash and go last several days (before it was lasting ONE)." -iHerb
Bailey says that this entire line of lavender- and agave- infused products by Design Essentials “is a great collection because it provides moisture and protects the curls of the curly girls that desire to smooth their hair temporarily without weighing it down.” I, too, am a huge fan of Design Essentials’ products and can attest to their lightweight consistency and curl-enhancing power. This particular conditioner is popular among reviewers, too, who laud the product for how moisturizing and detangling it is.
Pros: light scent; made to soothe scalp; detangling; expert-approved
Cons: some users find it too thick
Customer Review: "This is a go to conditioner whether I'm doing a wash n go, twists, or a blow out. It's very moisturizing and provides a lot of slip...My hair is very dense but a little goes a long way, especially if you douse your hair with a bit of water once this conditioner is added. It doesn't have a lavender smell but it is a scent that doesn't bother me (I get migraines)... This conditioner is perfection!" -Ulta
This conditioner from Ouidad is perfect for low porosity hair, especially since it’s free from parabens, sulfates, phthalates, and non-water soluble silicones. This means it won’t form any nasty buildup on your hair, and will foster a smoother, more hydrated look as well as better defined curls. Reviewers love its instant impact on reducing frizz, and a number of customers write that the conditioner even helped ameliorate damage from heat tools, swimming, and more.
Pros: free of silicones, sulfates, phthalates, and parabens; curl-defining; smoothing; shine-enhancing
Cons: none found
Customer Review: "Works like a dream. I have long, thick hair, with a mix of Type 3 A and B. I also use this as a conditioning treatment once per month and leave on hair under a shower cap for 30 minutes and then rinse out." -Ouidad
The Best Styling Products for Low Porosity Hair
I’m not sure what I did with my hair before I discovered this curl revitalizer from Design Essentials. True to its name, it never fails to restore curl definition to my hair after my ringlets have grown limp from styling or from not sleeping in my silk hair wrap. It has a flexible, medium hold that keep hair from looking too shiny or feeling crunchy, and it also conditions strands rather than sitting on the shaft like a film. Finally, it washes out easily, so I never have to worry about accumulating nasty buildup.
Pros: editor-approved; affordable; easy to use; lightweight
Cons: can make hair feel slightly sticky
Customer Review: "The Design Essentials mist actually works to spring back my naturally 2A-B waves and curls, smells amazing (like the mousse), and gives me soft but firm curls and waves and eliminates frizz, even ads a bit of shine. I've gotten compliments on my hair since I've been using this product and will absolutely keep it in my rotation." -Ulta
This lightweight, nutrient-dense argan oil blend is made to soothe damaged hair and dry scalps, and promises to improve hair’s strength and enhance shine. I personally love using argan oil as both a last-minute styling fix and as a regular hair health practice, and this blend promises not to leave any residue on hair. It’s perfect for all hair types and curl patterns, and is even helpful in bringing out one’s natural curls and coils by smoothing unwanted frizz.
Pros: shine-enhancing; supports scalp health; editor-approved; doesn't leave residue; lightweight
Cons: small bottle
Customer Review: "I've been looking for some blend of oils/ingredients that would help overall hair health (shine, growth, etc.) and this one seems to be doing the trick thus far after a couple uses! I like to use it as a pre-wash treatment and I tried it together with my normal shampoo and the Pattern leave-in conditioner and my hair feels so nice and soft!" -Sephora
Because low porosity hair is so sensitive to buildup and therefore averse to thick products, it can be challenging to find a styling mousse or gel that doesn’t leave this hair type limp and dried out. This foaming gel from Verb, however, is lightweight, crunch-free, and still retains a firm hold that allows you to style your curls however you please. It’s perfect for defining curls and coils, and works to minimize frizz even on the most humid of days.
Pros: lightweight; curl-defining; shine-enhancing; washes out easily; crunch-free; firm hold; moisturizing
Cons: strong scent
Customer Review: "I have no words for how much this changed up my hair! It looks noticeably shinier and healthier. I have super thick 3B curls and struggled to find the right product to use after a leave in that kept curls locked in but light." -Sephora
Latinx-owned brand Rizos Curls formulated this conditioning yet lightweight leave-in with curly hair in mind. It contains natural ingredients like coconut oil, which reduces frizz, aloe vera for deep conditioning, and shea butter for a deeply moisturizing effect that doesn’t leave hair looking greasy. It’s also free of additives like sulfates and silicones, which can form a thick buildup that prevents low porosity hair from absorbing the nutrients it needs. Reviewers love this products for its ability to soften and nourish curls without weighing them down, and at less than $25 per bottle, who can resist?
Pros: free of parabens, sulfates, and silicones; contains natural ingredients; affordable; lightweight; curl-defining; made with curls and natural hair in mind
Cons: some users didn't find it defining enough on its own
Customer Review: "This is one of the first curl creams I tried when I started my curl journey and I still use it. And I love it!! This product smells amazing and feels amazing; perfectly hydrates and moisturizes my hair and beautifully creates my natural curls!!" -Target
The Best Tools for Low Porosity Hair
Bailey recommends that those with low hair porosity hydrate their hair by applying heat during the conditioning phase. "The heat can be applied by using a plastic cap over the hair under a pre-heated hooded dryer, or a steamer without a cap," she advises. "The heat allows the cuticle to expand and allows the conditioner to penetrate the hair strands." Then, she recommends washing the conditioner out with lukewarm water. This cap, which is lined with terry cloth, is perfect for comfortably sitting under a steamer or hooded dryer.
Pros: lined for a comfortable fit; keeps hair securely inside; helps hair retain moisture
Cons: must be washed frequently
Customer Review: "I love the size! It is not too small and it is pretty plushy. This is a new product for me, but I use it to sleep at night with hair masks (so far just the Gisou Honey Hair Mask) and it worked great to seal in the product overnight. I think some masks and intense treatments should be worn overnight, and you need something like that that is sturdy and stays on and in place to get that product deeper into the hair follicles." -Sephora
If you’re looking to incorporate heat into your conditioning routine, as Bailey suggests, but you don’t have the time (or funds) to go to the salon regularly, consider bringing the salon home to you. This portable steamer is conveniently positioned on wheels so you can push it around your home whenever it’s time for a deep conditioning, and then stow it away when it’s not in use. And at a price that’s more affordable than most premium hair dryers, you truly can’t go wrong.
Pros: ideal for low porosity hair and curls; minimizes frizz; moisturizes hair; dries hair quickly
Customer Review: "This was easy to assemble, it took about five minutes to put together, and I enjoy having the option to adjust the height to whatever height I need it to be. I have very thick shoulder length curly hair and I’ve been diffusing with a blow dryer, which I hate because it takes forever, plus my curls never come out as defined as I would like them to be. I wanted to get a hooded dryer because that’s what my stylist uses in the salon. I am so pleased with this purchase, it has cut my drying time down from over an hour to 30 minutes...My curls are more defined with great shine and my wash and go lasts for seven days...This dryer is easy to use; has two switches— the ionic generator switch and the power switch. I like that it has the translucent face shield, which automatically turns the dryer on depending on whether the shield is up or down. It makes for easy getting in and out of the dryer without having to flip any of the switches." -Sally Beauty
Meet the Expert
Alicia Bailey is a licensed master cosmetologist and the CEO and Global Hair Education Director at Iman Yvonne Beauty with over 30 years of experience. She is also an author, life coach, and public speaker, and has owned salons such as Flawless Sessions Hair Salon in Georgia and Flawless Unisex Hair Salon in Hampton, Virginia. She has also worked as an educator for McBride Research Laboratories since 1999, and has worked with a number of women's magazines to promulgate education about black haircare.
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Gabrielle Ulubay is a Beauty Writer at Marie Claire. She has also written about sexual wellness, fashion, culture, and politics both at Marie Claire and for publications like The New York Times, Bustle, and HuffPost Personal. She has worked extensively in the e-commerce and sales spaces since 2020, including two years at Drizly, where she developed an expertise in finding the best, highest quality goods and experiences money can buy. As a film school graduate, she loves all things media and can be found making art when she's not busy writing.