• Forum Upgraded: https://longhaircareforum.com/threads/recent-forum-upgrade.849851/

Getting to Know Your Hair Properties


New Member
Getting to Know Your Hair Properties

The cliché "one size does not fit all' is especially true when it comes to hair matters. We are all different! However, the basic principles you should be aware of regarding your hair tend to remain the same from head to head. You will need to develop an understanding of basic hair properties before you will be able to successfully address your hair needs as they arise. You need to know what your hair should be doing (and feeling) and to what degree it should be doing and feeling it. In this thread, we will go over traits that all healthy hair should have in common as it pertains to: pH, elasticity, and porosity. I'll break each section up into a different post for clarity (and since this thing is hollerin' that I have too many characters for one post :lol: )

pH and Your Hair​
A basic working knowledge of pH is important for your understanding of the chemistry of healthy hair care. Understanding pH will help you better understand the nature of your hair products.

Let’s begin with a short chemistry lesson. The pH itself is a measure of how alkaline or acidic something is, and is measured on a scale ranging from 0-14. At the middle of the road is a neutral pH of 7. Water is an example of a neutral pH. So what does pH really have to do with hair? Your hair responds to pH very distinctly.

When a substance has a pH reading of 0 to 6.9, it is considered acidic. Healthy hair bears a slightly acidic pH of 4.5 to 6. In this state, the cuticle is closed tightly and the inner cortex of the hair strand is thoroughly protected. Low pH’s affect the hair shaft by closing down the cuticle layers and allow them to lay flat and tight against one another. Tight and contracted cuticles allow the individual hair strands to move freely past one another, and also allows light to better reflect from the uniform surface enhancing shine. Low pH's reduce the hair's porosity. Neutralizing shampoos, conditioners, and natural substances like lemon and apple cider vinegar also fall into the acidic category.

A pH of 7.1 to 14 is considered basic, or alkaline. High pH’s cause the cuticles to lift and the hair shaft to swell open. An example of this relationship is your hair’s reaction to plain water. Though water is neutral, it is slightly alkaline compared to the hair. Hair is acidic, but when warm water (which bears a higher pH of 7) interacts with the hair shaft, the cuticles will raise slightly in reaction to the water’s more alkaline pH.

Raised cuticles are responsible for tangly, dry looking hair, that does not shine or hold moisture well. When the cuticles are raised in this manner, the cortex may be exposed and the hair becomes weakened and vulnerable. High pH's increase the porosity of the hair. It is very important that the pH of the hair be normalized, or returned to the normal 4-6 pH range, when using any alkaline product. Damage to the hair strand is often imminent if the cuticles are not returned to their normal closed position. Relaxers and permanent hair colors also fall into the alkaline/basic category. This is why pulling or combing through relaxers is such a damaging process.

A short Lesson on pH Extremes

When the pH of the hair reaches too high or too low on the scale, the hair is always changed or damaged. An extremely high or low pH will drastically affect the protein structure inside the cortex of your hair, so avoid subjecting your strands to pH extremes for extended periods of time.

Exposing the hair to very high pH's (11-14 range) for extended periods of time will eventually swell the cuticle and expose and break down the cortex turning it to mush. The hair will eventually dissolve completely.

Exposing the hair to to very low, acidic pH's (lower than 2 range) will cause the hair to tighten and constrict, hardening the hair to the point that it cannot support itself. If exposure is continued, the hair will dissolve completely in this instance as well.

Keep in mind that pH ranges are non-linear, but logarithmic. This means that a pH jump from 8 to 9 is not an increase of 1, strength-wise—but rather, an increase of ten times the strength. Example: A pH 9 is ten (10x) times more alkali than a pH 8. pH 12 is ten million (x10,000,000) times more alkali than pH 6. On the acidic end of the scale, a pH 4 is ten (x10) times more acidic than pH 5.

The pH scale and the Special Implications of Relaxing

For those of you who relax, understanding pH is particularly important. Our body and hair normally bear a pH of between 4.5 and 6. This includes the scalp and its secretions as well. Relaxer chemicals are in the alkaline pH range of 10-13, depending on the relaxer strength. If your body chemistry is such that you have a naturally lower body pH, below 4 or 5, your relaxer may only take your hair to a pH of 8 or 9. A pH in this range will not effectively break down the bonds in your hair to allow you to reach the desired straightened effect. If your own bodily pH is naturally low, you may benefit from relaxer with a greater strength—or one that bears a higher pH to raise your hair to the proper pH range for effective relaxing. Washing the hair two days prior to relaxing may help your relaxer take better. This will keep your natural acidic scalp secretions at bay so that they do not affect the relaxer chemical.

I've also come across threads where posters are concerned about properly neutralizing their hair-- either while doing a mid-relaxer protein step or because the person doing their relaxer decided to skip the neutralizer all together. Again pH's play a major role in how the action of a relaxer is stopped/neutralized. The relaxer process is only compatible at a certain pH's (usually 10-14). As soon as you begin to rinse the relaxer with water (ph 7), the neutralization process has already begun in two ways. First, by the physical removal of the relaxer creme and then by the gradual lowering of the pH. But as we know, water alone is not adequate for bringing down the hair to the normal 4-6 range- it will only bring a pH in the 10-14 range down to about 8 or 9. You still need something more acidic. This is where the neutralizing shampoo typically comes in (pH 3-4). For those who include mid-relaxer protein steps, your water (ph7) brings down the pH, your conditioner which is typically a normalizing (pH of 4-5) brings it down further-- and the neutralizing shampoo finishes it off. Since the pH is slowly being brought down with each product and the creme is removed with each rinsing, the hair is not continuing to process at full strength.

Quick tip: Your own pH test result lab!
Litmus paper is a special type of paper that changes colors as it reads the pH of the liquids you’ve submerged it in. The color change is immediate, and you should be able to measure the color change against a chart to find the pH level of the product you are testing. Litmus papers are generally sold in drug stores.
Last edited:


New Member

Your hair is elastic, somewhat like a delicate rubber band. It has the innate ability to stretch and return to its original length while resisting breakage. Elasticity is the stretching power that allows your hair to be moved through a comb without breaking from the contact and pulling stress. Elasticity is what allows us to smooth and pull our hair back into a ponytail. Hair that exhibits these qualities with minimal breakage is said to have good elasticity. Without it, our hair would snap left and right with very little tension placed on it.

Elasticity Extremes: Too Much, Too Little

Healthy hair has the ability to lengthen up to 30-40% of its normal dry length and return to normal with no problem. We can tell when there are problems with elasticity/structure when the hair succumbs to breakage. Hair with elasticity problems will either be too stretchy or not stretch much at all, and then succumb to breakage in both circumstances. You will find these cues exaggerated when the hair is wet. Dried hair simply does not exhibit the great elasticity that wet hair does. Remember, all stretching is not bad. Healthy hair will stretch because it is has natural elastic properties. However, there is a point where the stretching becomes too much for the hair to withstand. Recognizing this threshold is very important to protect against breakage. You must keep in mind that neither the elastic (stretching) nor the protein structural (strength) powers of the hair alone can stave off breakage. The proper elasticity, in conjunction with the proper structural properties, are needed allow the hair to resist breakage.

The stretching that healthy hair does is rarely noticeable to us- it is very subtle. The hair can be manipulated—even very harshly sometimes, and it will not break. All of the forces within the hair strand are balanced. However, there is a point where the hair is too elastic and the stretching becomes too much for the hair to withstand. Again, recognizing this threshold is very important for protecting against breakage.

Too much elasticity is just as much of a problem as a lack of it. When the hair is too elastic, it is very, very soft and simply stretches and stretches and then breaks. If you take a hair that has shed while your hair is in a state like this, and pull it, you’ will see that it stretches and stretches before it breaks- as opposed to breaking right away when pulled on. The hair may thin out in parts before it finally succumbs. When you comb through hair like this, it tends to "follow the comb" rather than pull cleanly through. Overall, this kind of hair feels spongy, gummy, mushy, and limp when it is wet because it lacks the structural protein component it needs.

Super elastic hair is weaker the longer and longer it is stretched past its normal dimensions. The more it stretches the weaker it gets, and the closer it ventures to the point of breakage. When the hair is continuously forced to stretch beyond its normal range, either due to a lack of protein structure or physical manipulation, it breaks. Before this happens though, there is usually a point where the hair will stretch and stretch without breaking. This is an indication that structural components of the hair are lacking, but are not to the point where the hair would break. This is a warning sign. This increase in elasticity is usually the result of over zealous conditioning and moisturizing practices or undergoing a process by which the hair’s natural protein sources are compromised (relaxing and coloring, etc).

As the hair is stretched beyond its normal parameters, it compensates by thinning (across the cross section ) and is considerably weakened internally. Your hair is already more elastic than usual while wet (which is why wet hair is longer and heavierthan dried hair), and this extra elasticity is also what makes it more fragile and weaker than dried hair. The stress and manipulation of detangling at this critical point may cause you more problems without a balanced structural protein component there to resist the extra stretching, weakening, and breaking. The crucial protein component is needed to help return the hair to its normal length and condition once dried. The forces must be balanced in order to fight and reduce breakage.

Hair That Won’t “give” a Little
Hair that does not offer a bit of gentle stretching without breaking under normal manipulation is said to have poor elasticity. This poor elasticity is a result of a lack of conditioning, and an overabundance of supplemental protein in the regimen. Steps taken to increase the sources of moisture within for the hair will go a long way toward correcting this imbalance.

Elasticity and Wet Protective Styling (copied from my post in Tropicexotic's wet bunning thread)
Women who choose to wear protective styles often run into problems with "wet bunning." It is always best to do a ponytail or bun style on wet hair that is partially dry or close to it. Pulling your hair taut while its sopping wet can be terribly damaging to your tresses. Hair is the most stretched most elastic when wet. As the hair dries, it begins to contract, and this is where you may begin to see breakage. While the stretched hair is trying to return to its normal state, it is still being held taut in its stretched position by your holder. Over time, the area near the holder grows weaker from the stretching and its inability to properly contract during drying. The end result is breakage. I don't think its necessarily the drying and contracting alone that causes damage, but that process happening over and over again in one concentrated area. Or if the area under the pony is never really given the chance to dry.

I have often been asked about whether roller setting wet hair will also cause the potential damage that wet bunning can. Though the hair is contracting as it dries in both cases, the hair under the holder of a wet pony would experience more problems with pulling tension/damage than the hair in a rolled section would. One wet bunning episode will not cause problems, but repeated back to back wet bunnings can. The rollers in a rollerset are only temporary-- but buns/ponies become a problem because they are often worn as the style itself. In this case, the tension and can pulling persist for days.

In a wet bun/pony, the stress is directed to one area of the hair strand repeatedly (ie, the ponytail dent), if the wearer doesn't make adjustments over time. With a rollerset, the "pulling tension" is more even along the shaft and only temporary. On a wet pony, wrapping the holder itself on the wet hair is hard enough on the cuticles in that area. In a rollerset, there isn't much cuticle roughing b/c the hair is always evenly smoothed into the circle around the roller-- it doesn't have to deal with being "cinched" into place as one unit.

Other things you can do to reduce bunning breakage are making sure you coat your holder with an oil or something to reduce friction on the areas of the hair strand under the holder, and always giving yourself that wiggle room with your holder. I limit myself to two times around for a holder on damp hair (just to keep it contained until dry) and up to three on dry hair. Either way, you should be able to touch your chin to your chest and roll your head from side to side without feeling any tension, tugging, or pulling anywhere
Last edited:


New Member

Porosity refers to the ability or inability of hair to absorb water or chemicals into the cortex. All hair is naturally porous and permeable to water. Our hair has the ability to absorb up to 50% of its weight in water. This absorption and lengthening is why wet hair feels heavier than dried hair. Think of a sponge with holes in it. These holes would be called pores. When the sponge is fresh and new, it is able to absorb a good amount of water and hold the moisture inside very well. As the sponge ages, the pores (holes) become distorted, widen, and lose shape. These changes make the sponge super absorbent, yet less able hold the moisture it once could. The older sponge is said to be more porous or have greater porosity than the new sponge.

There are two main conditions that aggravate the physical integrity of the cuticle layer, and thus the hair’s porosity level. The first is soundness of each scale along cuticle layer, the second is the general spatial arrangement of scales relative to one another. In general, the hair becomes more and more porous as you follow it from the scalp to the ends of the hair.

The soundness of the hair scales refers to the smoothness of each individual cuticle scale surface. Damaged scales are chipped, weathered, and may even have holes in them. The more damage an individual scale has, the more porous this scale will be.

The second porosity factor is the relative spatial arrangement of the scales. Lifted scales are porous simply because they are not lying flat. The constant lifting and closing of the cuticle layers over time increases the overall porosity of the hair. This is why the ends of the hair are typically the most porous. The cuticle layers at this site have simply been opening and closing longer. The porosity situation is compounded if the individual scales themselves are relatively porous.

Porosity Extremes

Hair porosity is affected by excessive exposure to mechanical abuse from heat styling tools, the sun, chemical relaxers and colors, and the continued use of sulfate-rich shampoos. The more damage the cuticle has endured, the greater the porosity. Extremely porous hair can absorb up to 40-50% of its weight in water, and generally, the more porous your hair is, the more water or moisture it tends to absorb. Seems great though, right? Not quite. The down side of this high level of absorption is the subsequent high level of moisture loss that results from it. Highly porous hair absorbs more water when wet, but also loses even more as it dries. When fully dried, this porous hair feels swollen, puffy, and rough to the touch due to the raised, damaged cuticle layers and inherent moisture deficiency.

Keeping this type of hair moisturized is a feat, as it tends to continuously soak in moisture without ever actually feeling moisturized. Such hair is chronically dry. It will not stay moisturized unless proper measures are taken to correct the issue.

Poor porosity refers to hair that does not readily absorb moisture and resists chemical treatments. It is ideal to have hair somewhere in the middle of the two porosity extremes, hair with good porosity that retains moisture well and accepts chemical treatments.

Checking for Porosity
It is best to measure your level of porosity on freshly cleaned and dried hair. Gently grasp pieces of your hair between index finger and thumb, and slowly slide your fingers along the length of the strand, from the scalp to the ends. (Now, I've read some places where they say slide the fingers from tips up toward the scalp- but something about that seems kind of damaging to me. It would raise the cuticles up unnecessarily by going against the grain, IMO) If you feel “bumps” or an overall uneven texture as you proceed down the shaft, your cuticles are not flat and your hair is slightly porous. Most individuals who have relaxed or color treated their hair will exhibit some degree of porosity to the strands. Hair that “wets” easily as you prepare it for washing is typically porous.

Porosity Implications for the Relaxed and Color Treated

Relaxed and colored treated hair uses alkaline chemicals and/or heat to force open the cuticle layers to reach the inner cortex. The main problem with chemical treatments is that they tend increase the porosity of the hair by both means--- eating away at and degrading the cuticle layers as well as causing them to lift beyond their normal orientation. The cuticle layers do eventually close on their own, but if the damage is repeated too often (back to back coloring, too frequent relaxing, heat abuse) the cuticle layers may never fully close. For this reason, relaxed hair has an inherent element of increased porosity to it.

Protein and Clear Rinses for Scale Damage
The prevailing problems with porous hair are the issues of individual scale damage and the raised cuticles. If you could somehow patch the scale damage and close these cuticles layers, even a little, you will resolve a majority of your porosity issues.

The best way to patch up damaged cuticle layers is simply through light protein conditioning or a clear color rinse (which also contain proteins that bind and patch up the hair shaft). Protein fills in gaps and binds to damaged places along to the cuticle, mending individual exterior scales. Regular protein conditioning improves the hair’s porosity by reinforcing the cuticle layers and allowing the hair shaft to better hold on to the moisture its given. You don't want to get too excited with the protein though b/c this can make the hair even drier. Products with wheat protein, like Kenra Moisturizing Conditioner are good for shoring up the cuticle without leaving the hair too crunchy. Remember, nothing can PERMANENTLY repair hair that is damaged, but treatments go a long way for shoring up the weak spots and temporarily managing problems.

Acidic Conditioning Rinses for Restoring Proper Cuticle Orientation
Remember from earlier how low pH’s help close the hair cuticle? There is a connection here. Some porosity problems can be temporarily resolved by applying a low pH solution or product. A weekly acidic rinse with Apple cider vinegar, a low pH shampoo and conditioner, even a simple cleansing with a neutralizing shampoo can help correct a porosity problem and help tighten and close the cuticle layers. Some good ones to try are Roux Porosity Control shampoo and conditioner, and Zotos Porosity Equalizer. I personally just stick with ACV rinses.
Last edited:


New Member
Hot off the press...Sistaslick info....must read...must read...must read

Printing this out for my weekend reading :) Once again thanks for you info!!!


Sweetest Taboo
I do weekly ACV rinses as well. After a month of doing them weekly I could tell the difference in my hair. Great info Sista!
Last edited:


Well-Known Member
Wow!! Such good information!! I might have to give myself a ACV Rinse this weekend and see how my hair ends up.


Fearfully Wonderfully Made
I enjoyed reading this. Very informative. I've always wanted to understand elasticity and porosity. Thanks for sharing! :up::up:


Well-Known Member
I guess my porosity problem corrected itself as the dye grew and got cut out. My wet hair used to dry quickly without any shine and a lil hard. Now it holds moisture well (even from IC gel) and has natural sheen. :eek: It holds moisture under a simple hair bonnet at night and even if I sleep on it for days at a time now. :grin:


New Member
You rock :) Thanks for the post. I have a question for you..kind of OT. Would you recommend a porosity conditioner to the ends of ones hair before a relaxer? I'm thinking of applying my CON prosity conditioner to the relaxed ends before I touch up the roots. Thanks :)


old head
Thanks for taking the time to type all that up so nicely, Sistaslick! :clap: I'm sure this will especially help a lot of newbies :yep:


New Member
Excellent info, now i'm off to get litmuss paper and see if my water and oil moisturizer is between 4.5 and 6...:)


Well-Known Member
great info Sista!! Thanks again for the wonderful and informative post! You are going to have us seriously educated on hair. I have a question. I have porosity control and rarely use it. It seems that my hair has some porous issues. How much acv do you mix in the water and does it matter what type of water you use? Also when do you use the acv rinse, before shampooing or after deep conditioning? Do you know anything about porosity control? If so, when would I use it? Thanks in advance!:)


New Member
How intermeresting and informative! Thanks so much for posting this, you guru! I'm a little confused about this one thing though, when I use Porosity Control or ACV rinses my hair feels so healthy (moisturized, doesn't break as much) but it dries much quicker... Is this a bad thing???