Heads Up: Air Drying Your Hair Might Be Damaging It!
Skipping the blow dryer and opting to air dry your hair may sound like a no-brainer for anyone trying to keep their strands in tip-top shape. But did you know that, in some cases, air drying may actually cause more distress compared to heat styling? We’re shook. The good news is that there are some steps you can take to prevent damage caused by air drying. We’re covering everything you need to know below, so keep scrolling.
Why Is Air Drying Hair Damaging Sometimes?
OK, so how can air drying possibly be bad for your hair? Turns out, there’s a pesky effect known as “hygral fatigue,” which occurs when your hair expands as it dries. This leads to weak, dull, and brittle hair.
Basically, the expansion creates stress between the three individual layers of each hair strand. If you imagine what a water balloon looks like before and after it’s been filled with water, it’s a similar effect. (There was an entire study on hygral fatigue if you’re curious about more of the science.)
Which Hair Types Are More Prone to Air Dry Damage?
While hygral fatigue can affect all hair types, some experience it more than others. “People with high porosity hair – [the ability to absorb and retain moisture] – are more prone to this,” notes Ryan Pearl, hairstylist and Redken brand ambassador. “Low porosity hair has a tighter sealed cuticle, which makes it tougher for water to enter.”
People with tight coils, kinks, curls, and waves are more likely to have high porosity hair. The same is true for hair that’s dry or damaged from chemical processing and excessive heat styling. Philesha Stern, stylist and owner of Boujee Curls, drives this point home by adding, “Many curly girls air dry their hair frequently, causing this type of fatigue to happen more often.”
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7 Ways to Protect Your Hair When Air Drying
All this isn’t to say you shouldn’t air dry your hair. You just need to be smart about the process! Here are some ways you can protect your hair while air drying to prevent stressing out your strands.
1. Use Lightweight Hair Styling Products
For those with type 3 and 4 curls, stick to lightweight, water-based products so your hair can dry more quickly. Stern says, “Avoid heavy creams, oils, and butters, as they slow down the drying time and clog the follicle. Mousse and lightweight gels are ideal and will allow for faster drying.” Hair serums are another great option!
2. Use a Microfiber Towel to Dry Hair
Not all towels are hair approved. Many have rough surfaces that can scuff the hair cuticle, which leads to damage and frizz. “I always recommend a microfiber towel to remove as much moisture as possible without roughing up the cuticle,” says Leo Izquierdo, co-founder of IGK Hair Care. You also want to be mindful of how you’re drying with the towel. Avoid rubbing hair between the towel and instead press or lightly scrunch.
3. Let Your Hair Dry a Bit Before Applying Products
Instead of applying your hair products to soaking wet strands, wait 10 to 20 minutes until hair feels damp versus sopping. Stern says that removing excess water allows hair to retain only what’s needed. This helps speed up the drying time and minimizes the hygral fatigue effect.
4. Skip Anything Drying or Harsh
Steer clear of any ingredients that could dry out your hair more, such as salt (sodium) and alcohol. “A lot of sea salt sprays give texture but dry out hair in the sun, heat and wind,” notes Izquierido. You can still get that beach babe texture with products that are formulated a bit more thoughtfully. For example, IGK Beach Club Volume Texture Spray, $32, is salt-free and is bolstered with humectants to lock in moisture.
5. Don’t Put Wet Hair in a Ponytail
Hair elastics can be particularly damaging on your strands when they’re wet. “If you need to use a ponytail, try using a big scrunchie that is either silk or a super soft fabric that won’t tug or constrict the hair too tight,” Pearl advises. “This will prevent any breakage.” Also, moisture can get trapped at the scalp causing hair to remain wet for longer. It can even potentially cause mildew! The oversized, pillow-like scrunchies from Kitsch, $18, are perfect!
6. Use a Little Bit of Hairspray on Damp Hair
Here’s a juicy hair styling hack from Stern: “After styling, use a flexible hold hairspray on damp hair to help speed up the drying time,” she says. “This helps seal in the moisture from the products, encourages volume, and cuts down the drying time.”
7. Avoid Sleeping on Wet Hair
Try not to sleep with wet hair if you can help it, says Stern. This leads to tugging, friction, and breakage while you sleep. It can also prevent your hair from drying efficiently since there’s little to no airflow. If you must sleep on damp hair – we get it, it happens! – then use a silk wrap or silk pillowcase. The high-quality silk pillowcases from Slip, $89, are always a safe bet.
Want more hair tips? Try these scalp treatments and best believe your mane will flourish.
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