Is Air-Drying Your Hair Causing Damage? Here’s What Experts Think

Photographed by Hayleigh Longman.
When it comes to hair, there are two camps of people: those who let their just-washed lengths air-dry naturally (whether that's fashioned into a messy bun, tucked behind the ears or flipped to one side) and those who can't face a commute with sopping wet strands, so reach for their trusty hairdryer immediately.
Over the past few years, many people have moved into camp one and ditched the daily blow-dry, especially as work from home and hybrid jobs have become more common. And, after all, experts have warned us for a long time about the effects of prolonged heat damage from blow-drying, including split ends, breakage and parched strands. It makes sense, but recently the question of whether air-drying your hair is actually better for it has experts talking.

Is air-drying good for you hair?

The argument that air-drying is good for your hair is a myth, says Adam Reed, global ambassador for ghd and L'Oréal Professionnel. "Hair can absorb up to 30% of its own weight in water," he says, which typically makes it weaker and more susceptible to damage from brushing and styling. "Natural drying takes time," Reed adds. "The longer hair stays wet, the more the cortex swells and cracks, permanently damaging hair."
According to trichologist Jane Mayhead at The Private Clinic, there isn't much evidence to suggest air-drying your hair is better than blow-drying or vice versa. She believes that there are advantages and disadvantages to both and that good technique is key to keeping hair healthy.
"When hair is wet the elasticity increases, which allows the hair to stretch more," says Mayhead. "If you apply items (such as brushes or clips) or styles that stretch the hair and leave it to dry, unnecessary tension can be put on the hair. This can lead to snapping. Even a simple ponytail can do this if too tight." This is also why it's not a great idea to go to sleep with wet hair, suggests Mayhead, as laying damp hair on materials such as pillows and cushions can cause friction as well as knotting.

Is blow-drying bad for your hair?

All this said, blow-drying your hair also has a number of disadvantages. "Damaging the outer layer of the hair can lead to swelling and breakage of the whole hair, but this can be done in many ways including heat," says Mayhead. Exposing hair to prolonged heat can also destroy lipids in strands, affecting the levels of moisture, leading to dryness and possible split ends.
Given all that, are there actually any advantages of blow-drying hair? "It can add volume, style and shine," says Mayhead. "However, too high heat on water can cause bubbles within the hair, causing damage. During heated drying, too much moisture can leave the hair, causing it to feel dry and look dry."

So, should you blow-dry or air-dry your hair?

Ultimately, both techniques could cause some element of damage if not done correctly, but it all comes down to personal preference. If you want to let your hair dry naturally, it pays to squeeze out every last drop of water with a gentle microfiber towel, such as the Aquis Wrap Hair Drying Towel. Investing in a silk pillowcase or hair wrap, like the Slip Silk Pillowcase, and The Silke Hair Wrap, can also reduce the amount of friction on hair as you sleep.
If you prefer to blow-dry your hair, ghd Helios 1875W Advanced Professional Hairdryer dries hair at lightning speed on a medium heat without making it straw-like or frizzy. Hairstylists also extol the virtues of Dyson Supersonic, for drying hair quickly with minimum damage. If you're on a budget, Hot Tools Pro Signature Ionic Ceramic Hair Dryer also cuts drying time in half. Expert stylists suggest using your fingers to rough-dry your hair instead of a brush, which could tug at strands.
Products are essential to strengthen and protect your hair. Try Amika The Wizard Silicone-Free Detangling Primer, which smells like heaven and makes hair silky with sea buckthorn and avocado oil. If you're letting your hair air-dry in the sun, a squeeze of Kérastase Keratine Thermique Heat Protectant smooths and protects against humidity, while Aussie Total Miracle Heat Protecting Spray acts like a shield against intense heat from styling tools.
This story was originally published on Refinery29UK.
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