Air drying has become a part of our hair care regimen. Since using heat on our hair causes damage such as roughness, breakage and split ends, the idea that using ‘no heat’ would help our hair to retain moisture and thus be healthier. The idea of air drying became so much a part of our mainstream and belief system that you’ll find countless blog posts touting its benefits for our curly hair.
A study out of Korea has changed what we have thought of as common knowledge.
What is hair?
Hair a is fiber, made up of proteins called keratin. Hair generally has 3 layers. There’s the medulla which is the innermost layer of the hair. The cortex surrounds the medulla. The third layer is the cuticle which is a dead layer of cells that overlap to protect the hair. And then there’s the cell membrane complex or CMC which basically holds the cuticle, and other hair parts in tack.
Not everyone has the three layers. Naturally blonde and fine hair generally don’t have a medulla. Thus making these hair types more fragile than thick or coarse hair.
We already know that excessive heat is damaging to the cuticle causing hair to become dry and brittle. It was thought that if heat was bad, then no heat must be good. And thus, the myth about air drying became commonly accepted as a healthy hair practice.
Why air drying isn’t the healthiest.
A study done by scientists at Annals of Dermatology came to a finding that air drying caused more drying to the inside of the hair strand and that blow drying your hair at a certain distance, and motion may be less damaging than air drying.
In the study, the scientists wanted to test the overall damage of hair strands that had been washed and dried naturally or with the help of a blow drier.
- They tested blow-drying the hair at different distances and times.
- The hair went through 30 trials over 30 days, which meant daily shampooing and drying.
- Hair was divided into 5 different groups.
- One of the groups was air drying at room temperature.
The surface, cuticle, and cortex layer were all examined under a microscope. The CMC and the moisture content were also looked at. They found that the cuticle in the air dried group was not damaged. They saw some cracking in the groups that used heat, with the most cracking happening at the highest heat temperature. There was no damage to the cuticle and cortex in the air dried and low temperature dried groups.
The interesting part! When the researchers looked at the CMC, the Cell Membrane Complex, only the air dried group showed signs of damage.
Their conclusion was although using a hair dryer causes more surface damage than natural drying, using a hair dryer at a distance of 15 cm with continuous motion causes less damage than drying hair naturally.
As the study pointed out: The hair shaft swells when in contact with water, as does the delta-layer of the CMC. The delta-layer is the sole route through which water diffuses into hair16, and so we speculate that the CMC could be damaged when it is in contact with water for prolonged periods. Longer contact with water might be more harmful to the CMC compared to temperature of hair drying.
Wet hair is in a weakened state. Excessive moisture leads to something called hygral fatigue which causes damage to your hair, making it limp. That’s why I don’t recommend leaving a deep conditioner in your hair for longer than 30 minutes or air drying.
What alternatives do I recommend?
I like to use a hooded hair dryer when drying my hair. The benefits are that it helps my hair to better absorb my products, especially the low porosity parts of my hair. It also gives a gentle heat that is distributed evenly so there aren’t any hot spots or my hair ‘cooking’ and it leaves my hair much smoother and shinier than if I air dried. FYI, I air-dried once, it took 8 hours to dry! If you don’t have the space for a hooded dryer, you can buy an attachment for your blow dryer. I have never used one, but if you have, I’d love to get your thoughts on it. I also sometimes use the diffuser on my hair dryer. This also helps to disperse the air so your curls won’t be disturbed.
What do you think? Did this just change everything you thought about air drying and healthy haircare?
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