Air drying could be damaging your hair – here’s what you should be doing instead

We all know that styling can be damaging for our hair, so it’s no wonder that “heat holiday” has become a hot quarantine topic. Many of us are taking the opportunity to swap blow dries and straightening irons for simple air drying, feeling confident of emerging from lockdown with healthier locks if nothing else.

However, taking a heat holiday might not be quite the break our hair needs. According to experts, air drying is actually worse for hair health than using a hairdryer. Yes, really!

"When your hair comes into contact with water, it swells and becomes weak. This puts pressure on the delicate proteins keeping hair intact,” says Dr Tim Moore, ghd sciencist.

“The idea that air drying is healthy for hair is a total myth” stresses celebrity hairdresser Adam Reed, who looks after Tess Daly’s hair. “Do not do it! The longer hair stays wet, the more the cortex swells and cracks, permanently damaging your hair.”

“Don’t underestimate how weak hair can become when wet,” adds Dr Moore. “It can be easily broken by gentle everyday actions such as running your fingers through your hair.”

“Brushing and vigorous towel drying are even more damaging as you are placing additional stress on hair when it’s already in a vulnerable state. Using a hairdryer can actually be better for the health of your hair.”

What does the science say?

Obviously, that’s a convenient claim for somebody who works for a heat styling brand. However, it’s backed up by research at Yonsei University in Korea, which compared air drying with heat drying.

To their surprise, the researchers found the hair’s cell membrane complex (the material that ‘glues’ hair cells together) was only damaged in the naturally dried group. This happens, they think, because the delicate membrane complex stays in contact with water for longer.

They concluded that a hairdryer was the safest option overall – but only on low heat. In other words, this isn’t a license to blast your hair on full whack.

“You also need the right technique to dry your hair so as not to cause more unnecessary damage,” stresses Dr Moore. So how can you get your hair from wet to dry while keeping it as healthy as possible? Here’s what you need to know.

1: Squeeze, don’t rub

Vigorously towelling weak, wet hair is likely to break it, Dr Moore warns. Instead, squeeze the water out gently, using a scrunching motion. We're fans of the ultra-absorbent Aquis Turban, £30, here which slurps up water more speedily than a regular towel, helping to get hair to its “safe” state in less time.

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2. Do your prep

Before switching on the hairdryer, always use a heat protection product, says Adam who likes ghd's Heat Protect Spray, £14.50 here. If you have natural curls or waves, use a styling product to enhance the texture as it dries – Boots Essentials Curl Creme, £1.99 here, is a brilliant budget buy. If you have damaged ends or frizz, Adam recommends smoothing an oil through your ends: “This will add strength and help to control the hair and give a smoother finish.” We love L’Oreal Elvive Extraordinary Oil, £12.99 here.

3. Turn down the heat

Switch on your hairdryer, but turn up the power rather than the heat. “Always dry on a low heat setting, says Dr Moore. Adam recommends the new ghd Helios hairdryer, £159 here, which has three heat settings and quick-drying technology. “When you have powerful air flow like this, you don’t need to rely on heat to get your hair dry and it doesn't take much longer," he says.

4. Keep your distance

Don’t hold your hairdryer close to your scalp when you’re rough drying. The Korean research used a dryer on a low temperature at a distance of 15cm, and kept it moving continuously. “This technique causes less damage than drying hair naturally,” says Dr Moore.

5. Stay hands off

“Less touching is better when rough drying the hair,” says Adam. “Just allow the hairdryer to do its job. Don’t brush – it risks breaking the hair and also makes it look frizzy.”

6. Know when to stop

Once your hair is about 75% dry, it will have regained its strength “This is when the hair doesn’t feel wet to touch, it will just feel slightly damp,” Adam explains. “At this point you can safely leave it to air dry, causing the minimum possible damage.”

7. Style without heat

If you want your hair to fall into place nicely, this is the stage where you can style it with plaits, buns and twists to add texture as it dries. “Loosely twist your hair into two sections either side of your head, and clip them both up onto your head for 20 mins,” suggests Adam. “This will give added natural root lift and texture. Unclip it when it’s dry and shake it out.”

8. Stay away from the shower

Wash your hair less so it’s in that wet danger zone less often. Nobody really spots greasy roots on Zoom, and you can stretch it out longer with dry shampoo. Use no-heat styles like ponytails and buns to give your hair a break, and boost its strength with a protein mask, suggests celeb stylist Zoe Irwin. “This helps to bind broken fibres together and strengthen fragile, damaged hair." We like Virtue Restorative Treatment Mask, £28 here. If you want to do a hair 'facial', Zoe suggests rinsing and following with a conditioning mask.

PS: If you must blow…

There's no such things as a no-damage blow-dry but once your hair is nearly dry, it’s less vulnerable to breakage if you need to turn up the heat. “To minimise damage, don’t hold the dryer directly onto one section of hair for a prolonged period of time,” says Adam. “If you’re using a brush, move it through the hair and follow the movement with the dryer.”

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