As someone who lived through the great Aqua Net and banana clip invasion of the 80s—and survived an attack of the scrunchies, claw clips, and chunky blonde highlights of the 90s—I’ve made a few hair mistakes in my life. But one thing that I know for sure is that air drying my hair naturally is way less damaging than blow drying. Or is it?
According to TikToker Scarlett Rocourt—owner of WonderCurl—leaving your hair to “air dry” naturally can be more damaging than using a hairdryer. And she’s got the receipts to prove it.
A Common Part Of The Hair Care Regimen
For the past couple of decades, hair experts have been pretty consistent with their advice on applying heat to hair. The conventional wisdom has been that using a hairdryer can cause damage and breakage. So, for best results, we’ve been told to let our hair dry naturally.
It’s such a well-known piece of advice that air drying has become a common part of hair care regimens everywhere. Especially if you have curly hair.
The Viral Video
In Rocourt’s TikTok video, the clip begins with the question “Why is my hair always dry?” And the conversation goes like this:
“You keep air drying.”
“But, I don’t use heat.”
“It’s still damaging.”
“I don’t have hair like yours.”
“It’s all hair types.”
“I’m afraid to use heat.”
“That’s extreme heat.”
In the comments section, people weren’t convinced that Rocourt was sharing good advice. That’s when she backed up her claims by sending people to her blog and a link to a new study by scientists at Annals of Dermatology.
The Science Of Hair
As Rocourt explained on her blog, hair is a fiber that is made up of proteins called keratin. Generally, each hair shaft has three layers—the medulla, the cortex, and the cuticle.
The medulla is the hair’s innermost layer, and the cortex surrounds it. The cuticle is a dead layer of cells that overlap for protection. Holding the cuticle and the other parts of hair in tack is the CMC, or cell membrane complex.
However, not all hair types have all three layers. Rocourt noted that “naturally blonde and fine hair generally don’t have a medulla.” Which is what makes these hair types “more fragile than thick or coarse hair.”
Excessive heat can damage the hair cuticle, which can cause your hair to become dry and brittle. And this fact led to the conclusion that no heat is the best drying option. This is what started the myth that natural air drying was the best option for a healthy head of hair.
A Myth-Busting Study
The study from Annals of Dermatology tested the overall damage of hair strands that had been naturally dried, as well as hair dried with a blowdryer. In 30 trials that lasted 30 days, the researchers divided participants up into five groups.
One of the groups air-dried their hair at room temperature. While the other groups tested blow-drying at different distances and times.
Researchers examined the surface, cuticle, and cortex layer of study participants’ hair under a microscope. And they found that air-drying hair caused more drying on the inside of the hair strand. While blow-drying with motion from a certain distance caused less damage.
They also looked at the CMC and the moisture content, and found that “the cuticle in the air-dried group was not damaged.” They did find some cracking in the groups that used heat to dry their hair. And the most cracking came from the group using the highest temperature.
“There was no damage to the cuticle and cortex in the air-dried and low temperature dried groups,” Rocourt explained.
Then, the TikToker got to the “interesting part.” She pointed to the part of the study where the researchers looked at the Cell Membrane Complex. When they did that, the only group to show signs of damage was the air dry group.
All of this data led to an interesting conclusion. The researchers noted that a hairdryer does cause more surface damage than natural drying. However, “using a hairdryer at a distance of 15 centimeters with continuous motion causes less damage than drying hair naturally.”
A Second Opinion
TikToker and hair expert Nerija agreed with Rocourt. In her video about heat and healthy hair, she told her followers that air drying can lead to more damage and cause breakage and split ends.
“Did you know that air-drying your hair can lead to more damage like breakage and split ends? Yes, you heard it right. That’s because when hair comes in contact with water it swells,” she explained.
“The longer the swelling process goes on, the more pressure it puts on the delicate proteins keeping your hair intact, which can then lead to more damage.”
Nerija advised air drying until your hair is about “70 to 80 percent dry before powering up your blow dryer.” She also recommended using a heat protector.
Both TikTokers got pushback in the comments about this shocking hair advice. But the results speak for themselves. Both women are rocking gorgeous hair. It looks like they might be onto something.