11 Unexpected Things That Might Happen When You Air-Dry Your Hair

It could get dehydrated, for one.

by Eva Taylor Grant and Carolyn Steber
Originally Published: 
The unexpected pros and cons of air drying your hair.
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There are so many pros and cons with air drying hair that it can be tough deciding whether you're going with the au natural route or reach for your blow dryer instead. It ultimately depends on the texture of your hair and what type of style you’re going for, breakage fears, and how much time you’re willing to commit to your haircare routine.

While air drying brings a number of perks, it’s particularly beneficial if you’re trying to avoid damage, says hairstylist Roi Alan, owner of Tease Salon. “Many people air dry to protect their hair from being exposed to heat, which can cause it to appear dry,” he explains. Another reason is time: If your hair is thick or you’re short on time in the morning, you might opt to jet out the door with damp strands.

There are downsides to leaving your strands wet, though. Air drying your hair isn’t necessarily bad — but if you are going to do it, there are best practices that’ll help prevent potential consequences. Stephanie Ayler, a licensed cosmetologist and owner of hair care brand Nourish and Love Co., recommends applying the right kind of serum, spray, or leave-in conditioner for your hair type. For straight hair, Ayler suggests gently pulling damp strands into a low ponytail while it dries. If your hair is wavy, try a loose braid or scrunch your strands to increase their natural wave. Then, if your hair is curly, she recommends detangling then flipping your head upside down, applying some product, and scrunching curls in. Ayler notes natural hair works well with a wash and go: You could go with an updo like the pineapple or twist or braid your hair into sections, she says.

Air drying can be bothersome, though, as anyone who’s ever gone out in the cold with wet hair knows. Read on for the pros and cons of air drying your hair.


Mildew Or Bacteria Might Grow

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Brace yourself: Sleeping with wet hair can cause mold and bacteria to form on the scalp. According to Tony Odisho, owner of the hair care line Tony Odisho, this is due to a lack of airflow.

Think about it: When you sleep, your hair stays pressed into the pillow. And when you don’t get enough air flowing around your strands, it remains wet much longer than it would if it were drying during the day. That damp environment can lead to the formation of mildew and bacteria on your hair, he explains, which could then lead to itchiness on the scalp and even a noticeable odor.

While this side effect won’t happen to everyone, it's definitely something to consider if nighttime showers are a part of your routine. Ayler says partially drying your hair with a microfiber towel can help. As long as you don’t hop into bed with soaking wet hair, you should be OK.


Your Hair Would Be Less Heat Damaged

Heat styling puts your strands through the wringer. “Less heat equals healthier hair,” Lana Kurayeva, an expert colorist and founder of Shear Bliss Salon, tells Bustle. “Air drying versus blow-drying is much better for all hair types.” Less damage is a key reason for that.

"Every time you use heat on your hair, it expands the cuticle, which agitates the outer layer of hair," Odisho says. This can result in hair that looks or feels dry, which is one reason why some folks choose to put down their tools and give their hair a break.

Again, just be careful about to bed with sopping wet hair. “Sleeping with completely wet hair isn’t the best option for overall hair health,” Ayler says. “Using a microfiber towel to remove the majority of moisture can help speed up air drying time but also reduce damage that can sometimes happen the longer the hair stays wet.” She also suggests using a silk pillowcase or scarf, which can greatly reduce any snags or tangles caused by friction.


It’ll Retain Moisture & Look Smoother

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According to Ayler, air drying hair helps it retain moisture, which is another reason why it might appear smoother. “High heat from blow dryers can dry out your hair and leave it feeling straw-like if used improperly and without the right combination of products,” she says. To keep that moisturized look, lock it in with some leave-in conditioner.


It Could Be Tougher To Style

While air drying works well for some, it isn’t the best option for everyone, especially if you’re going for a particular hairstyle. "You cannot manipulate the way [your hair] dries like you can with heat," Edward Tricomi, a master stylist from Warren Tricomi, tells Bustle. "There are some haircuts that air dry better, but at the end of the day, it is the luck of the draw when it comes to air drying."

Depending on your hair type, air drying might even make it look more damaged, especially if you don’t put product in. “A downside to air drying straight, damaged hair is that it could show the damage more,” Starr Mason, a field education leader with Hair Cuttery, tells Bustle. “When you blow-dry using a brush and the right products, you can smooth out the ends so they don’t look as damaged.” This is why it all comes down to personal preference and what’s right for your hair.


Your Color Might Last Longer

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Just got an amazing dye job? "Sometimes air drying can be better for the hair, especially if you color treat it," Ted Gibson, a celebrity hairstylist, tells Bustle. "Putting excessive heat on the hair cuticle via blow drying and using hot tools like curling irons and flat irons can be way more damaging versus letting your hair air dry." Your best bet? Ask your stylist how to properly care for your hair post-dye and see if they have any protective products available.


It Lessens The Risk of Split Ends

According to Michelle Cleveland, a hairstylist and owner of Hair Addict Salon, air drying is a good way to prevent damage and split ends in the first place. “With a blow dryer, you’re forcing air into one area and on one central part of the hair,” she tells Bustle. “Your hair will break more easily because you’re forcing hot air onto the shaft." With air drying, you're not going through the same process.


Your Hair Is More Vulnerable

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Air drying your hair really is an art. If you do it correctly, it can be beneficial to the health of your hair. If you don’t, your hair could easily get damaged. The reason? Constant water exposure, says hairstylist Melissa Peverini. "Water causes hair to swell and can damage the membrane, weakening hair over time,” she tells Bustle.

If you aren’t sure what to do, ask a hairstylist for their advice based on your hair’s texture and level of damage. As Ayler says, “Hair is weakest when it’s wet, so being mindful of how you use hair tools such as combs and brushes is very important to avoid unnecessary breakage.”


It Can Get Dehydrated In The Cold

It may seem ironic that wet hair can get dehydrated, but it's a real risk, Peverini says, especially if you venture out on a brisk day with a wet head. Cold weather can cause wet hair to become dehydrated and may lead to breakage, which is why you should give your strands plenty of time to dry before stepping out. (Or, at the very least, wear a protective scarf.)


It Could Help Maintain Curl Definition

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While you can certainly maintain curls with a hairdryer and a diffuser, air drying is often the best way to go for folks with curly hair. If your hair is straight, Mason says air drying is also a way to add curls or waves. All you have to do is braid or twist your hair while it’s damp. You could also follow the famed Curly Girl Method, which includes cleansing, conditioning, and styling in a way that defines curls.


You Might Need To Shampoo Twice

Sleeping on wet hair can mean waking up with strands that are bumpy or crimped in odd ways, says Mason. If you don’t like the way your hair dried overnight, you might need to shampoo or condition and start all over again. This is especially true if you have bangs, which can be tricky to air dry.


Your Hair Might Feel Oily

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One of the most surprising side effects of air drying hair is oiliness. “Leaving your scalp moist for too long will trigger your scalp compensatory mechanisms and lead to overproduction of oil,” professional hairstylist Monica Davis tells Bustle. “This will give you the idea that you have to wash your hair more often, but it will only dry the scalp more.”

To get the best of both worlds, Davis suggests applying a heat protectant to your hair then blow drying at a lower temperature and use a wide-tooth comb to avoid stretching your strands. “Blow dry just the roots and scalp and leave the rest of the length wet if you have time for that,” she says.

In the end, it's totally up to you whether you prefer air drying or heat styling, and which method you lean towards in your daily life. Air drying your hair is not inherently damaging, but if you want to do it properly, you'll likely want to talk to a stylist or do even more research on your hair type. Something as simple as drying your hair should be easy and stress-free.

Studies referenced:

Dias, M.F. (2015). Hair Cosmetics: An Overview. International Journal of Trichology.

Lee, Y. (2011). Hair Shaft Damage from Heat and Drying Time of Hair Dryer. Annals of Dermatology.


Roi Alan, hairstylist

Stephanie Ayler, licensed cosmetologist

Tony Odisho, owner of the hair care line Tony Odisho

Lana Kurayeva, expert colorist

Edward Tricomi, master stylist

Ted Gibson, celebrity hairstylist

Michelle Cleveland, hairstylist

Melissa Peverini, hairstylist

Monica Davis, hairstylist

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