How many times did your parents warn against walking outside with wet hair? If you’ve always wondered whether this actually leads to a winter cold or not (and what happens to your hair itself) we have answers. We talked to four experts to get the undisputed facts: Holly Mills, hair stylist for Streeters; Melissa Peverini, Marula Pure Beauty Oil brand ambassador; Micky Kibbe, owner of Swoon; and Becky Marinich, national educator for Aquage Haircare.
Mills and Kibbe filled us in on the health aspect, explaining that wet hair can’t directly cause a virus or cold, but it does affect your body temperature, which can eventually lead to sickness if you don’t catch it early. That’s because whenever you step outside with wet strands, your body struggles to stay warm because you’re losing heat through your head at an exponential rate. This in turn keeps your immune system from working to its best ability, and leaves ample room for germs to sneak in, just like Mom said they would.
Sniffles aside, subzero temps are also breeding ground for breakage. This goes for any hair type—silky, textured, straight, curly, kinky and coily—but Kibbe said it occurs more quickly for curly hair. Marinich also broke down the science of breakage, so you can better understand how your strands are affected from the inside out during cold. “When water reaches a freezing point, it solidifies and expands by almost 10 percent, so when you walk out on a cold day with wet hair, those water molecules that have adhered to the hair’s outer cuticle layer solidify and expand,” says Marinich. “This can cause the hair shaft to swell and cause the cuticle layer to lift, leaving hair vulnerable to environmental and thermal damage. When hair freezes, it naturally becomes less pliable—like an icicle, frozen locks can easily snap.”
How quickly your hair can break depends on the strength of your hair cuticles, which Mills says is different for every hair type. Cold, dry air can also lead to dandruff. “It [cold weather] can definitely dry it [scalp] out, just as it would your hair. We also tend to take very hot showers during winter months, which can really dry our skin and scalp out. If your skin is dry, it is likely that your scalp is also dry.” To prevent flaking, she recommends detangling with a boar bristle brush before you shampoo to loosen up dry skin on the scalp and stimulate blood circulation.
To avoid wet hair struggles altogether, Mills and Kibbe suggest showering at night—especially during winter—but caution against sleeping on wet hair, because patches of skin will stay moist longer than they need to. Instead, gently use a microfiber towel to absorb excess water or shake and squeeze your strands multiple times.
Even with all of these prevention techniques, you’re still bound to run out the door with wet hair every one cein awhile. In that case, Peverini and Marinich shared two of their favorite products for keeping hair hydrated and protected in the winter elements—the Aqauge SeaExtend Silkening Oil Treatment, a weightless Argan oil which “seals the cuticle, locks in moisture, and speeds up blow-styling time by 40%” and the Marula Pure Beauty Deep Conditioner that combats “dehydrated hair from [going from] dry-heat inside to cold winter air outside. Apply the conditioner to damp hair, put on a shower cap for 10 min, then rinse.”
The winter can be a tough time all around—running from place to place bundled up, darkness rolling in early, and So. Many. Holiday. Parties. But don’t let your hair be one of the reasons why you have to slow down. It can be tempting to run out the door after a shower, but drying your hair beforehand could save you some sick days in the future.