Air Drying vs. Blow Drying. Guess which is most damaging.

Lately I've been looking back at the troublesome period in my hair journey. I started to wonder about some of the mistakes I made along the way and seeing how I can learn from them.  One "mistake" in my case was trying to incorporate air drying into my regimen again. Let me clarify that I'm only calling air drying a mistake because it just doesn't sit well with my hair.  Ever since I started textlaxing, my hair began to prefer other methods of drying.

The fact that my hair no longer responded well to air drying really bummed me out.  It's supposed to be one of the healthiest ways of styling the hair after a wash. Isn't it?  That's what I thought until I read some interesting information
that may give me some insight as to why air drying wasn't working for me.

The study, published in 2011, looked at the changes in the hair structure and moisture content of the hair strand after air drying and blow drying at various temperatures.  Then the hair shaft was examined to determine if damage was sustained and what type of damage occurred (if any).

Using differing temperatures, they took freshly washed hair samples and proceeded dry it using a dryer.  With each sample they utilized a different temperatures and held the dryer at various lengths.

Here's a breakdown of what they did:
Sample 01. Received no treatment {controlled group}
Sample 02: Shampooed and air dried (68 degrees F)
Sample 03: Shampooed and blow dried for 60 seconds while holding the dryer 6 inches from hair at  116.6 degrees F (cool air)
Sample 04: Shampooed and blow dried for 30 seconds while holding the dryer 4 inches from hair at 142 degrees F
Sample 05: Shampooed an blow dried for 15 seconds while holding the dryer 2 inches from hair at 203 degrees F

What were the results?  After drying all the samples, they looked closely at the hair using various measuring devises to determine the impact of their actions on the hair.  Here's what they found out:

Hair Surface Damage : There was no hair surface damage on the samples that were air dried.  In the blow dried group, surface damage was evident. Cracks on the cuticle were observed in Sample 03 "but more obvious lifting and cracks were" seen in Sample 04 and the most damage was evident in the sample dried at the highest temperature and shortest distance.

Hair Cuticle & Cortex:  The study showed no changed to the cuticle & cortex of the hair that was air dried and Sample 02 dried using cool air.  But more severe damage to the cuticle was observed in Sample 05.The good news was that no damage to the cortex (the inner structure of the hair) could be seen in any of the samples.

Cell Membrane Complex (CMC): Here's where it get's interesting.  Only the air dried group exhibited damage to the CMC layer of the hair.  In all of the blow dried groups, "the CMC was well preserved with no signs of damage."  I'm sure you're wondering what this CMC layer is and why is it important.  Basically, it's the lipid layer that acts like a glue, holding the cuticle layer to the shaft. Sound familiar?  The folks leading the study seem to believe that air drying may impact our precious CMC layer because of the pro-longed exposure to "wet stage".  We know that water expands the size of the follicle, perhaps it's not a good thing to keep the hair in that expanded state for an extended period of time.

The Lesser of Two Evils?
Blow drying can damage the cuticle, air drying can damage the CMC layer. What's a girl to do?  The folks did suggest that using a blow dryer at 6 inches from hair at lower temperatures may cause less damage structurally than air drying.  Based on what I read, I began to play around with ideas on how to minimize damage to the air no matter which method I use.  If I air dried, I would use ceramide rich products to aid in the air drying process.  Perhaps I might even blow dry some of the moisture off (cool temperatures) to lessen the drying time.  If I blow dried, I'd always use the cool setting whenever possible. And if higher temperatures are required, I'd extend the distance of the dryer so it's not directly on the strand.

And of course there would be ample heat protectant usage throughout the entire process.  I'm a little snobby when it comes to heat protectants. I like the ones that also offer up healthy hair qualities and well as heat protecting power.  Kerastase Ciment Thermique is a water based creamy leave-in that protects the hair from heat while rebuilding and strengthening the hair fiber with the power of ceramides.

I also got my hands on two products from the Inphenom line that may be able to deal with both issues.  One is Cuticle Coat, to protect the cuticle layer damage that may occur from blow drying. The other is Cuticle CMC (Cement-CMC) for those air drying woes.  I bought these babies a while back after learning about Japanese straightening from this unicorn.  Inphenom is a Japanese hair product line that developed treatments that deal with damaged hair after color, straightening or other chemical services.  After reading about the results of this study, these Inphenom products have been reintroduced to my rotation.

I should also mention that, for the study, they used virgin hair and they repeated the wash and blow dry step once a day for 30 days.  Hopefully none of us are blow drying our hair daily.  But I still want you to be always diligent whenever you dry your hair.  No matter how you do it.

Check out the full study here. 


  1. I've been airdrying for about 4 months now because of a no heat challenge. I've never heard about this though. Thanks!

  2. I mainly air-dry out of sheer laziness! After a long wash day process, the thought of blow-drying is just too much for me. I just comb it into a ponytail and go about the rest of my day.

  3. Interesting study. I think my hair is also not a fan of air drying certain ways or I'm just not doing it right. Well, I notice if I air dry it just hanging down it seems to be more brittle. When I finger comb I will get tiny broken hairs coming out. But I sometimes air dry my rollersets. In this case my hair always comes out so smooth and soft. I don't understand why that is. Do you have any insight on this, Nadege?

  4. Interesting discovery:) May be roller setting under a dryer might be better.

  5. Since the study is based on 30 days of daily 'wettening' the hair, I do not think one shouldn't apply the results if one does not wash the hair on a daily base.

    We wash our hair once or twice av week, giving it some days and nutrition to recover from the damage of air drying.

    Many people make this mistake tho. You can only use the results of studies when the situation is the same tho.

  6. @ Andrea- I experience the same results when I roller set and air dry. I think it may have to do with the structure provided by the roller as the hair dries.

    When our hair is wet, our hydrogen bonds are disturbed. As the hair dries, the bonds are "reshaped" which is what allows the hair to hold a better curl if set on wet hair versus dry hair.

  7. I agree with @Svetlana. African American women do not wash their hair on a daily basis like the women in this study, so I find it hard to see this study as a reliable source of information regarding our hair. Also, we do not know the exact state of health of the hair of these women in the first place and we do not know of their personal health and hygienic habits. Most importantly, we don't even know how there women were chosen and grouped (random assignment or random sampling? Was this a blind or double blind study to prevent bias?) There are so many uncounted for variable that could affect this study.

  8. Nadege, can you share how you use the cuticle coat and CMC products? Is the culticle coat supposed to be used on wet hair before blowdrying and CMC used on wet hair prior to air drying?

  9. Very interesting post. I just find it more convenient to air dry which is why my blowdry very rarely sees any use. I'll definitely look into using more ceramide rich products as I don't think I'll go back to blowdrying any time soon x

  10. Very Interesting post, this will definitely make me feel a little better when I blow dry, and be aware of how and how far I hold the hair dryer.

  11. Thank you for this!! Lately, I've been seeing more damage to my hair and I didn't understand why. I've been air drying for some time now and when I recall when my hair was the healthiest (strongest)it was when I blow dried. The only difference between now and then is that I do not abuse heat.

  12. Interesting. I'll be using grape seed oil more when air drying. based on the study, I think it's safe to say that air drying is the better choice. especially since most girls wash their hair one a week and not with just shampoo.

  13. @ Two_women,
    These are Japanese products so the instructions are pretty much non-existent. Both say to use on wet hair then rinse but I use the Cuticle CMC on wet hair under my steamer and Cuticle Coat as a leave-in prior to roller setting and the heat of a hooded drier.

  14. I do not straighten my hair as much as I used to, but I blow dry alot. So I was in need of a good quality heat protection spray. I had read some reviews of the Somaluxe Argan Oil that it left hair feeling not heavy or greasy. So I tried it

    I just use the Somaluxe Argan Oil after I finish showering and it has totally protected by hair from the blowdryer. It has a lovely fresh smell and my hair just looks SO GOOD after using it


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