Over the years, you may have been told that you shouldn’t go outside with wet hair because doing so could make you sick. In reality, you can’t actually catch a cold by heading out with a head of wet hair in winter. What can happen, however, is that you can cause significant damage to your healthy locks.
Exposing wet hair to very cold temperatures outside can make your strands more likely to break. If you want to maintain strong, healthy hair all winter long—and help it stand up against other winter-related hazards—make sure you allow your hair to air dry completely or blow-dry it using the cool setting before heading out the door.
How winter weather can damage wet locks
When your hair is wet—whether you’re inside or outside—it is in its most vulnerable state. This is why hair experts tell you to never brush wet hair or go to bed with your locks dripping wet—you run the risk of damaging it much more than if it was dry. These risks are even higher in cold weather.
Freezing temperatures can make water molecules expand, and when these water molecules are in your hair, the expansion can affect the hair shaft, as well. This can raise the cuticle, which is made of overlapping layers of cells on the outermost layer of the hair, and expose the inner layers of hair to damage.
Water molecule expansion in the hair can also cause the strand to stiffen like it is frozen. Stiff strands have the potential to snap off in a clean break, leaving you with uneven hair lengths and split ends. And, if you’re pulling a hat on top of wet hair every day, you’re increasing the friction put on your hair and running the risk of even more damage.
All types of hair are susceptible to cold weather-related breakage, but curly hair is usually the most affected. Additionally, if your hair is already feeling the effects of winter frizziness, it’s even more likely to break off and split at the ends when it is wet.
Protecting your hair from winter damage
The obvious way to avoid damaging wet hair when going outside is to ensure your hair is completely dry before you leave the house. The best ways to do this are to wash and dry your hair the night before or to get up early enough to shower and let your hair air dry completely before you need to leave.
If you don’t have the time, blow drying your hair would be preferable to leaving it wet, but you don’t want to make this an everyday habit. Use the coolest setting possible if you do use your hair dryer and make sure to coat your locks with heat protectant to avoid drying out the strands.
If heading out the door with a head of wet hair is absolutely unavoidable at times, there are a few other things you can do to ensure your hair stays as healthy and strong as possible.
- Moisturize: Keeping hair adequately moisturized during the winter season can be challenging, since the dry air both outside and inside can zap away natural moisture and leave hair looking frizzy and feeling dull. Frizzy and dry hair tends to be much more brittle than well-nourished hair, so work to keep your hair as moisturized as possible by using deep conditioning treatments, weekly hair masks and leave-in conditioner.
- Hair oil: Hair oils are not ideal for everyone at all times of the year, but during the winter, they can be instrumental in sealing the cuticle and locking in moisture to protect your strands from breakage. Coconut oil and argan oil are two winter haircare staples, but you may need a lighter oil like grapeseed oil if your hair is naturally oily or fine.
- Nourish: Nourishing your hair from the inside out is also a great way to maintain strong strands that can stand up against winter damage. Eat healthy, balanced meals and drink lots of water to keep your hair hydrated and ensure it gets the nutrients it needs. You might also consider adding a nutritional supplement like biotin or silica to strengthen the hair even more.
In general, it’s pretty easy to minimize your risks for hair damage during the wintertime. Take care to dry your hair before going out in the cold and work to nourish and protect it every day so that it is healthy and strong enough to withstand some stress if you do have a rushed morning.