Cosmopolitan (UK)


That is the question


From lockdowns bringing about opportunis­tic styling breaks to the unstoppabl­e reprise of bed-head hairstyles, it seems we’ve all got heat-free hair fever. But is air-drying really better for your tresses? Kate Pasola finds out

heat-tool addicts, I’ve got news for you. If you didn’t succumb to the temptation of trying out an air-dried hairstyle last year, rest assured, there’s still time to get involved this summer. Thanks to celebrity trendsetti­ng (hey, Rihanna!) along with rising temperatur­es, the desire to wash and go has never been stronger. Couple that with the proliferat­ion of heat-free curl TikTok trends (ICYMI, wrapping your hair in a bathrobe belt was a 2020 lockdown rite of passage), and it’s easy to see how the argument for heat-free styling is forming so quickly.

As someone with 2a type hair (or perhaps a wavy 2b on a good day), I’ve found myself enviously eyeing up the spectrum of air-dried shag styles, with non-committal-fringe-and-layering combos at one end, and sweaty, Miley-esque mullets at the other. And after a year spent in the comfort of my own home, I’ve become particular­ly partial to letting my mane dry au naturel.

But here’s the thing: I assumed this styling break would do my hair the world of good. I thought there’d be some sort of trichologi­cal pay-off for spending 2020 looking like an auburn Hagrid 95% of the time. But following my hair-tool abstinence, were my cuticles smoother? My strands stronger? My ends magically repaired? No. They categorica­lly were not. So what gives, fickle follicles?

Wetter means weaker

“We know that at a chemical level, your hair is weaker when it’s wet,” says Dyson’s senior design engineer Siona Tebbutt. “The hydrogen in water reacts with the hydrogen in the bonds between the proteins in your hair. So it makes the hair more malleable, stretchier, weaker.” Robert Weatherly, director of science and innovation at GHD, compares the delicacy of wet hair to “tissue paper”. And according to both, the longer your hair is wet, the longer it’s in a weakened state. Ergo, the faster you can dry your hair after washing, the better for its health.

Both heat-tool experts I speak with hasten to add that when drying your hair, the type of heat you’re using is an important factor. “We know that temperatur­es above 150°C start to affect those bonds at a more permanent level in the hair,” Siona tells me. “So we need to make sure that our products are engineered so that they don’t exceed that temperatur­e.” In other words, if you’re using a heat-safe hair tool, it’s likely not the heat itself harming your hair – just the way you’re using it.

Attitude check

Hair educator Zoë Irwin is of the opinion that sticking to your hairdryer could actually help maintain the state of your hair, provided you’re using it in an “engaged” way – AKA not blasting the highest heat with one hand while absentmind­edly scrolling on your phone with the other. “The quicker you take hair from hot to cold, the better the hair sets in place. So using the GHD Helios Hair Dryer,

I can take even 4c hair from very kinked to smooth by switching between a medium and cool heat setting when blow-drying.”

In other words, there are ways to speed up drying time without blasting your hair with high temperatur­es, and they may even make more trichologi­cal sense, sealing cuticles and keeping hairstyles in place longer, and meaning you might feel less of an urge to frequently wash and restyle.

Relieving the tension

So what about that TikTok bathrobe-belt moment we saw in 2020? Well, Irwin goes as far as to say that safely deploying warm and cool air to create and set a curl is a better option than relying on tensionbas­ed heat-free styles like bathrobe curls or overnight plaits. According to Oribe Haircare educator Adam Livermore, the same goes for tying hair back into buns, ponytails or other tight styles post-shower. “Remember, hair is more elastic when it’s wet, and naturally constricts a bit as it dries,” he warns. “So if you tie your hair in a super-tight ponytail or something while it’s wet, you’re likely to get some breakage or traction alopecia over time.”

Does all that mean my evenings spent sleeping on wet hair or experiment­ing with heat-free curl styles have gone to waste? Possibly, yes. But that’s not the whole story. Air-drying enthusiast Heather Dapaah, pro hairstylis­t and hair expert, isn’t necessaril­y anti-heat-styling – she believes it “has its place”. But if clients express an interest in air-drying, she’s eager to help them – aware that often, those embarking on an air-drying journey must harness the right products and techniques to do so in a way that creates real results for hair health.

What about heat-free breaks?

Most of us are non-committals at heart, preferring to hit the heat tools hard when needed, then take a break when we’re out and about less often, or on holiday

in warm temperatur­es. So I begin to wonder if heat-styling breaks – perhaps for a week or a month at a time – might help my hair health. Both Livermore and Dapaah’s responses are encouragin­g, though Dapaah cautions me against expecting miracles. “If your hair is already heat-damaged, stepping away from the tools won’t transform it,” she warns. “Using the right shampoos, conditione­rs and hair masks can help improve this [just] as well as not using heat tools.”

Irwin isn’t entirely convinced either, reminding me that with haircare, consistenc­y is often key. “What interests me is the approach that people take when they have a styling break,” she tells me. “They tend to leave their hair longer without washing, and that’s not a great thing for your scalp… they don’t hydrate their hair, or strengthen their hair, or even use a styling product.” To Irwin, more effective than a styling break would be “spending a month actually treating your hair – going from a protein mask to a moisture mask and doing that twice a week, using products that are sealed into the hair using heat”. That, she assures me, will have a “far greater effect”.

So what now?

After hours of conversati­ons, the frustratin­g yet helpful conclusion I’ve come to is that, in short, it all comes down to personal preference, your ability to commit to certain products and techniques, and managing your expectatio­ns. However, heat tools are not the devil. In fact, to achieve the Miley mullet, it’s likely you’ll need to get a little heat involved. Just make sure you’re deploying it responsibl­y, using heat and UV protection products, and trying not to “pass” over the same strands of hair multiple times.

Keen to get into air-drying? The main lessons are: a) Your hair won’t improve overnight, and if it’s already damaged, heat abstinence alone won’t fix things – you need trims, masks and serious TLC. And b), if you’re going to do it, do it properly (see the tips on the right). But whatever you choose, one thing’s for sure – the odd blow-dry with a heat-safe dryer and adequate protection is not going to be the end of the world. Phew.

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 ??  ?? The more you expose your hair to water, the greater the risk it’ll lose amino acids. So, deployed in moderation, good-quality dry shampoo can lend a helping hand if you’re keen to extend the life of a blow-dry or wash your hair less often. For curls, we love Airfro 00.3 DFY Curl Refresh, £14.95, and for straight or wavy hair, try R+CO’s Spirituali­zed Dry Shampoo Mist, £26.
The more you expose your hair to water, the greater the risk it’ll lose amino acids. So, deployed in moderation, good-quality dry shampoo can lend a helping hand if you’re keen to extend the life of a blow-dry or wash your hair less often. For curls, we love Airfro 00.3 DFY Curl Refresh, £14.95, and for straight or wavy hair, try R+CO’s Spirituali­zed Dry Shampoo Mist, £26.
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