A blow dryer is a universal tool for hair styling, found everywhere, from salons and dressing rooms to hotel bathrooms and at home. The concept is simple enough: plug in the unit, choose your power setting, and blast your hair with jets of hot air until it’s dry and styled to perfection.
You may use your blow dryer occasionally or in a rush, or perhaps it’s an integral part of your morning routine when emerging from the shower. But if you’re concerned about hair loss, you might second-guess the role of blow drying in your regimen.
Maybe you’ve heard that the process damages hair or even accelerates hair loss, but is there any truth behind these anecdotes? If true, does this apply to other heat-styling elements like curling irons or straighteners? Is there a safe and sustainable way to use these products and protect your hair long-term?
Let’s get to the bottom of these questions and put together the real story behind blow dryers, hair loss, and other methods of safe and healthy styling to consider.
The science of hairdryers is more interesting than you might expect. These handheld appliances are electromagnetic machines containing a circular fan and a heating element with nichrome wire, an alloy of nickel and chromium. Electricity rapidly heats the nichrome wiring around the heating unit, which warms the air from the intake screen at the back of the unit.
As the fan blows the heated air out the front of the barrel, new air is continually introduced to the cylinder at different rates, depending on the power level chosen. The combination of heat and pressure applied to wet hair evaporates moisture, allowing users to add volume and style to their hair.
Whereas long, wet hair can take up to an hour to dry on its own, hairdryers speed up the process to just a few minutes, along with the added benefits of precise shaping and styling.
Before we jump to conclusions about hairdryer use and hair loss, we need to look at the data available. Anecdotal reports can only go so far, and like all things in the medical world, outliers and exceptions always exist. That said, let’s see what science tells us about blow dryer use and its effects on hair health.
Even casual at-home stylists know from experience that too much hairdryer usage can result in hair becoming too dry. It’s easy to ramp up the heat level on your appliance in hopes of saving a few minutes or achieving more volume, only to end up with frizzed-out, de-moisturized hair.
It comes with the territory when using heating elements to treat hair, but how much dryness is too much? It’s hard to tell during the drying process, but if your hair feels 100 percent free of moisture after the drying process, it’s likely a sign you’ve gone too far.
Dryness might not seem like a big deal in the short term, but over time, hair becomes stripped of its natural oils and overcompensates with imbalanced oil production. Flakiness and split ends are other issues derived from dryness, so proceed with caution when using these appliances.
Dryness is one thing, and there are remedies to bring moisture back with ease. Hair damage is another issue with more serious implications for thinning, miniaturization, and eventual hair loss.
The question is whether hairdryers cause irreversible damage to the hair or the follicle units from which hair grows on the scalp.
The hair surface refers to the cell membranes that comprise each strand of hair, protecting the cells within and contributing to its overall integrity. One study from 2011 revealed that continued high-heat hairdryer application damaged the hair surface, particularly in direct, close proximity.
This doesn’t mean damage or hair loss is guaranteed, but these study’s findings imply that limiting dryer use can help your hair stay strong and healthy.
Another discovery from the study revealed that some subjects’ hair color changed after 10 sessions of intense hair dryer use. Specifically, the shade of their hair became lighter, suggesting that keratin compounds were lost with the application of heat.
This might not be a dealbreaker for those who already dye their hair or don’t mind some minor change, but it could raise some alarms regarding the effects of hairdryer use on overall hair health.
These findings are a mixed bag and don’t offer a definitive answer on the connection between blow dryer use and hair loss. However, subjects in the study only treated their hair 30 times, translating to a month of daily use.
Knowing that hair was slightly damaged and lost some color, we can suspect that months and years of continued hairdryer use may indeed leave hair permanently damaged.
Thankfully, hair follicles are extremely resilient, and the follicle life cycle begins again within a few weeks when strands are damaged. Unless hairdryers damage the follicles themselves, you’re likely in the clear if you alter your heat styling approach sooner.
Given the realities of hairdryers and how they affect our hair, it might be time to think twice about other heat-stying tools in our arsenal of appliances.
While each device interacts differently with hair, they can all result in damage with overuse, so let’s discuss the culprits that may be doing more harm than good in the long term.
A curling iron is a barrel-shaped instrument that uses heat to shape hair into unique, voluminous styles. However, these ceramic or titanium heating elements can run between 200 and 300 degrees, so you might be playing with fire with continued treatments over the long term.
Flat irons use direct heat and pressure to remove kinks and curls from hair to achieve a desired look. They run in a similar temperature range to curling irons and have an additional pressure aspect that may harm your hair down the road.
While thermal brushes run a bit cooler than irons, these units should also be used cautiously. However, they help to untangle and straighten hair with less direct pressure, meaning they might be safer than irons to achieve your style of choice.
If you want to continue using driers and heat elements to style your hair, ensure you do it correctly! Here are some tips to minimize damage and keep your hair looking great.
Rather than drying your hair to the fullest extent, aim for 80 percent dryness and 20 percent remaining wetness. This allows hair to retain essential moisture and speed up styling.
Keep your blow dryer on lower settings rather than going full blast. It may take a bit longer to complete your routine, but the long-term benefits of hair preservation are worth it.
Avoid direct, targeted application of hot air from close proximity to protect your hair when using a dryer. Keep the dryer further away from your scalp and use circular motions to prevent temperatures from rising too high.
Some products, like heat protectant sprays, can help save your hair from damage before using heating elements. If you’re committed to using dryers, irons, and other tools, consider investing in one of these sprays to create a safe barrier for the hair surface.
Hairdryers are so commonplace that it’s hard to part ways with your daily routine. The good news is that you probably won’t lose hair by using these tools if you do things the right way.
Be careful and follow our tips, and don’t hesitate to contact Jae Pak MD Medical for some expert advice if you have experienced hair loss and are interested in replacement through a hair transplant.
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