Air Drying Naturally Curly Hair Can Cause a Disrupted Scalp—Here’s How To Prevent That

Photo: Getty Images/Granger Wootz
If you've got curly hair, there's a good chance that air drying is a part of your styling routine. But, according to Bridgette Hill, a hairstylist, certified trichologist, and founder of Root Cause Scalp Analysis, air-drying your hair can cause funky things to happen to your scalp if it isn't done correctly.

"There are two ways you have to think about air drying hair. If you are dealing with a tight coil, a chemically-treated hair texture, or wavy hair, where air drying gives you more sheen, more definition, more health, it's amazing for the hair fiber, but you've also got to think about what that's doing to the base of this hair follicle at the scalp," Hill says.

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"On the scalp already, there's an existing fungus called Malassezia, it's all over our body," Hill explains. There are different species of Malassezia yeasts out there; however, when found in excess on the scalp, Malassezia is usually accompanied by dandruff, which needs water, food, and oxygen to survive. Because of spiral patterns and thicker textures, those with wavy and curly hair often trap more moisture at the scalp than those with straighter textures. Couple that with many cream- and oil-based curl products and the scalp becomes a place where flora can thrive.

Hill doesn't recommend completely nixing air-drying from your routine ("air-drying is the way to go...our curls love it, our curls are better that way," she states), but simply advises making sure the moisture is removed from your scalp to maintain the health of your microbiome and strands. "There has to be a healthy balance between making sure that we're allowing the scalp to be able to have the right amount of oxygen and cellular turnover to actually do its thing and function, as well as then protecting the hair fiber," she says.

Before you begin to air dry, Hill recommends using products that are antimicrobial and water-based to disrupt the unhealthy microbes. According to Hill, these products tend to have thyme, rosemary, and citrus bases as ingredients. If you prefer oil-based products, Hill says to avoid using ones with fillers such as shea butter and fatty oils on the scalp (because those can feed the fungi).

If you're worried that the product isn't moisturizing your scalp, Hill reassures it's fine, stating, "anti-microbial oils that are helpful for our scalp are not intended to nourish our hair fiber...It shouldn't feel oily, nourishing, and creamy at the base [of the scalp]." In fact, you want the opposite so it can fight the bad bacteria and fungus to maintain a healthy microbiome.

Taking care of naturally curly hair is a job in itself, and when it comes to air-drying, Hill says to make sure you prep your hair early enough in the day to allow it to dry properly. If you don't want heat on your scalp, she recommends giving yourself the full day to allow your hair to dry.

And if waiting around all day for your hair to dry isn't in the cards, Hill recommends using the Dyson Supersonic Hair Dryer ($399) with the Dyson Supersonic Gentle Air Attachment ($39). "The way that mechanism is, it's an airflow, not a blowing of a motor. So it's able to absorb the moisture without disturbing the actual fiber," she explains. No matter which option you choose, never go to sleep with your roots still wet! "That is what fuels that [fungi] development, and that's a very bad habit."

At the end of the day, the practice of air-drying your hair isn't bad at all, you just have to make sure you're doing it right and removing all moisture from your scalp to have a healthy scalp and luxurious, voluminous curls.

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