You left home with your hair still slightly damp, and you thought you’d be okay. Turns out, it was a lot colder outside than anticipated. You know that crunchy, brittle feeling in your hair can’t be good, but what can you really do about it?
Let’s refresh our basic molecular biology: Your hair is porous, and ice takes up more space than liquid water, meaning that the water molecules will expand inside the hair shaft when they freeze. This leads to damaged strands that are now weakened from the inside, as well as being stressed on the outside due to dry air from indoor heating and arid winter weather.
The average person can’t exactly keep a towel on their person at all times. So, for those days when you forget your scarf and/or hat, here are some steps you can take to prevent further damage to your chilled mane:
- If at all possible, leave your hair alone, let it thaw slowly first (more on that below). If it’s pulled back or in an up-do, braid, etc. – leave it. If it’s hanging loose, leave it. Tying your hair back at this point will only cause more damage. “When water anywhere gets cold enough to freeze, it expands,” writes Audrey Davis-Sivasothy, author of Hair Care Rehab, for the beauty blog SimoneDigital.com. “If your hair freezes, it becomes less pliable and is certainly more vulnerable to breakage.”
- Get resourceful about ways to wick up the extra moisture. Walking around in public all day with wet shoulders may be the least of your worries if/when you start feeling a cold coming on. In the absence of a towel, a soft, 100% cotton cloth is ideal for quickly and gently drying potentially-damaged hair. If you happen to have your gym bag with you and packed with a clean T-shirt, count yourself lucky. Otherwise, grab a handful of paper towels and squeeze out your ends carefully.
- Use the hand dryer in the bathroom only as a last resort. If you are in a school/work environment where your hair must be dry immediately to keep up appearances, then we can’t exactly tell you not to do this. But be aware that flash-thawing your hair sucks the moisture out of it, which your hair desperately needs this time of year. The sudden temperature change will also make the hair that much more brittle. (Remember, when super-chilled or very hot objects change temperature quickly and drastically, they can crack.) Thawing your hair quickly with hot, blowing air may help you in the short-term, but will probably result in more breakage, split ends and flyaway hair long-term.
- Damage Control: Once you get within range of some haircare products (or your kitchen), “Ensure that your hair is thoroughly deep conditioned, dry and sealed with an oil,” advises Davis-Sivasothy. This time of year, consider avocado oil, which is loaded with Vitamin E and can help strengthen hair, bind split ends and acts as a natural sunscreen. (And if you live in a climate where the sun regularly reflects off snow-covered ground, you know “snow-burn” is a reality for your skin. Remember to protect your hair too!) “Cold air sucks moisture out of a wet mane, making it stiff,” adds hairstylist John Barrett, in an online forum for Cosmopolitan magazine. He recommends gently applying a moisturizing styling cream or leave-in conditioner on damp and drying strands to seal in hydration as soon as you get home. In the meantime, you can also pat on hand cream for similar, immediate moisture and protection benefits.
Remember: In the future, if you must leave home with a damp head, "be sure to work a quick squeeze of serum (a fast-absorbing, more oil-based treatment) in your hair before tucking your hair beneath a hood or hat," says stylist Nicholas Penna Jr., a Massachusetts salon-owner, Fashion Week veteran and contributor to Glamour magazine. “(Serum will) also help keep hair from frizzing under the hat,” he adds.
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