Do you ever think to yourself, “Gosh, I would have so much more time in my day if I could just master the art of air-drying my hair instead of spending all that time coaxing it into a style I’m ok with wearing out in public?”
If you answered “yes,” I feel you. I, too, once stood in my bathroom for at least 45 minutes every morning brushing and drying and applying and curling and waiting and futzing and touching and tweaking my hair until I determined it was worthy. (And if it was deemed unworthy even after all that, it was banished to a rage bun — you know that style you throw your hair into out of spite and frustration after realizing it’s never going to look like what you want and you might as well just give up and chop it all off…or, less dramatically, put it up.) Even when I did choose to air-dry my hair, I wasn’t ever 100% happy with the results. Sure, I had nearly an hour of extra time in my day but it often ended up looking puffy or frizzy, or half of it curled in one direction while the other half lay limp against my skull.
But here’s the thing about air-drying your hair that no one wants to talk about: it still takes some effort — it’s the hair equivalent of “no-makeup makeup.” If you want to do it well (i.e. smooth, shiny and frizz-free), here’s what you need to know.
In the shower…
Perfectly air-dried hair starts while it’s still wet. For smooth, frizz-free hair, you want to make sure you’re moisturizing your hair well with conditioner after washing it. When hair gets frizzy, it’s because the outermost layer of each strand — the cuticle — is open. To keep it closed and smooth, you need a conditioner that will lock in moisture without weighing hair down. Without that extra layer of conditioning, you leave your cuticles open to attack by brush, towel or hands that can further rough up the cuticle and lead to serious frizz.
Speaking of cuticles…once you’ve fully rinsed the conditioner out of your hair, give it a quick shot of cold water. Not only will the cool water wake you up so you can better admire your flawlessly air-dried hair later in the day, but it also helps to further seal the hair cuticle, causing it to lay flat. And after you’re hair is nice and cool (and not frizzy), brush it out. Controversial, I know, but your hair is at its strongest when it’s really wet; if you need or like brushing your hair before it dries (skip this step if you’re a curly-headed gal), keep a wide-tooth comb or brush specifically made for wet hair in the shower. As you’re brushing, be sure to establish where you want your part to be when hair dries — middle, side, deep side, etc. You don’t have to be precious about it, but do pick a spot so your hair knows where it’s supposed to fall.
If frizz is a real problem for you, consider applying a leave-in conditioner to your strands just after you shower. Not only will a product like this ensure extra-moisturized locks, it’ll also keep those aforementioned cuticles in check as the air starts to do its job. Also consider a smoothing or shine-enhancing serum at this stage. Much like skin, hair absorbs oil-based products better when it’s wet so don’t feel like you have to wait until hair is dry to run serum through it.
As far as towels go… don’t. If you absolutely can’t stand the feeling of sopping hair down your back (I get it) and have to help it dry a little, use something that is 100% cotton, like a t-shirt or microfiber towel made specifically for drying hair. I know this may sound insane — towels are meant to dry things! — but wrapping your hair in terrycloth can lead to drying, breakage and tangles, all of which are no bueno for gorgeously air-dried hair.
As it starts to dry…
KEEP YOUR HANDS OFF OF YOUR HAIR! Sorry for yelling, but seriously, no touching; nothing spoils an air dry like well-meaning-but-ill-informed fingers. Damp hair is super fragile and prone to breakage, so the more you touch it, the more likely it is you’ll lose strands and open up that carefully-closed cuticle we talked about earlier, leading to frizz city. A hands-off approach is also particularly important if you’ve got a natural wave or curl to your hair: the more you brush, touch or tug on it once you’re out of the shower, the more you’ll break up that shape which means you’ll be reaching for the heat-styling tools in a couple of hours — exactly what you wanted to avoid.
If you don’t trust yourself not to touch (and you want a little added texture), consider a loose braid or bun. After lightly spritzing damp strands with salt spray, gently gather them into a loose, low braid or pinned bun and let them dry. This will likely mean it takes a bit longer for hair to dry since it’s less exposed to air, but it is a better way to ensure less frizz and knotting.
Once it’s dry…
Let it out of the bun or braid and marvel at your Rapunzel-like waves! But seriously, everyone’s hair is different and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to air-drying. Play around and figure out what works for you. If you find yourself unable to combat some frizz at the end, tame flyaways with a (new!) toothbrush spritzed with hairspray. (Sounds weird, works miracles. Just think of the toothbrush as a very tiny comb.) Or if you’re unhappy with the way a few pieces have dried, fire up a curling iron or straightener, but only hit the parts that really need it or else you’re defeating the whole purpose of air drying!