Embracing our natural hair texture means choosing healthy styling choices and avoiding unnecessary damage to our hair. One of the most common sources of curly hair damage is the use of hot irons, straighteners, and hot blow dryers. Avoid these as much as possible to prevent the cuticle damage they cause. Adversely, there’s some preliminary research that indicates complete air drying also damages the cell membrane complex between cuticle and cortex fibers, so here are some suggestions for drying your hair to minimize as much damage as possible.
One aspect of styling your natural hair is learning how to “plop”. If you have never heard of plopping hair before, we have you covered.
Plopping refers to wrapping wet hair in a t-shirt, t-shirt towel, microfiber towel, or flour sack to soak up excess water. Why use these materials? The rough fabric loops on regular bath towels can cause friction damage. Wet hair is super delicate and more prone to breakage. If you use a regular towel to dry your hair, you are more likely to snap a few hair strands. Regular bath towels are also quite absorbent and soak up too much moisture from your hair, leaving you with dry and frizzy strands.
So why plop hair? It is thought that wrapping hair while it is wet will help to quickly absorb extra moisture. This reduces drying time (particularly if you are air-drying your hair) and reduces frizz. Most hair experts recommend plopping hair after applying a styling product (like a mousse or a gel). Air-drying hair is healthier than blow-drying with high heat, so plopping makes air-drying less time consuming for anyone trying to protect the health of their hair.
Not everyone ends up with frizz-free hair after plopping so if plopping does not work for you, do not fret. Gently diffuse your hair instead using cool air or low heat.
For smoothness and shine, air drying is best. However, do consider using a protein treatment and/or penetrative deep conditioner occasionally to conserve the integrity and avoid fragility and breakage. Air drying for an extended period of time is actually more damaging than drying your hair with a hair dryer on low heat! Very gently soak up excess water with a microfiber towel.
Curlies should always use a hair dryer with a diffuser, preferable on a cold air or low heat setting. If you use heat, keep the dryer at least 6 inches away from your hair and scalp to avoid cuticle damage. Some people air dry for a few hours and then finish up using a hair dryer/diffuser.
Scientific Resource We Find Useful:
Hair shaft damage from heat and drying time of hair dryer. Lee, Yoonhee, et al., Annals of dermatology 23(4): 455-462 (2011).