Monday, 29 November 2010

Heat on Wet Hair = Bubble Hair

I recently did a post where I stated that a blow dryer (or any other type of heating tool - flat iron or curling iron) should never be used on wet hair and a commenter asked why this was the case.

The answer is bubble hair. The term 'bubble hair' does literally mean bubbles form in the hair.


There are two necessary ingredients
1. Wet hair (water)
2. Heat (contact heat e.g hair dryer nozzle or flat iron or curling iron)

Where do the bubbles come from?

Quite simply, the water is heated up into steam (essentially air) which gets trapped inside the hair as a bubble. Remember that water forms steam at around 100 degrees C (212 F). Most heating tools go well above this temperature.

Bubble hair feels rough and lumpy. It is also more brittle. Tests on bubble hair show that the cortex of the hair is damaged and the bubble actually is an air bubble. (J Cutan Pathol. 1992 Oct;19(5):439-44 , Br J Dermatol. 1994 Dec;131(6):901-3. )

Have you ever experienced bubble hair?

Image Credit: P&G remixed by yours truly

39 comments:

  1. *cringe* One more reason I may chuck those heat tools...

    Thanks for the info!

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  2. Heat on dry hair does not cause bubble hair though. While no heat is the ideal, I do think that moderate heat on dry hair is not a bad compromise.

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  3. What would you propose as an alternative for a blow-dryer, esp. now in winter, when temperature is below water freezing point? I often wash my hair in the morning and I can't imagine not drying it.

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  4. If contact heat is the problem, would using a blow dryer without the nozzle touching your hair be ok?

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  5. Geez. Knowledge is power! Thank you for your blog!

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  6. Wow. This is information that I wish I had known sooner.

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  7. I probably have experienced bubble hair, before I learned better, I regularly used a very hot blow dryer with a comb attachment on wet and damp hair. But I never went so far as to use a flat iron on wet hair-->scary!

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  8. Jc when you say dry hair do you mean towel dry hair? CHM

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  9. i have definitely experienced bubble hair before, on the 2 occasions i have blow-dried my hair since being natural, it felt very "rough" at the end of it. Now on the rare occasions i do blow dry, it's when the hair is already 75% dry and when i have towel-dried thoroughly (with my CurlEase towel), just to avoid going to bed with wet/damp hair, other than that, i air dry as much as possible. i had already read about the bubble hair thing before (and yet i went ahead and blow dried almost soaking wet hair! when do we learn heh?!!). Fantastic post!! :)

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  10. I'd like to know what you suggest as well. I went to a natural hair demonstration last week and the hair dresser said that you need to spritz the hair so it is damp before blow drying it. So, if I do want to wear a straight style, how should I go about achieving it?

    Thanks for your blog! I love the scientific backing!

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  11. Thanks for this post. I am so glad you explained why heating wet hair is bad, I'd always hear you shouldn't do it. However, I was wondering how do steam rollers, and Maxiglide (has a water resevoir)/wet to dry flat irons play into this rule? They have high temps with water, so it sounds like they would all be damaging to the cortex. I was considering getting the Maxiglide, but I think I will hold off.

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  12. Blow drying damp hair has caused bubble hair. Dry hair really means hair which is not coated with water because bubbles form due to water heating up and forming steam inside the hair.

    Therefore throughly drying the water off the hair is good. So towel dry is much better than dripping wet.

    Contact with a heating tool is usually a prooblem. Holding a hair dryer away from the hair will therefore also help. (i.e not using a comb attachment and not touching the hair with the nozzle).

    Steam forms at 100 ish degrees celsius, therefore keeping heat to a lower temperature is useful.

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  13. I posted my response before the new comments, so just to answer the new questions

    I do think that blow drying wet hair is a terrible idea. I have seen the practice of wetting hair to help the comb attachment go through the hair (i.e water or a spritz for detangling hair). I do think that hairdressers should stop this practice (as well as the fine tooth comb practice!)

    Steam rollers, steam irons and wet to dry flat irons do carry the risk of bubble hair. Steam plus direct contact with the heating tool is a problem.

    Steaming hair in a steamer is not the same as there is no direct contact. Overheating is a risk which could result in bubble hair but if there is no contact and no overheating then steamers are ok.

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  14. I never experienced this, but I always wondered what happens.

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  15. I have dry brittle hair that feels rough, but I've never used heat on my hair. What do you think the reason is?

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  16. And what is your opinion about using hair diffuser?

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  17. The same rules would apply for a diffuser. Dry the hair (i.e not dripping wet) and use a cool or warm setting on the dryer.

    Scrunching hair in between also helps in styling and diffusing the heat further.

    If you see steam (or smoke) when using a heat tool, alarm bells should start ringing.

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  18. I use heat weekly, I blowdry my hair using Beyond the zone Protein cocktail and then sealing with Argan oil I bough this products from sally (check them out they are a blessing in disguise).
    My hair is strong and healthy since using the right technique and product(not name but ingredients are important)
    Using direct heat without heat protectant is too damaging.

    Judith

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  19. Uggh, hair bubbles. I just added blow drying to my regimen. After lightly misting (leave-in and oil) my twist-out in the morning I use the blow dryer to make it fluffy and prevent extra shrinkage. It doesn't touch my hair and I always finish on the cool setting. Do I run the risk of getting hair bubbles?

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  20. Thank you for that graphic picture x.x ...

    Sometimes I like to do a roller set, and I guess this means I should not turn up the heat too much while my hair is still wet?
    I do have to put the rollers in while the hair is really wet though, because if I wait until towel dry, it will tangle too much.

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  21. Thanks for the info Jc!

    I wonder about the safety of indirect heat, like sitting under a hooded dryer ?

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  22. Neems - Contact is an issue so if you work with a cool setting and do not touch your hair, your risk of forming bubble hair is low

    Gerlinde - I think roller setting works best on wet hair. If you have time you can give it a couple of hours to air dry before blow drying or sittting under a dryer. If not using as low a heat setting as possible and not touching the hair with the heating tool should reduce the risk.

    Anon - Hooded dryers can overheat which can cause bubble hair. However their main advantage is that the heat is non contact. Keeping an eye on the temperature is the best way to minimise damage.

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  23. I know we can't post on the newer post about hair length but I wanted to say that I completely agree with you. I was never interested in living in twists and most of the time, I wear my hair out.
    I am fine with my length and whenever I feel like I would love to have longer hair, I have to remember that one needs to commit to protective styles

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  24. Very helpful post!

    This may be off topic, but does a similar concept apply when using oil to flat iron and "fry the hair"?

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    Replies
    1. I think this takes basic logic.....what happens when you apply heat to oil? then add your hair to the equation? won't cause bubble hair syndrome but will 'fry' it in another way.

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  25. No the same does not apply to oil. Moisture is what causes the bubbles to form. High heat is damaging though.

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  26. I'm now wondering which is the best way to blow dry hair then? I already know direct heat is not good and if used it should be kept to a minimum. I have used a water spritz on my dry hair before blowdrying. Usually the hair has been stretched with braids. I find the water spritz helps the hair not become too dry. Heat even from a distance does this

    How do you prevent the hair from getting too dry if you are going to blow-dry it err...dry?

    April

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  27. you talked about steamer, but what about heat cap for deep conditining? I know some girl who don't put plastic wrap, before putting the heat cap, so it's like direct heat on wet hair, right? tell me your thoughts.

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  28. Leo the Yardie Chick5 December 2010 19:49

    Yes, that has happened to me. The hairdressers used to take a blazing hot hair dryer with a comb extension right through my soaking wet hair when I'd go to them for a wash. Not anymore! Now I wash and stretch my hair myself without direct heat.

    I have some damage to cut off, though.

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  29. now I realize that's why my hair is dry.

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  30. What if you are using a blow dryer at the warm or cool temperature when you blow dry on damp hair to stretch it? Does it also cause bubble hair?

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    Replies
    1. No it is all about direct contact with the tool on wet hair.

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  31. Are there any oils that can be used as a heat protectant?

    I have used a comb attachment in the past, but when I most recently washed my hair I decided to air dry it instead. I will now only blow dry if I don't have time to air dry.

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  32. I am confused. How come some people since to have amazing hair yet they blow dry + flat iron right after? Both using heat protection, but just a spray, not very much. How can someone who is natural flat iron hair if the hair is not straightened with a blow dryer first?

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    Replies
    1. Because their hair can take all that heat. Do not assume that what works for one person works for you. If your hair is fine or very kinky, you need to take care of it more and use less heat.

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  33. Can Green House Effect method create bubble in hair ?

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    Replies
    1. No it is about direct contact (ie flat iron on wet hair, nozzle of hair dryer on wet hair)

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  34. Great post...i have a question though..in the last few months my hair has been breaking off. When i went for my last trim, my hair was shorter than it was a couple months prior. I noticed approximately a 100 .5cm pieces of hair on my shoulder after twirling it in my fingers. I switched shampoos, using something that said it could help with breakage but it didn't. I also took note that there was steam/smoke coming from my blow dryer and my curling iron. I curl my hair when it's dry but i'm wondering if this is the reason for my breakage? The blow dryer never contacted my hair but my hair would get so hot that i couldn't touch it.
    Now, i ensure that there is no steam/smoke when drying or curling my hair. All settings are on low and my products are salon products, as my hair is also very fine. I don't see much breakage anymore but i still see 5-10 pieces a day on my shoulders?

    Will this get better in time or am i still doing something wrong?

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    Replies
    1. There are over 50 reasons why your hair could be breaking off but applying heat excessively could be one. Your hair contains 35% water naturally, this is what you see as you apply tongs, straighteners etc and this can cause bubble hair syndrome at any time if used excessively. If you choose to re-straighten your hair again without shampooing first then you will not gain the same effect as the moisture has already been removed. When you use any heat on your hair you are breaking down the protein bonds in the hair which as you step out into mist/fog/humidity the hair will automatically start to be restored to it's normal pattern.
      Any bubble hair syndrome can lead to alopecia and may also have trichorrexis nodosa or trichoptilosi evident.
      When drying your hair, leave it in a towell for as long as possible, rough dry until 85% dry then blowdry. Tongs, straighteners etc should never be used on any where near wet hair.......unless you don't want that hair that is!
      Bin that hair dryer and shampoos will never work.

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