Is it better to air dry or blow dry your hair? Experts weigh in

By Fiona Embleton

Photo: Courtesy of Cim Mahony

There are two options when it comes to drying your hair: the au naturel route or reaching for your hairdryer. But which is better for your hair? The answer may surprise you…

Ever since the pandemic, the air-dry (a fancy name for letting hair dry naturally at room temperature) and heatless curls have reigned supreme, leaving our hairdryers and hot tools to see less and less action. After all, experts have warned us for years about the effects of prolonged heat damage, including split ends and dry, brittle strands that break off. It makes sense: if you assault your hair with temperatures so high steam wafts off the strands, some damage is due to encure.


But in the battle between the air dry and the blow dry, which is really better for your hair? According to hairstylist Cim Mahony, who has worked with everyone from supermodel Kate Moss to HRH Queen Mary of Denmark, the argument that air-drying is a healthier option for your hair is actually a myth. “Gently blow drying with the right hairdryer on the lowest heat and speed setting until it is 90 per cent dry is better for the hair than air-drying,” says Mahony, adding that this primarily comes down to your hair’s response to being wet. It’s thought that hair can astonishingly absorb up to 30 per cent of its weight in water. This, in turn, causes it to swell and weaken while also putting pressure on the bonds that hold the hair together.

Photo: Hasse Nielsen

Photo: Hasse Nielsen

“A strand of hair consists of several different bonds, including hydrogen bonds that are broken when hair gets wet,” says Mahony, which is why hair can be restyled into a different shape from wet to dry. “When hair is wet, it is stretched out, the result of water putting all these bonds under pressure, even the stronger keratin bonds. Hair also loses its elasticity when wet, making it more prone to breakage or being ripped out at the root. This is why you should never have wet hair longer than necessary.”

A study at Yonsei University in Korea, which compared air drying with heat drying, corroborates this. Researchers found the hair’s cell membrane (the material that ‘glues’ hair cells together) was only damaged in the naturally dried group due to staying in contact with water for longer. They also found that using the proper technique when blow drying is better for the health of your hair.

How to blow dry your hair the safest way:

Here Mahony reveals his fool-proof way to prep and blow dry hair, no damage necessary:

Step 1: Before showering, use a Mason Pearson boar bristle brush to evenly distribute oil through your hair.

Step 2: Shampoo and then condition, using a wide tooth comb to gently distribute product and detangle.

Step 3: Towel dry hair, preferably with a microfibre towel such as Aquis Lisse Luxe Hair Turban.

Step 4: Use a hairdryer on a low setting and move it in a constant motion around the head. I’m a big fan of using the Gentle Air Attachment on the Dyson Supersonic hairdryer as the gentle airflow doesn’t disturb the cuticle while drying, making it safer for your hair. Avoid using a brush or any other tools while blow drying.

Step 5: Apply leave-in conditioner when the hair is roughly 80 per cent dry. This will ensure that your strands can absorb it without putting the bonds under unnecessary strain.

Step 6: Hair regains strength and elasticity when 90 to 95 per cent dry. At this point, you can use a round brush to lock in the hydrogen bonds and create a new shape and style.

Tools to shop for the perfect blow out

Handy Brush Pure Bristle

Mason Pearson

Eco-friendly Hair Towel


Supersonic in black/nickel


Hair Hydrating Crème

Har Klinikken