There are two types of people in this world—those who love taking some “me” time to dry their hair and those who, well, don’t. If you find yourself in the second camp, you’re not alone. There are plenty of us that face the dreaded task with less than excitement. And sometimes, we go to bed with my hair wet (guilty!). Which led us to ask the question—is that bad?
To find out, we consulted with some of the best hairstylists and dermatologists in the business for their input. And it turns out there are some mixed opinions! Below, these hair pros will give you the real of what could occur, the best methods for sleeping with wet hair, and the hair products that will provide you with the best results for waking up with your dream hair.
Is it bad to go to sleep with your hair wet?
While I was hoping for a more concrete answer, it seems that the jury is out on this question. But the general consensus is that it’s not the best idea. While you may have heard that if you sleep with wet hair, you’ll wake up with a cold—there’s no scientific proof to support that claim, and it’s somewhat become debunked. But there are plenty more claims with actual research that will interest you.
Joshua Zeichner, MD and director of cosmetic and clinical research at The Mount Sinai Hospital, explains, “Sleeping with wet hair is not ideal. When the hair is wet, it is actually weaker than when it is dry, meaning that it is more likely to develop breakage from friction that occurs while you sleep.” And, he adds, “Extended exposure to water has actually been shown to degrade the cuticle, or the outer layer, of the hair shaft leading to breakage.” Yikes.
Aside from hair damage, he also points out some other less-than-pleasant situations that can arise from hitting the hay with wet hair. First, when your hair is wet and comes in contact with your face, it can lead to skin irritation. As if that’s not already a turn off, this could result in acne. For these reasons, some experts suggest it is better to sleep with clean and dry hair that is pulled away from the face. And second, “Wet hair can wet your pillowcase, creating an environment that may encourage colonization of some microorganisms like mold or yeast,” the doctor explains.
Your scalp can also face some major repercussions from sleeping with wet hair, fungail related type infections such as ringworm and aspergillus fumigatus have been shown to be present in damp pillows. Malassezia—linked to dermatitis—can be another result found in the hair follicles, causing dandruff and oily and yellow patches of skin on the face and head. For more on scalp care, check out our guide here.
Though, Austin-based hairstylist and Kérastase lead artist Pepper Pastor doesn't think sleeping on a wet head is the worst thing in the world. “There is some debate on whether or not sleeping on wet hair is damaging,” she admits. But, for her, the recommendation really depends on the type of hair you have. “For clients with medium textured hair ranging from straight to wavy, I recommend it as an option to taking a break from blow drying.” Though, she adds it may not be an option if you have extremely curly hair.
“Curly-haired ladies would wake up with some frizzy, uncontrolled curls,” the stylist says, though she recommends using a curly hair product and wrapping the hair to control how it dries will help. And for our fine-haired friends, she does not recommend going to sleep with a wet head because, as Zeichner explained, “Laying on hair and turning on it through the night can cause breakage to fine hair.”
How can you sleep with wet hair without damaging it?
Personally, Pastor says she loves going to bed with wet hair, explaining, “I have medium textured hair, so I enjoy waking up to a head of dry, fluffy hair. Sleeping with wet hair allows me to lay off the blow drying.” You may have the same sentiments, and Pastor has some hack to waking up with that fluffy effect.
Pastor adds that heat protection is a must—even if you won’t be using heat. She says, “It doesn’t matter that you are going to let it air dry; heat protection has memory and will guard your hair from what you do the next day. I recommend Kérastase; they have a variety of thermique lotions suited for every hair type. Depending on the results you want the next day will determine how you should wear your hair to sleep.” Use Resistane Ciment Thermique Blow Dry Primer for damaged, over-processed, or weakened hair, Discipline Keratine Thermique Blow Dry Primer if you’re strands are frizz-prone, Nutritive Nectar Thermique Blow Dry Primer for nourishment and added shine, and Résistance Extentioniste Thermique Blow Dry Primer.
And while it’s true it saves a lot of time and can prevent heat damage, it still may be damaging in other ways. But, if your heart is set on heading to sleep before you blow dry, there are things you can do to make it a “better” option. Ashley Branda, master stylist and owner of Two01 salon in Hoboken, says that while she personally would not go to sleep with wet hair. If she had to, she would apply a deep conditioning treatment and dry most of the scalp and mid-shaft before hitting the pillow. Kérastase has a range of hydrating masks to choose from here for different hair types and concerns.
Zeichner suggests you do your best to at least towel dry your hair before heading to sleep.
“If you do have to go to bed with a wet head, apply a leave-in conditioner to help protect the hair, and consider sleeping with a towel over your head,” he says. “There are some towels on the market that are designed for use on hair after showering and will stay on the head while you sleep.” Try wrapping your hair in an absorbent microfiber towel as soon as you step out of the shower to help soak up as much water as possible.
Want more editor-approved hacks for sleeping with wet hair? First and foremost, you’re going to want to minimize breakage by creating less friction while you sleep. Silk pillowcases are our favortite go-to for this, but you can also wear a hair cap or scarf to protect your locks. Applying a hair oil can also protect wet hair from damage while you’re sleeping. Kérastase Curl Manifesto Huile Sublime Repair Hair Oil is an excellent option for those with curls, and its Elixir Ultime L’Huile Original Hair Oil is another universal option. See what the latter did for one editor’s fine, dehydrated strands in our review here.
Is it good to braid hair while it's wet?
Ever see someone with killer waves, and wonder how they got them? One approach is braiding wet or damp hair and then letting it dry overnight while in a braid. But this method is, yep—you guessed it, a bit controversial as well. Here is what you need to know…
Zeichner says that it is actually “ok” to braid your hair when wet but to remember it is in a fragile state. “If you are braiding wet hair, make sure not to pull the hair too much or to braid the hair too tightly as it can lead to breakage,” he says. Check more overnight heatless ways to achieve beautiful, bouncy waves here that won’t compromise the integrity of your hair.
According to Branda, sleeping with wet braided hair is an absolute “no.” “You’re giving bacteria a place to grow hiding in the weave of the wet braid,” she explains. Plus, she points out that wet hair is more elastic when wet than when it’s dry, so all the pulling while braiding can result in breakage. Wet hair that has not been chemically treated has the ability to be stretched by up to 30% of its original length without causing serious damage or breaking. However, add in other factors like coloring or even some styling products that can strip fatty acids from the cuticle, and that percentage can reduce exponetially.
Our takeaway? Braiding when wet—proceed with caution. Sleeping with a wet braid—better not to. From sleeping with damp hair to braiding before bed, we highly recommend seeking the advice of your personal, professional stylist who knows your hair best. If all else fails, try adjusting your nighttime routine, so you get ready for bed earlier and give your hair time to dry. Note that infections are uncommon, and sleeping with wet hair occasionally is not the worst thing in the world.
Find more product recommendations on Hair.com to get your spring hair care routine where it needs to achieve your hair goals. To see the products mentioned here in action, tune into HDC TV, where we host regular livestreams with industry pros.
Photo credit: Kérastase and Biolage Professional