Is It Bad to Sleep with Wet Hair?
Night-time showers just might be the crème de la crème of bathing options. You get to wash off the grime and sweat that has built up on your body and in your hair before snuggling into a clean bed. There's no need to stand in front of a mirror, hoisting a heavy blow drier over your soaked head in what ends up being a 15-minute shoulder workout. And after spending eight hours in dreamland, you wake up with dry locks that are presentable enough for most social situations.
But a late-night wash might not be as perfect as it seems, particularly when it comes to sleeping with wet hair. Here's what a hair health expert has to say about your shampoo-to-sheets routine.
Is It Bad to Sleep with Wet Hair?
Hate to break it to you, but sleeping with wet hair can cause some major damage to your mane, says Steven D. Shapiro, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and the co-founder of Shapiro MD, a hair growth product company. "The good news is that sleeping with wet hair does not cause a chill, leading to a cold like your mom might have told you," says Dr. Shapiro. "However, wet hair — like wet skin from sitting in a bath or pool too long — can affect your hair [health]."
When your locks are wet, the hair shaft softens, which weakens strands and makes them more likely to break and fall out while you toss and turn on your pillow. This softening isn't too damaging if it occurs infrequently, but if you're guilty of routinely sleeping with wet hair, you could be putting your mane at greater risk, says Dr. Shapiro. And if you already have weak locks — from conditions such as pattern hair loss, Alopecia areata (an autoimmune skin disease), or hypothyroidism, for example — you're even more susceptible to damage caused by sleeping with wet hair, he explains. (If you're experiencing sudden hair loss, these factors may be to blame.)
And the problems don't stop there. A wet mane leads to wet skin, which can potentially cause an overgrowth of bacteria, fungus, or yeast if it stays moist for a prolonged period of time, says Dr. Shaprio. The result: an increased risk of developing folliculitis (inflammation of hair follicles) and Seborrhea (a form of dry skin on the scalp that causes dandruff), he explains. "Once infection is present, then inflammation increases, which can further weaken hair."
Sleeping with wet hair can also cause your locks to feel greasy AF in the morning. Similar to how swimming for a long period can seriously dry out your skin, having too much water sit on the surface of your scalp (i.e. by sleeping with wet hair) can actually cause the skin in your head to dry out. "Then the dry skin can activate oil glands to compensate for the dryness," says Dr. Shapiro. "The scalp has lots of oil glands, so this is a common problem." Basically, sleeping with wet hair can cause a vicious cycle of damage and grease.
Are There Any Benefits to Sleeping with Wet Hair?
Unfortunately, the perks don't outweigh the drawbacks when it comes to sleeping with wet hair. A damp scalp may better absorb certain beneficial products — such as topical minoxidil (an ingredient that promotes hair growth and is found in Rogaine) — than a dry scalp, says Dr. Shapiro. But you're better off applying these products when your scalp is moist post-shower and then allowing them to dry, he explains. Hitting the sack before a product like Rogaine has fully dried can cause the product to transfer from the scalp to other areas, according to the company. Without waiting the recommended two to four hours of drying time, you might end up with unwanted hair growth elsewhere on the body. Yikes.
How to Sleep with Wet Hair (If You Really Must)
If climbing into bed shortly after a wash is your only option, there are a few actions you can take to minimize the damage. First things first, don't skip the hair conditioner — either a wash-out or leave-in variety — which will nourish and re-hydrate hair that's been "dried out" from sitting in water, says Dr. Shapiro. Then, wait at least 10 to 15 minutes after you step out of the shower to brush through your vulnerable locks — or in an ideal situation, until your strands are 80 percent dry. "Combing immediately after showering could result in 'snapping,' which is when the strand breaks or literally snaps off from either the root or down the follicle line," he explains. (Related: Do You Really Need to Brush Your Hair?)
When you're ready to turn in, towel-dry your hair as best you can by wrapping the towel around your tresses and gently squeezing out the moisture (re: no rubbing), which can minimize the amount of damage that could happen overnight. Stick to a moisture-wicking towel that creates minimal friction — such as a microfiber towel (Buy It, $13, amazon.com) — especially if you have curly or wavy hair, which is more likely to snag on towel fibers, says Dr. Shapiro. "If you have an old towel that looks like it belongs in the garage, it's time to treat yourself," he adds.
Before you snuggle up in the sheets, swap out your polyester pillowcase with a softer version, such as one made from silk (Buy It, $89, amazon.com), which can help reduce some of the friction on your weakened wet hair, says Dr. Shapiro. And finally, skip the tight top-knot or French braid and let your fragile wet hair fall down freely, which can help prevent breakage, he suggests.