How to Care for Wet Hair to Avoid Breakage

The health of your locks depends a lot on how you treat your strands straight out of the shower. Here's how to rethink your wet hair routine with protection in mind.

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Woman with wet hair in bathroom
Photo: Peter Cade/Getty

Right after you step out of the shower, one of the first things you do is vigorously pat and squeeze your wet hair with a bath towel or attack your knots with a brush or a fine-tooth comb. But when your hair is drenched, its outermost layer — made up of flat, overlapping cells — swells up, which temporarily weakens the structure. During this vulnerable state, these moves can actually end up breaking off or splitting the fragile strands. Yikes.

The good news: It's easy to adopt a do-no-harm hair-care philosophy for your wet hair. Simply follow these steps to ensure your mane stays healthy and strong.

Dry Without the Damage

Set yourself up in the shower: "After you wash out your conditioner, change the water temp to cool, and rinse strands to help flatten the cuticle layer," says Koni Bennett, a hairstylist in New York. "Then gather hair and gently squeeze out excess water." Now, about that bath towel — the coarse texture of the fabric can lift the cuticle, making hair feel rough. Instead, wrap wet hair in a towel made of T-shirt material since the density of that fabric won't snag strands. Try Naturalicious T-Shirt Towel (Buy It, $35, naturalicious.net).

Naturalicious T-Shirt Towel

Naturalicious T-Shirt Towel
Naturalicious

Comb with Caution

Detangling dry hair is the safest option, so ideally you'll brush out knots before you hop into the shower, says New York hairstylist Devin Rahal. If you need to break up any tangles while you're washing hair, run your fingers (instead of a comb or a brush) through it while it has conditioner in it.

EZ Detangler Brush

EZ Detangler Brush
Amazon

After the shower, once you've soaked up a lot of the water using your T-shirt towel, detangle your wet hair with a brush that has very flexible bristles, which move through hair without pulling on it. Try the EZ Detangler Brush (Buy It, $9, amazon.com). "Always start at the ends, slowly working up to the roots so that you're not forcefully dragging tangles all the way down the length of your hair," says Rahal. (Related: The Best Hair Detanglers to Nix Knots Without Damaging Strands)

Add Extra Hydration

Consider incorporating a leave-in conditioner into your regimen. It gives wet hair more moisture but also helps seal the hair's cuticle and keep it from snagging. "Choose a formula designed for your hair type so that you get enough moisture without weighing down your texture," says Bennett.

R+Co Waterfall Moisture + Shine Lotion

R+Co Waterfall Moisture + Shine Lotion
Amazon

DevaCurl Leave-In Decadence

DevaCurl Leave-In Decadence
Amazon

For fine and thin hair, try a lightweight, water-based product like R+Co Waterfall Moisture + Shine Lotion (Buy It, $29, amazon.com). For thick and coarse hair, look for a rich, cream-based option like DevaCurl Leave-In Decadence (Buy It, $18, amazon.com). Apply to damp hair from mid-lengths to ends before you detangle.

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