That air drying your hair is currently trending is ridiculous. It essentially means just letting your hair do its thing, which is really the least trendy — but most beautiful! — thing you could do. Regardless, as the pendulum swung from blowout hysteria, air drying is now huge in the hair world — launches from salon brands like Redken and drugstore brands like Garnier prove the point — and even if we've retired our blowdryers, we're often still aiming for a look, searching for just the right groundbreaking styling product to get there. Air drying, like blow drying, can be it's own tedious time suck.
This is why I started badgering big time stylists about how to do it right and faster. After chopping my long hair into a bob, I started air drying my hair into its natural funky wavy spirals following years of getting thrice-weekly blowouts. (Seriously, until now most people I know thought my hair grew out straight.) These days, however, I'm a stranger at the salon, my flatiron is dusty, and I have a lineup of a bajillion gels, creams, pomades, and serums I've been testing in various combinations while I air dry. Sometimes I dry overnight, sometimes while repeatedly twisting and tweaking in the mirror for what feels like an entire afternoon, and sometimes on New York’s 6 train as I dash out the door with a sopping wet head of hair. But always, I found, with a fairly similar half-perfect, half-fuzz ball conclusion.
Then I learned I've been screwing up one little thing: "You've got to let your hair get about 60 percent dry before you apply any styling products," says Matt Fugate, who styles celebrities like Blake Lively and Natasha Lyonne. Curl master Vernon Francois confirmed this theory — he not only has an entire hair care line at Sephora devoted to kinks, curls, spirals, and waves, but he’s also frequently responsible for heavenly hair on Solange Knowles and Lupita Nyongo. "I wouldn’t apply styling product to dripping wet hair because most often it won’t be applied correctly," he tells me. Here’s exactly why this is the best practice.
The Ingredients Work Better. “Water will dilute the benefits of the product,” says Fugate. When each strand is full of water, it's blocks the path for hydrating and curl-enhancing ingredients to take hold. "Ingredients penetrate strands better, benefitting it more, if hair is damp or dry,” explains Francois.
Products Apply More Evenly. "When hair is wet, it may be harder to tell how evenly the product has distributed, meaning it might be thick in some areas and lighter or non-existent in others," explains Francois.
Your Hair Dries Faster. Styling products are often designed to seal down the cuticles of your hair so you get less frizz, but it can seal water into the hair as well. “For sure, drying time is increased when product is added,”says Fugate.
How do you get hair 60 percent dry without twiddling your thumbs for forever? Super absorbent microfiber towels like Francois's are a favorite, or busting that hair dryer back out for a one-minute, low-speed, medium-heat "faux-dry." (Yes, I just made that word up.) Now that I’ve tried waiting before applying styling ingredients, the big difference I notice is my curls feel softer and lighter, and they look more consistent, without random patches of fuzz, so I don’t have to use my curling iron as much for touch ups. It makes things just a little bit easier to so I can get out on the door without spending so much time obsessing over my hair. And that breeze from an approaching 6 train always gives a nice little jeuge, too.