If you think you’re helping your hair by rubbing a towel on it to create friction when drying it, you’re wrong. And the consequences can possibly make your hair fall out.
Hair loss ― or, if you prefer a less-scary term that dermatologists use to describe losing your hair, “hair fall” ― can occur for a number of reasons.
Hormonal changes, stress or simply heredity can be a determining factor in whether you might lose your hair.
But believe it or not, the way you dry your hair can also cause it to fall out, according to Leon Van-Gorkom, a senior manager of hair care at Unilever Research and Development.
At a panel to promote Dove’s Men+Care products, Van-Gorkom told HuffPost that vigorously drying your hair with a towel ― basically the way most guys do it ― is destructive to your hair’s cuticles, or the outer layer of each strand of your hair.
Here’s how it works: Your hair’s structure is held together by three kinds of bonds which contribute to the strength of your hair. “When the hair is wet,” Van-Gorken explained, “it swells and the cuticle lifts up a little. When it dries, it comes back to its original position.” But when the cuticle is slightly lifted during the wet stage, it’s vulnerable to things that come in contact with it, such as your towel vigorously rubbing up against it when you dry your hair.
When your cuticles are weakened to a certain limit, they begin to erode and your hair falls out.
To put it another way, Van-Gorken equates each hair strand to optical fibers. “It has these fibers inside and a plastic sheath around it. The plastic sheath is like the cuticle. Now, when that goes away, the fibers really are not held together. They’re very small fibers. The hair will fray and break,” he said, from the friction of the towel. “One thing that is interesting is that if hair is wet it’s more fragile. That’s why towel rubbing is more detrimental to wet hair than when hair is dry.”
Here’s how it looks up close:
An unwashed cuticle:
A cuticle washed with non-conditioning shampoo:
Damage due to friction from a hat and elastic bands from a man bun:
Fear not: There are things you can do to mitigate the damage.
Use a hair conditioner or a conditioning shampoo, which work to coat each strand of hair so that your cuticles are protected from your towel.
You can also just change the way you use a towel.
Instead of rubbing your wet head with a towel, “pat it dry,” Van-Gorken said. “For men, a little patting, it’s dry in two minutes.”