You’ve put your wet hair up in a bun for the last time.
You may not realize it, but your hair is especially fragile when it’s wet. That means, as carefully and lovingly as you should treat your dry tresses, wet hair requires even more TLC.
“When hair is wet it’s more likely to break,” says Siobhán Quinlan, creative director, stylist, and colorist at Art + Autonomy Salon in New York City. “And if your hair has been highlighted, you want to be especially careful with it when it’s wet.”
Why is wet hair more delicate? It’s still the same old hair, just freshly showered, right? To get a little scientific, when hair gets wet, the proteins that make up each strand (keratin) form weaker hydrogen bonds, rendering it more susceptible to damage from being pulled, stretched, bent, or otherwise roughly handled. According to Head & Shoulders, wet hair doesn’t snap back into place like a rubber band does; any stretching bends the cuticle (the flexible shield holding all of these keratin proteins) out of place, which causes your hair to look and feel damaged.
With all this in mind, you’re going to want to kick these potentially hazardous wet hair habits in order to avoid damage and keep those locks strong, healthy, and luscious for years to come. These are the most common mistakes women make when their hair is wet.
Mistake #1: Waiting until it’s wet to brush out knots.
“I always brush my hair before the shower, when it’s dry, to get the knots out,” Quinlan says. Brushing it out when it’s dry will decrease the likelihood of breakage when working out the tougher tangles created throughout the day or night, depending on when you plan to shower.
Mistake #2: Using any old brush on wet hair.
It’s OK—and often necessary—to detangle wet hair, as long as you use the correct type of brush. Quinlan loves The Flex Brush ($28; amazon.com), which has soft boar and nylon bristles, bends with the hair to avoid painful snags, and works for all hair types and textures, as well as on both wet and dry hair. Another favorite of Quinlan’s, which is more of a splurge, is the Yves Durif Vented Hairbrush ($60; violetgrey.com).
Mistake #3: Brushing too aggressively.
As for how to brush wet hair: “You want to be gentle, and don't want to tear at your hair,” Quinlan says. “Always start from the ends and work your way up while holding the section of you're working on in your hand.”
Quinlan adds that when she does brush wet hair, she uses a leave-in conditioner or detangler to minimize snags and maximize smooth locks. Her faves: Evo Day of Grace ($24; amazon.com) and Unite 7 Seconds Detangler ($24; amazon.com).
Mistake #4: Shaking and rubbing hair too vigorously.
You may have heard you’re not supposed to use a regular terry cloth towel on wet hair, but Quinlan says it’s more about how you handle your hair versus what you use to dry it.
“Some people believe a cotton T-shirt is the best thing to use, and there are lots of fancy towels out there,” she says. “But I don’t think it’s as much what you use as how you use it. You don’t want to rough up your hair—rather than rubbing, gently squeeze the moisture out.”
Mistake #5: Using any hot tools before it’s completely dry.
Here's a huge no-no. “This is so scary! You’ll damage your hair,” Quinlan warns. “All that heat will pretty much boil the water on your hair—you’re basically cooking your hair—not something you want to do.” Keep curling irons, straighteners, and other heated tools for dry hair only, no exceptions.
Mistake #6: Putting it up in a bun or ponytail when it’s really wet.
Hair’s elasticity changes as it goes from wet to dry—essentially, the hair shrinks as it dries, Quinlan explains. “If you try to put it up with a ponytail holder when it’s wet, it can break at the band,” she says. “If you’re desperate to put it up before it’s dry, it’s best to use hair pins or a clip.”
Mistake #7: Blow-drying it when it’s sopping wet.
OK, this mistake isn’t so much about hair damage as it is about styling efficiency—but still. “Blow drying dripping wet hair will just take longer,” Quinlan says. “Hair takes its shape from damp to dry, so I usually tell people to either towel dry it really well or tell people to let it air dry a little [before blow-drying].”