On a recent—and particularly harried—morning, I was still going through the paces of my regular routine: shower, makeup, blow dry my hair. That’s when I heard my husband, who was juggling my preschooler, bellow up the stairs. “There’s no time to do your hair today, we’re late!”
My sassy retort: “Oh yes there is, if I go outside with wet hair, I’ll catch a cold!”
…But would I? My husband bought it—he, too, had heard the old adage at one point in his life. Still, as soon as I shouted it, I realized I had zero confidence that there was much truth to the phrase, so I dialed an M.D. to find out.
Dr. Vivek Cherian, internal medicine physician at Amita Health, said that while many of us grow up with this idea being spouted as fact, it actually is just a myth. “The truth is that having wet hair does not predispose you to developing a cold,” he says. “Colds are caused by viruses, so you can’t catch a cold by simply going outside with wet hair.” Rather, the common cold is transmitted when people who are sick cough or sneeze and you are in close proximity to them.
So, where does this myth come from? Why has it been ingrained in my head? Dr. Cherian thinks it likely originates from people associating the outside during wintertime as a place where you are much more likely to be exposed to germs. Also, viruses—especially the common cold and flu—have a tendency to be more rampant in colder seasons when we spend more time indoors, something that allows them to spread more easily, he says.
There is one tiny iota of truth to the expression: If you become so cold—as in hypothermia levels of cold—that can weaken your immune system and predispose you to respiratory infections, Dr. Cherian says. The likelihood that occurs from a single missed blow dry? Slim to none.
Now, the real conflict: Do I share this updated information with my spouse? I think I’ll save the insight for now.