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10 Secrets for Great-Looking, Air-Dried Hair

Photo: OJO Images/Getty Images

How do you air-dry your hair? The answer seems obvious: Do nothing and let nature take its course. But if you want your hair to look smooth and frizz-free, there’s a little more effort involved. We talked to hairstylists to find out how to ensure that nature is drying your hair more like a high-powered Dyson rather than a blowdryer at a cheap motel. Read on for their tips.


Moisturize Your Hair

If you want smooth, glossy, frizz-free hair, the first step is making sure that the cuticle — the outermost layer of your hair — is closed. (Yes, unlike pores, the cuticle really does open and close.) Luckily, you’re probably already using conditioner, which closes the cuticle for you, sealing in moisture to keep your hair smooth and soft. It’s okay to skip shampoo depending on your hair type, but all of our experts agree that you should use conditioner. (If you want to go the extra step, you can also use a strong hair mask to give it a little more conditioning).


Rinse With Cold Water

After you wash out conditioner, rinse your hair with cold water. It doesn’t need to be ice-cold, but it should be colder than room temperature. It may not feel pleasant but switching between hot and cold temperatures is a crucial part of the Russian bath experience (and good for energy and revitalization), and it’s good for your hair, too. Cold water also seals the cuticle, explains Dove International Hairstylist Mark Townsend, who has worked with the Olsen twins since they were teens. (In case you were wondering, Townsend confirms that the Olsen twins are wash-and-go girls, which is why there are so many paparazzi pictures of them with damp hair).


Brush in the Shower

Now take a wide-tooth comb or Wet Brush, and comb through your hair. Glory in your hair looking like glass or a shiny sea-otter pelt. This is when hairstylists agree your hair is best — it’s smooth, it’s moisturized, and it’s shiny. (Note: You want to do this in the shower, not afterwards, because this is when you can comb it without breakage. But more on that in a bit.)


Set Your Hair

Do you want your hair to fall flatly and prettily over your ears, young Sofia Coppola-style? Do you want your hair to have a side or center part? Then do the modern version of a “set” — make sure that you section your hair into that part when it’s wet, so that it naturally goes into that style as it air-dries.


Add Smoothness

If you want your hair to look extra smooth, consider adding some more product. Some light leave-in conditioner or a smoothing serum can ease it along, and also help close the cuticle.


Avoid Towels

Every single expert interviewed for this story agreed: No matter how fancy your towels, don’t let them touch your hair. “Cotton fibers only,” stresses Townsend. Wrapping your hair in a regular towel dries it, but also dries it out, explains hairstylist Holli Clarke. Plus towels can create knots and snarls.

Many suggest using old T-shirts or microfiber towels. Justine Marjan (the Global Stylist for TRESemmé) also suggests squeezing your hair, rather than rubbing it, to remove moisture. “Just squeeze the water out of it,” she explains. “If you rub it, that increases friction and frizz.” Most curly-haired girls already do a variation of the technique called plopping.


Stop Touching It

Being lazy actually works for your hair when you get it to this point. Your hair is in its most fragile state when it’s wet. Go against most people’s natural inclination to brush it again: This is when it’s most tender and prone to breakage. Townsend explains that brushing or even hand-combing it opens the cuticle again, making it vulnerable to damage and frizz. Hairstylist Kristin Ess adds that the more you brush it out of the shower, the more you break up natural waves and cause frizz. Don’t scrunch it, either; that also adds frizz.


Or Put It Up in a Braid or Bun

If you do want to add texture to your hair, when it’s damp, twist it into a very loose braid. “I do this all the time,” says Townsend. Other variations of this trick include spraying a wave spray and/or a sea-salt spray, pinning it into a loose bun, and then letting it dry. Marjan likes pinning hair into loose loops all over the head to create waves and removing it when it dries.


Let It Dry

Relax and chill.


Be Accepting

Despite your best efforts, you may have some frizz and flyaways. If you do have a few errant hairs, Marjan’s favorite trick is to spray hairspray into her hair or onto a brush and use it to brush the hairs down. It tames them without smashing them. If you simply must use a blowdryer, Redken Creative Consultant Guido Palau suggested blowing out just the hair around your hairline to keep it smooth. It’s a trick hairstylists often use backstage when they want the hair to look air-dried but also polished.

Also, sometimes it’s just beyond your control, says Townsend. The bad news is that some people’s hair just looks better blow-dried. He also adds that no two hair routines are the same. It’s very possible that your attitude towards air-drying will reflect Amy Poehler’s stance on things everyone else seems to be doing: “Good for her! Not for me.”

The Best Products for Air Drying

An inexpensive microfiber towel on Amazon with almost 2,000 five-star reviews.

Marjan loves this wave spray from Jen Atkin, the Kardashians’ favorite hairstylist, to create soft waves without the crunch.

10 Secrets for Great-Looking, Air-Dried Hair