Flash-Drying Hair: Everything You Need To Know

Flash-Drying Hair: Everything You Need To Know

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Caring for curly hair is a responsibility that many curlies take seriously.

We invest in the right products for our specific hair type, follow the best procedures designed to maintain our tresses, and go through loops trying to avoid frizz, breakage, and the like.

a woman having a hard time brushing her curly hair with wooden comb

But what do you do if a certain step in your hair care routine draws out the moisture from your locks and gives you rough, dry, brittle, and unmanageable curls?

This is called flash-drying hair. 

And it’s something you wouldn’t want to experience.

In this post, we’ll show you why and how.

What Is Flash-Drying Hair?

Let’s say you’ve just stepped out of the shower with dripping wet hair.

You look for one of your post-shower styling products, open the lid, decant it into your palms, and coat it into your locks.

Then you wait for the product to do its magic, scrunching your curls in the meantime so they get better curl definition and allow for easy styling later on.

But contrary to what you were expecting, you suddenly feel water cascading down your hair strands, and a minute or two later, your hair has turned completely dry.

Not only that, it’s also now rough, brittle, and a nightmare to manage and style.

That whole sequence is called flash-drying.

Flash-drying curly hair refers to an instant loss of water from your curly strands following a product application.

It happens almost in a flash, hence the name, and can leave curlies wondering what happened.

Turns out there are a couple of factors that can trigger it.

What Causes Flash-Drying Hair?

The flash-drying process is believed to happen when hair reacts negatively to a certain component found either in your styling products or your hair care routine.

Some of the most common culprits that are considered instrumental in causing flash for hair are as follows:


As common ingredients in many hair and skincare products, humectants are considered to be essential to hair and skin health.

They attract and retain moisture, as well as help slough off dead skin cells.

They’re particularly popular for their ability to perform their necessary functions without affecting product formulation.

Some examples of humectants include the following:

  • Glycerin. A sugar alcohol, glycerin hydrates hair, eases scalp itching, alleviates split ends and other signs of damage, and boosts hair growth, among other benefits
  • AHAs and BHAs. AHAs and BHAs are both great exfoliants, hence they’re always compared. For hair care, they’re especially recommended for providing deep cleaning to your scalp, which can help other styling products to do their jobs better. 

With their laundry list of advantages, humectants surely deserve to be included in your favorite shampoos, conditioners, and creams.

However, when used in certain conditions or used too much, they can trigger flash-drying.

In fact, according to experts, you should avoid products that contain high amounts of glycerin if you’re applying them to wet hair or in low-humidity conditions.

This is because glycerin might be too good at its job. In a study involving glycerol (the less common name of glycerin), it was found that it will lose or keep water, depending on the surrounding environment. 

So when the air is too dry and your hair is soaking wet, for instance, glycerin might release moisture from your hair to try and infuse the air with it.

Film-Forming Polymers

Film formers are another mainstay in hair care products.

Like humectants, they are excellent at reinforcing your tresses with water-binding properties that lead to several benefits: 

  • Boosting curl definition and volume
  • Improving gloss and shine of hair
  • Preventing frizz formation and heat damage

There are various types of film-forming polymers used in hair care, one of the most popular of which is silicone.

It’s typically present in ingredient labels as the following:

  • Dimethicone
  • Dimethiconol
  • Amodimethicone
  • Cyclopentasiloxane
  • Cetyl Dimethicone

But while they do provide hydration, conditioning, and heat protection to your hair, these polymers also have fixative properties

In other words, they are formulated to give hair hold, which can make it stiff and dry.

Also, silicone — in particular — is believed to have an especially detrimental effect to your curly hair. 

The protective film that it creates can keep moisture and nutrients from reaching your locks, which can make your hair dull and dry and cause it to lose water quickly, as in flash drying.

Aloe Vera

Another culprit believed to cause flash drying is aloe vera.

Acting as a humectant, it’s widely hailed to be one of the most beneficial ingredients in hair care formulations as it can: 

  • Ease and even reverse symptoms associated with dandruff, such as scalp inflammation
  • Boost cell turnover and strengthen hair strands
  • Stimulate hair growth
  • Provide deep cleaning while preserving the integrity of hair strands
  • Lend more hydration and shine to your locks

However, when used on low-porosity hair, aloe vera may behave contrary to what is expected

Low-porosity hair generally has a pH balance range of 4.5 to 5.5, which makes it an acidic environment. Aloe vera is also acidic, with a pH scale of 6. 

Low-porosity hair needs something that isn’t also acidic to lift its hair cuticles and coat strands with the moisture that they need.

But what aloe vera does is seal the cuticles, preventing moisture and other nutrients from getting into your hair. This might cause a sudden loss of water, thus flash drying.

Additionally, aloe vera gel contains a keratin-like structure that is too bulky for low-porosity hair cuticles.

And as with pH balance, this can shut down the absorption of water into the strands.

Hard Water

Hard water is water with an abundance of minerals like magnesium and calcium. 

You’ll know you have it at home if your hands still feel slimy even after using soap or you notice a film on your glassware after washing.

And while it isn’t harmful per se, it can do a number on your tresses if you’re not careful.

The minerals found in hard water can bond with your hair strands and create a barrier that essentially keeps all the good stuff out. 

These include water and the nutrients that you’re supposed to get from your nourishing hair products.

And over time, the buildup can damage your locks and lead to several issues, such as flash drying. 

a woman with curly hair looking sad due to her hair condition

Flash Drying vs. High-Porosity Hair

Now that we know what typically triggers flash drying, it’s important to also make the distinction between flash drying and high-porosity hair.

Porosity refers to the hair’s ability to attract and keep moisture; the higher the porosity, the bigger the tendency to draw in water and retain it. 

Wavy, curly, and coily hair are more porous than straight hair. This means that while it’s easy for these hair types to get hydration, it’s also as easy to lose it. 

High-porosity hair is characterized by the following:

  • A lack of elasticity
  • Dryness and dullness
  • Fast water absorption
  • Frizziness

All of these can lead to what may look like flash drying.

But the impact of high-porosity hair extends far beyond the post-shower phase; it’s more consistent and, in some cases, has come to define your hair.

Implementing the proper hair care for high-porosity hair may require more than treating flash drying.

Flash Drying vs. Wet Frizz

It’s also easy to confuse flash drying with wet frizz.

Wet frizz is characterized by dry, frizzy strands while hair is wet. It also happens immediately after showering or applying styling products.

At the same time, your curls might go against their natural pattern, with some strands sticking out.

In other words, it looks and feels like flash drying.

However, wet frizz can be caused by a lot more factors, including flash drying. But that doesn’t mean wet frizz is flash drying.

And as with high-porosity hair, taking care of wet frizz might also be more demanding than alleviating episodal flash drying.

How Do You Address Flash-Drying Hair?

So if it’s flash drying and it happens to you, how do you take care of it?

Follow these steps.

  1. Use a deep-cleansing shampoo to remove the residue left by the styling products you use. Alternatively, you can opt to coat your tresses with more water to remove product buildup.
  2. Follow it up with a regular conditioner to rehydrate your locks, then rinse your hair. Or apply a leave-in conditioner without a film-forming polymer.
  3. Let your hair dry via your favorite drying method.

Tips To Prevent Flash-Drying

But if you want a more long-term solution to flash drying, here are tips that you should consider.

a young woman with body wrapped in white towel is spraying oil to her low porosity hair

Knowing Your Hair

Perhaps the most important thing that you can do to make sure that your hair won’t go through flash drying is to know your hair well.

Understanding your hair type will help you assess what it needs and subsequently guide you toward the best hair care routine for you.

In addition, it will equip you with a better way of gauging your personal experience and determining whether the issue is flash drying, high-porosity hair, or wet frizz.

Understanding Product Labels

It also helps to be more mindful of what exactly you’re applying to your hair, especially as certain types of ingredients can dry out your tresses.

As a general rule of thumb, it’s best to steer clear of anything that may lead to product buildup as it can not only cause flash drying but also lead to other hair issues.

Ingredients that you should avoid include:

  • Parabens. Used as preservatives for haircare products, parabens can damage your scalp and hair, as well as trigger hair loss. 

    Parabens in product labels: Anything that ends in “-paraben” or includes “methyl-,” “ethyl-,” or “propyl-”
  • Mineral oil. Unlike good hair oils for curly hair, mineral oil can promote product buildup on your scalp and make hair dull and dry.

    Mineral oil in product labels: Petroleum, petrolatum, white petroleum, paraffin, paraffin wax, liquid paraffin
  • Phthalates. Phthalates are another ingredient believed to cause hair loss; additionally, it’s linked to eczema, which can trigger a wide variety of scalp issues.

    Phthalates in product labels: Anything that includes “phthalate,” such as “benzyl butyl phthalate,” “dibutyl phthalate,” “diisononyl phthalate,” etc.
  • Sulfates. While they’re cleansing agents, sulfates can strip moisture and color (for color-treated hair) from your locks, which leaves you with dry, frizzy, and lifeless hair.

    Sulfates in product labels: Sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate, ammonium lauryl sulfate, ammonium laureth sulfate

Being Mindful When Using Certain Ingredients

Knowing how and when you can use certain substances found in hair care products can also help you lessen your chances of flash-drying hair.

  • Aloe vera. Steer clear of aloe vera if you have low-porosity hair.
  • Humectants. When using products with humectants, make sure that you’re not applying them to wet hair. Also, don’t go beyond the recommended amount in low-humidity environments.
  • Film formers. If possible, avoid products with these polymers. Or if that’s difficult to manage, at least opt for silicone-free products or clarify regularly to remove buildup.

Choosing the Right Shampoo

Speaking of cleansing agents, make sure to choose sulfate-free shampoos to ensure your locks are clean and healthy.

A clarifying shampoo is especially recommended for removing product buildup, especially if you have used products that contain humectants or film formers.

Just remember to always use a deep conditioner alongside a clarifying shampoo as this can be rather drying.

Using a Water Softener

If you have hard water at home, it’s a good idea to install a shower filter to filter out excess minerals in the water before they get to your hair.

This will help reduce hard water buildup in your tresses, which may improve their ability to hold water after styling.

Aiming for Protein-Moisture Balance

Finally, consider products that can help bring equilibrium between the amount of protein and moisture that your hair gets.

Avoid products that contain ingredients with big protein molecules, especially if you have low-porosity hair. These include vegetable proteins like hydrolyzed wheat, soy, oats, and quinoa.

Instead, use protein-free hair products like these protein-free shampoos.

a happy woman smiling while her hair is swaying by air


Should I Avoid Aloe If I Want To Avoid Flash-Drying Hair?

Aloe vera is a nourishing ingredient for most hair types. But if you have low-porosity hair, you might want to avoid it.

Does Brushing My Hair Wet Lead to Flash-Drying?

Hair is at its weakest when it’s dry, which might cause frizz for those with straight hair.

However, for curly hair, working with wet hair ensures that you have slip, and slip helps reduce the potential for frizz and breakage since you won’t have as tough a time working out kinks and knots.

Can Too Much Protein Make My Hair Flash-Dry?

Using products with large protein molecules might lead to flash drying if you have low-porosity hair.

For those with high or medium hair porosity, be careful not to overuse protein; you need a good mix of protein and moisture to achieve glossy, well-defined curls.

How To Achieve Healthy Curls

Flash-drying hair is only a minor symptom of what might be a bigger problem, such as having the wrong product for your hair or overusing certain products under certain conditions.

To achieve perfectly healthy, well-defined curls, don’t be afraid to take a long, hard look at your current hair care routine. 

Keep out anything that isn’t doing your hair any good. And know your hair well; if a product makes your hair feel off, discontinue its use.

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