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Is a hair dryer bad for your scalp?

All sorts of attention can make your hair look fabulous for tonight, but what about two years from now? See more pictures of personal hygiene practices.
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Hair dryers are a staple appliance in many modern bathrooms. They perform an essential function after you emerge dripping from the shower -- after all, who wants to go to work looking like a wet mop. But there's a dark side to the debate over where to use a dryer or not. They could be helping you achieve a killer look today, but what about down the line? Are you sacrificing future good hair days for short-term results?

The loss of hair (in tandem with thinning hair and hair prone to breaking) is the most common scalp problem that people experience [source: WebMD]. Losing 50 to 100 hairs a day is normal; much more than that and it's a bit distressing [source: Mayo Clinic]. As most people age, their hair often thins naturally and sometimes baldness sets in. But apart from that, many other devious causes can have hair looking less than divine and at younger ages.

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Hair is delicate, and any number of factors can trigger it to jump ship in greater numbers than it should. Beyond aging and heredity, here are some of the possible causes of hair loss: increased physical and emotional stress, poor nutrition, excessive sunlight, trauma, exposure to certain chemicals and heavy metals, various medications and medical treatments, hormonal changes, scalp infections and other illnesses, as well as an assortment of conditions and diseases. It's a wonder anyone has hair!

Lots of the stuff on that list, however, is pretty much beyond your control. You can try to eat better and stress less, but how easy is it to harness your hormones or kick cancer without chemo? There's one other big potential factor, however, that hasn't been mentioned yet: How you care for your hair itself.

Your morning routine and ongoing hair regimen can be a variable in how healthy your hair looks. Continue to the next page to find out some of the hair crimes you could be committing.

 

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Careful -- hair dryers can get things cooking in a jiffy.
Careful -- hair dryers can get things cooking in a jiffy.
Christopher Robbins/Photodisc/Getty Images

The way you take care of your hair can have a big impact on its health, and this includes whether you blow dry or air dry it. Basically, the less you subject your hair to heat, chemicals and physical stress, the better.

With heat and hair damage, it all comes down to moisture loss. When you shower, water gets inside each strand of hair. When you power up the hair dryer, all that moisture heats up and expands, and this pushes the hair fibers apart leaving open spaces. Those spaces make hair weaker and more susceptible to damage. Curling irons and other hair care devices that produce heat are culprits as well.

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Frequent perming, straightening and dyeing can all contribute to scalp problems and hair loss, too. The chemicals involved often damage hair fibers, making them more fragile and likely to break. The fewer hair treatments you get, the better. Also, applying gels and other styling products might help hold strands of hair in place, but it makes them very vulnerable to breaking as you style your hair and brush it later.

If your hair is already looking a bit listless from your overeager attentions, unfortunately there's not a lot you can do. It's pretty much just a matter of cutting off as much of the damaged hair as you can and waiting for new healthy hair to slowly grow in and take its place.

To help prevent further damage, beyond giving your hair a break and letting it air dry as much as possible, always handle it gently and avoid tight hairstyles. Use conditioner and rather than vigorously toweling off your hair, wrap it in the towel to absorb some of the water before you blow dry. And when you do have to use a hair dryer, use a lower setting and keep the device a decent distance from your hair. You're trying to dry it after all, not cook it. Also, the more you fiddle with your hair the more you weaken it, so brush it as little and as gently as possible, and don't sit there twisting it around your fingers.

Cut your hair some slack by checking out more hair care related articles on the next page.

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Related HowStuffWorks Articles

Sources

  • "Good Hair Care May Head off Hair Loss." American Academy of Dermatology. June 17, 2009. (9/29/2009) http://www.skincarephysicians.com/agingskinnet/hair_care.html
  • "Hair Loss." Mayo Clinic. Feb. 1, 2008. (9/29/2009) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/hair-loss/DS00278/METHOD=print&DSECTION=all
  • "Hair Loss: Hair Shaft Defects." Web MD. Aug. 1, 2005. (9/29/2009) http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/hair-loss/hair-shaft-defects
  • "Newer Hair Dryers Protect Against Electrocution." U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. (9/29/2009) http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/pubs/5037.html
  • Nissel, Jan. "Topic: scalp Problems." Blue Shield of California. July 3, 2007. (9/29/2009) https://www.blueshieldca.com/hw/articles/hw_article.jsp?articleId=HWAA84397&fromCategoryId=6&_requestid=684595
  • "Scalp Problems: Topic Overview." Web MD. July 3, 2007. (9/29/2009) http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/tc/scalp-problems-topic-overview
  • "What causes hair loss?" American Academy of Dermatology. Aug. 28, 2008. (9/29/2009) http://www.skincarephysicians.com/agingskinnet/root_of_hair_loss.html
  • Yorba, Patrick. "Hair Loss." University of Virginia Health Sciences Center. Aug. 10, 2005. (9/29/2009) http://www.emedicinehealth.com/hair_loss/article_em.htm

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