Want to give your hair a break from heat-styling and rock a more natural look? Here are the air-drying products we've tried and tested
Air-drying hair sounds simple, doesn’t it? All you need to do is squeeze out the excess water then leave the air to do the hard work. Or so I thought.
All those weeks not leaving the house in lockdown gave me plenty of time to try out air-drying techniques. I'd normally spend 20 minutes post-shower with my hairdryer and straighteners smoothing out my natural kinks. My goal was to see if I liked the 'au naturel' look and could get used to being curly. I'd seen presenter Rochelle Humes and other celebrities going back to wearing their hair natural and I wondered if my hair would be nicer left to its own devices. And if it didn't work? All I had to do was switch off the camera function on Zoom.
As I learned, air drying is absolutely not a case of leaving it dripping wet, that way frizz lies. For my long 3C curly hair to look presentable required a concoction of leave-in conditioners and curl definers and lots of scrunching, twisting and smoothing. And even then, the results can vary depending on how heavy-handed I was with the product and even what the weather was like. Some days, I had a head of bouncy curls, other days, straggly rats tails.
Air drying may save on blow-dry time, but you'll still need to spend a few minutes styling and shaping your hair when it's wet and factor in air drying time – for me, at least an hour.
But there are definite benefits to be had as Michael Shaun Corby, global creative director for Living Proof points out. “The main benefit of air-drying the hair is not causing damage through heat styling. It gives the hair a break.”
According to stylist Charlotte Mensah, everyone needs a month-long ' hair fast ' now and then, free from colour and heat-styling.
When it comes to air drying, choose your conditioning and styling products carefully; working out how much to use on your particular hair type is key to getting a relaxed-but-groomed look.
Which hair types best suited air-drying?
1. Hair with natural texture or waves.
“Air-drying is great for hair which has a lot of natural texture or waves in it,” says Michael Shaun Corby. “If you’ve got fine or straighter hair, leaving the water in can weigh it down and make it flatter than usual.”
2. Hair that's not too thick
“Very thick, dense hair will also struggle with air-drying,” says Keisha Lawler, founder of natural curly hair brand Trepadora . “It will take most of the day to air-dry so I wouldn’t recommend it.”
3. Hair that's in great condition
Hair that is in good condition looks best when air-dried as Antony Rawlings, creative director at Lockonego for Redken explains: "In non-damaged hair the cuticle is already lying flat. If your hair is smooth and in good nick you don't need a hairdryer to smooth down the cuticle."
The best hair products for air drying
I had many failed attempts at air-drying my hair, largely caused by using too much leave-in curl enhancers and conditioners (you do need to experiment with each brand; start off using only a very small amount).
Adir Abergel, creative director of hair brand Virtue recommends using a mixture of leave-in conditioner and lightweight hair stylers to define waves.
"Products that nourish and seal the internal hair structure leave it in better condition to air dry and make it less likely to frizz,” explains Michelle Sultan, creative director for Imbue .
Step 1: Use a hair mask that hydrates but doesn't weigh down hair
Imbue Curl Restoring Intensive Mask, £12.99 for 300ml
The tropical scent of this softening mask transports you to sunnier climes when you're in the shower and leaves your hair knot-free with happy, healthy curls. It's suitable for curl types 3A to 4C.
Step 2. Don't drip dry, use a microfibre towel
Leaving my hair to drip, drip, drip stopped my curls from being their bouncy best, so enlisting the help of a microfibre hair towel wrap is key. Rather than rubbing at your hair and disrupting the cuticles, wrap the towel around the ends and scrunch it up from the bottom to remove excess water (experiment though, this works for me and my curl type but might not work for others).
“Using a microfibre towel to plop excess water from hair to helps set the curl and boost curl formation,” confirms Keisha.
Step 3. Invest in a hydrating leave-in conditioner
A leave-in conditioner can be used to define curls as well as to condition, as curly hair can suffer from dry ends more than other hair types.
"It takes longer for natural oils to move from the scalp to the ends with curly hair which can cause frizz on the lower half, giving that mushroom effect," says Adir. Anything that adds an extra injection of moisture get a big tick - including leave-in conditioners. Choose a lightweight one that won't weigh down any natural wave.
Living Proof No Frizz Leave-in Conditioner, £22 for 118ml
Step 4. Avoid hair products containing silicone
Avoiding silicone in hair products is key to keep waves beachy, bouncy and light (silicone coats the hair and can weigh it down). All Living Proof haircare is silicone-free and this leave-in is great for smoothing and nourishing hair.
Imbue Curl Inspiring Leave-In Spray, £7.99
Water and coconut, cupuaçu, and camellia mingle together in this light spray that gives a moisture boost without any heaviness.
Michael Van Clarke LifeSaver UV, £19.50 for 500ml
Many of us choose to air dry on holiday, when the UV protection of this lightweight silcone-free conditioner is a must. Made with cashmere proteins drive deep into the hair shaft to repair and strengthen the strands, making hair feel softer and thicker. Apply to wet hair or to refresh dry ends.
Kiehl's Damage Repairing Leave-In Treatment, £20 for 75ml
Top skincare ingredients - moringa tree oil, hyaluronic acid and ceramides, smooth damaged hair. We love this for strengthening weak ends and keeping waves looking healthy.
Step 5. If you have wavy or curly hair, use a curl definer
Styling products are crucial for curl definition to help enhance the natural texture of the hair for an effortless, easy-looking finish (even if you know it's taken a fair bit of effort).
There’s a method to applying curl enhancers in air-drying. I found that simply applying them to the ends of my wet hair did precisely nothing, you need to take individual strands with product on them and twist them into a wave.
“Section the hair when it’s damp and twist the product into your curl pattern and leave to dry for a smoother, more controlled curl,” says Michael Shaun Corby.
Curly hair is known to be unpredictable; what gave me ringlets one day, left my locks lifeless the next and I learmed to take that as part of my natural haor journey.
These curl definers however worked consistently throughout my hair experimentation season.
Olew Curl Creme, £14.50 for 180ml
The first time I used this I applied way too much and was left with crispy curls, but about a walnut-sized amount defines my lengths while keeping them soft and free-flowing. This is what I've used most over the last few months.
Imbue Empowering Creme Gel, £6.99 for 200ml
A light product such as a gel or serum will work wonders when it comes to curl definition. Twizzle sections of hair between fingers covered in the product to define your waves.
Living Proof In-Shower Styler, £24 for 148ml
Used when you’re in the shower, this gel-textured godsend should be applied to sopping hair then rinsed off lightly, making sure some is left in the hair. When your hair dries it enhances the wave, controls flyaways and adds shine thanks to a thickening molecule that creates body
Redken Curvaceous Ringlet, £16 for 180ml
Wind the hair into curls and scrunch this lotion in. As your hair dries, occasionally scrunch to encourage the shape of the curls and create volume and bounce and take away any crispness.
Trepadora Papaya Slip Taming Potion, £18 for 200ml
Fast-actingsetting products like this make air-drying a breeze. “They help seal in the moisture and set the curl quickly, plus reduce frizz significantly,” says Keshia. This gel is designed to go onto wet hair where it sets curls, which you them scrunch out when hair is totally dry, releasing soft curls.
Step 6. If you have straighter hair, try a texturising cream to reduce frizz and flyaways
"For straighter textures, I recommend a lightweight, texture enhancing mousse," says Adir. "They will bring out the natural texture in even the straightest of hair and won't dry crunchy or sticky like a traditional mousse."
Virtue Moisture Defining Whip, £34 for 156g
A new potato-sized blob of this scrunched upwards though very wet hair helps keep curls in the shape you desire; it brings out all the natural texture in even the straighter hair and never a dries crunchy or sticky like a traditional mousse.
OGX Coconut Oil Air Dry Cream, £7.49
The weather can have a lot to do with how your air-dry finish works. Humidity is not your friend for flyaways and this may call for a smoothing cream. This lightweight cream allows hair to move naturally (unweighed down) while reducing flyaways and adding softness. It smells like a tropical dream – coconut and vanilla together are unbeatable.