How to Air Dry Your Hair for a Smooth, Defined Result

How to Air Dry Your Hair for a Smooth, Defined Result featured image
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There’s nothing like a fresh blowout, but using heat on our hair can do some serious damage if done too often. For a lot of people, air drying their hair is wonderful in theory but disappointing in practice. The problem is that it’s not as easy to control the end result without hot tools. While it’s definitely a bit harder to perfect, air drying is an art that stylists say anyone can master.

“Many people end up unsatisfied with their air-dried hair due to frizz, cowlicks and lack of definition,” says Andrew Fitzsimons, a celebrity hairstylist who recently partnered with BELLAMI HAIR.

With the right approach, you can avoid all of the above without reaching for hot tools. “By keeping your hair hydrated and using the correct products, you can achieve a smooth and well-defined air-dried look,” says Fitzsimons. 

The payoff? “Air drying versus heat drying will be beneficial for your hair’s health, as heat drying can break and damage hair over time if not done carefully and correctly,” says Jerome Lordet, hairstylist and founder of Jerome Lordet Salon.

When you want to air dry your hair while avoiding concerns like frizz and lack of volume, here’s your game plan.

Wash Your Hair

A satisfactory air dry starts in the shower. Use a moisturizing shampoo and conditioner when washing your hair to mitigate the loss of moisture that occurs when your hair dries, advises Fitzsimons.

To detangle your hair while minimizing breakage, gently run a wide-tooth comb through your hair while you’re still in the shower, says Fitzsimons.

Gently Remove Excess Moisture

While you might assume it’s best to let your hair completely dry on its own, there’s a better way. “Hair is most vulnerable when wet, so it’s crucial to remove as much water as possible,” says Valery Joseph, hairstylist and owner of an eponymous salon.

Instead of reaching for a regular towel, which can cause breakage, blot or gently squeeze your hair with a microfiber towel to remove excess moisture, says Joseph.

Apply Leave-In Products

At this stage, a leave-in product can provide extra protection against frizz. The best approach will depend on your hair’s natural texture.

  • For straight hair: Apply a lightweight leave-in conditioner, followed by a volume-boosting product through the mid-lengths and ends, says Fitzsimons.
  • For wavy hair: Apply a leave-in conditioner, then a wave-enhancing product, suggests Joseph.
  • For curly hair: Apply a leave-in conditioner, then scrunch in a curl cream or other curl-defining product, says Lordet. “Depending on your curls, you can ‘plop’ them, wrapping them in a microfiber towel or cotton—video tutorials are most helpful to master this—and let them dry completely in that wrap,” he says.
  • For coily hair: Apply a leave-in conditioner, then a styling gel or curl cream throughout, says Lordet. “If your hair is coily, you may find shaping each curl individually helps perfect the shape,” he says.

Style as Desired

Once you’ve applied leave-in products, you can allow your hair to finish drying, or you can take additional steps to style your hair without heat.

If your hair is naturally straight but you’d like to achieve natural-looking waves, braid your hair while it finishes drying, then undo the braid and spritz on texture spray for touchable hold, says Fitzsimons.

Curl rods are useful for those who want to set their hair into curls, says Joseph. “To avoid breakage, make sure that the hair isn’t too wet and don’t wrap the hair too tightly around the rods,” he notes.

For those whose hair lacks volume when they air dry, clip-in hair extensions can offer a quick and easy solution, Fitzsimons points out.

If you’d like to air dry your hair in theory but have always been unhappy with the outcome, it may be worth another attempt. Moisturizing products, gentle towel drying, and heatless styling tricks can completely change your results. Here are some extra expert tips.

Straight Hair Tips

Air drying straight hair may seem self explanatory and simple, but celebrity hairstylist Giannandrea Marongiu says there’s a technique to it. “Wash the hair as usual—preferably using a shampoo and a light conditioner on the ends—before rinsing with cold water. Next, towel dry with a microfiber cloth, which is optimal for delicate and fine textures. If your hair is very fine, I recommend using paper towels (it’s a great trick!). Comb or brush through the hair with a brush and apply a dime size of styling cream to the ends.” Now, things get a little more advanced: “Gently shake the hair from side to side and downward so it falls into its part and dries in the shape you prefer,” he says. “When it’s dry, add a touch more of the styling cream to the ends.”

Wavy Hair Tips

According to celebrity hairstylist Laura Polko, “The best way to air dry wavy hair is to use a curl-defining cream on damp hair, breaking hair out into smaller sections and twisting pieces away from the face.” If you want to add more volume, she recommends hair plopping, which involves collecting your waves at the top of the head and wrapping them in a silk towel to keep your pattern intact until your hair dries. Either way, work some oil onto ends “since they can be drier on wavy hair, and once hair is air dried, shake out those twists for a nice natural wave pattern.”

While you may be used to applying your wavy hair–approved products when you’re fresh out of the shower, Polko urges clients to wait until their hair is 50-percent dry before applying product. “Something to look out for when air drying wavy hair is making sure to apply your styling products at the right time, since you don’t want hair to be too wet or too dry, but somewhere in the middle,” she says. “50-percent dry is a happy medium, but those with straighter hair can wait until hair is dryer, and those with curly hair can put product in before it’s halfway dry.”

Curly Hair Tips

When it comes to the often hard-to-tame curls, stylists say less is more. “The best way to air dry curly hair is to do as little as possible,” says Stephane Andre, stylist at FEKKAI at The Mark Hotel. “First, use a moisturizing shampoo and conditioner with a mask twice a week. Then, detangle your hair with a wide tooth comb, lightly towel dry your hair with a cotton bath towel, apply a gel, leave it alone and let air do its thing.” Nai’vasha, celebrity curl expert and founder of Curl Queen, adds that It’s important to have a leave-in conditioner on the hair or your favorite definition product.

If curls are frizzy, celebrity hairstylist Kim Kimble warns against touching your strands. “The key to keeping your hair from frizzing up is to not touch your hair after applying product. Let it dry so it doesn’t produce frizz.” Amber Fillerup Clark, founder of hair-care brand Dae, agrees: “The less you touch after setting or styling, the less frizzing will happen. Add a good amount of product to damp, towel-dried hair, then lightly run fingers through mid-lengths to ends, and give it a light ‘scrunch’ and then don’t touch! Another way to air dry curly hair with minimal effort is to braid it while it’s damp. Do a loose braid for a wavy texture.”

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