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Lab Notes: Why Bubble Hair Isn’t As Fun As It Sounds

Editor’s Note: Lab Notes is an ongoing series where we shed a scientific light on common hair questions, myths, and problems. Don’t miss the ins and outs of split ends.

Blow-drying your hair is a go-to beauty regimen. But while it might help you get out the door in 30 minutes, treating your wet tresses with half a heart and full heat creates more long-term trouble than short-term convenience.

Namely, a condition called “Bubble Hair.”

Don’t be fooled by the cutesy name — we’re not talking about Ariana Grande’s latest updo. Bubble hair, a serious (and common) reaction to overheating wet hair, means your hair strands are literally filled with tiny air bubbles. The end result? Brittle, dry strands and eventual hair loss.

To avoid bubble hair, you don’t need to say goodbye to your blow dryer altogether, but you should take a little more care in your hairstyling routine if you want to avoid damage. Here’s what you need to know: 

What is it? 

Bubble hair occurs when moisture within the innermost layer of your hair strand, the cortex, is overheated, turning the liquid into steam. As the steam expands, it creates microscopic, bubble-like cavities in the cortex.

Image: International

In the beginning stages of bubble hair, the damage will remain somewhat enclosed by the cuticle (the outermost protective layer of your hair). However, as the dehydrated cuticle is now more vulnerable to damage — whether it’s heat, towel drying, or bad brushing habits — bubble hair can soon lead to severe breakage and extensive hair loss.

What causes it?

While women's tresses come in all shapes, colors and sizes, bubble hair is a common enemy: all hair will react this way to heat, according to the Trichological society, and the severity of bubbling increases with higher levels of heat and moisture.

How hot is too hot? Blowdryers operating at 340°F or more can cause bubbling, while curling irons and straighteners are dangerous at just 257°F, since they are applied directly onto the hair. Even just one minute of exposure to this heat can lead to bubble hair! (If these high temperatures sound unrealistic, remember that most heat styling tools can reach 446°F.)

How do you “fix” it?

There’s no repairing damaged hair, but you can prevent bubble hair from occurring in the first place by minimizing the use of heat-styling on wet hair and protecting your hair from overheating.

First, avoid applying high heat to moist hair with blow dryers, curling irons or straighteners — use an absorbent microfiber towel to dry your hair gently and quickly instead. When blow-drying, opt for low heat over a longer period of time. To avoid overheating, apply heat protectants and switch to the “cool air” button when hair is nearly dry. With curling irons and straighteners, always wait until your hair is fully dry.
Turning down the heat may add a few more minutes to your morning routine, but it’s worth the payoff: stronger, softer, healthier hair.