Hair Dryer Vs. Flat Iron: Which One is More Damaging?

If you’re grappling with the question, “Which one (Hair Dryer or Flat Iron) is more damaging to the hair?”, here’s the truth!

Interestingly, flat irons, although immensely useful for achieving that sleek, straight look, often pose a higher risk to your precious locks.

As a seasoned beautician, I’ve seen the effects of both these products firsthand, how heat styling tools can impact hair health, and how to prevent this from happening (which I can’t wait to tell you about!)…

So, keep reading to learn the effects of hair dryers or flat iron on your hair and how to mitigate the risks…

Key Takeaways

  • Uncover the underlying hair damage caused by the frequent use of blow dryers and flat irons.
  • Gain insights into the comparative damage potential between hair dryers and flat irons.
  • Learn effective strategies to protect your hair from heat damage and ensure its health.

Is a Hair Dryer or Flat Iron More Damaging to the Hair?

There’s no definite answer! However, flat irons usually carry a greater risk because of the intense heat they generate and their direct contact with your hair strands.

Now, get ready for a more in-depth comparison…

#1 Flat Irons

Because of their high heat, flat irons reshape your hair by breaking down hydrogen bonds in the hair’s cortex.

straightening hair using a flat iron

Although this process makes your hair straight (I agree it looks amazing), it also has some adverse effects:

Damage to the Hair Shaft

The intense heat from the flat iron directly applied to your hair shaft can result in considerable damage, leading to a rough cuticle layer (the hair’s outer shell), causing hair breakage and split ends.

Operates at High Temperatures

Flat irons often operate at temperatures well above 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

At these high temperatures, the hair’s protein, keratin, begins to disintegrate, leading to what we call ‘heat damage’.

Heat-damaged hair is typically dry, brittle, and more prone to breakage. 

#2 Hair Dryers

Conversely, hair dryers do not reach such high temperatures as flat irons.

hair stylist using a blow dryer to the customer's hair

Also, the heat from a hair dryer isn’t applied directly to the hair strands but is diffused through the air. But don’t be fooled; hair dryers are not entirely harmless.

Expose Cuticles

The hot air from a hair dryer forces the cuticles to lift, exposing the hair shaft and making it vulnerable to damage. Over time, this exposure can lead to dryness, dullness, and frizziness.

Can Cause “Bubble Hair”

Using the hair dryer too close to your hair can cause a condition known as ‘bubble hair.’ What is it?

This condition earned it right because of the bubbles or voids it creates in your hair fibers – mainly because of moisture overheating and forming steam.

So, while it’s clear that both flat irons and hair dryers can cause damage, the level of harm depends on how these tools are used.

Flat irons typically cause more harm due to their intense heat and direct contact with the hair.

Yet, these tools can be part of a healthy hair care routine when used correctly and with care.

Before you move on to the next section and learn about these nasty effects, check out this video for a neat comparison:

The Damages – Hair Dryer Vs. Flat Iron

There’s no denying that heat styling tools like hair dryers and flat irons make the process simpler and quicker, but at what cost? Let’s break it down.

Hair Dryers and Your Hair Health

Drying the hair is a must before using any hot tools for hairstyling. Air drying or hair naturally is the best option [1].

lady air drying her hair

Not only do they save time, but they help you achieve the desired look you wish for.

But, despite their convenience, their chronic use can lead to long-term hair damage. Hair fall can increase as the heat from the dryer opens up the pores on our scalp.

Dr. Bergfeld, an authority in the field of hair health, explains,

Damaged hair has a dry look and feel, is unmanageable and won’t hold a curl or style [2]. 

It also damages the hair follicles and breaks the hair. It will make the hair curly if you use it regularly.

The Impact of Flat Irons on Your Hair

After some time, you will lose your hair’s natural texture and be left with dull hair without shine. And when you are not careful enough, it can burn the scalp, ear, or neck area.

After the drying, the actual styling of your hair takes place. The flat iron is one of the most popular heat tools for sleek, straight, trendy hairstyles.

woman using a flat iron to straight her hair

You can create several hairstyles by only using a flat iron.

Most girls tend to straighten their hair with a flat iron, which can also create different curly or wavy hairstyles. It makes the hair sleek and manageable.

Yet, using the flat iron can damage your hair significantly. It can cause your hair to get burnt, make it fragile, or cause breakage.

Using a flat iron is one of the main reasons for split ends [3].

It draws all the moisture from the hair and makes it dry.

Dry hair is a common reason for fizziness. Using a hairdryer, especially when “blow drying short hair“, can intensify this condition if not done correctly.

Like the hairdryer, a flat iron can also cause hair fall and permanent hair loss in some cases.

Moreover, a flat iron can trigger some allergic reactions and cause itchy scalp and body skin.

If you’re looking for straightening alternatives, you might be pondering between “Brazilian blowout or Japanese straightening“. Both procedures offer smoother hair but come with their unique benefits and potential concerns.

Comparing the Two: Hair Dryer vs. Flat Iron

The consensus? Both hairdryers and flat irons use direct heat on our hair, and the damage inflicted is similar.

flat iron and hair dryer

Some hair expert says flat irons do more damage as most people tend to hold the hair straightener in one place, and our hairs get direct contact with the hot plates.

As a result, the overuse of flat iron does more damage than a blow dryer.

But I’m going to give them a tie.

But, as always, you have options to minimize the damages. Let’s check below to see how you can reduce the damages.

So, What Can You Do Now?

It is true that if you use heat tools, your hair will gradually get damaged. But there are many ways to reduce this. The first step would be to choose the hot tools wisely.

As Dr. Tim Moore, chief technology officer at GHD Hair and a Cambridge University academic, suggests, certain methods of drying your hair could be less damaging than others [4].

Nowadays, you can find many high-quality hair dryers and flat irons. Those are made with materials that will protect your hair from heat as much as possible.

Recently, they have also added heat settings so that you can adjust the heat as your hair needs to prevent damage. As we all know, different types of hair have different heat tolerance.

Secondly, before using those tools, you must prepare your hair.

This starts from the day when you wash it. Use a shampoo and conditioner that provides moisture and volume to the hair. After that, use any moisturizing serum on your damp hair.

Never forget to use heat protectant spray or balm, whichever you prefer, before using any heat tool.

In fact, this is the most crucial part of the preparation process! Now, your hair is ready for blow drying and straightening.

Make sure your hair is dehydrated before you use the flat iron. Only use the hairdryer and the flat iron as needed. Because if you overdo it, it will only damage the hair even more.

Do not straighten the hair right after you have blow-dried it. Try different types of styles throughout the week.

After you finish styling the hair, use some leave-in serum or oil to make the hair moist.

women using a serum on her hair's end

To keep the hair healthy and prevent damage, you should moisturize or repair the mask once or twice a week. It will repair the damaged hair and provide the lost moisture.

Every time you wash your hair after styling, apply oil before shampooing.

Aside from choosing the right heat styling tool, it would be best to never forget about heat protectants.

Applying an adequate amount of heat protectant protects your hair from the damaging effects of heat and makes it silky, smooth, and moisturized.

FAQs

#1. Can I use a hair dryer or flat iron daily?

Daily use of these tools can cause significant hair damage. It’s advisable to take regular breaks and always use a heat protectant.

#2. What is a safe temperature for a flat iron?

A temperature between 300-350 degrees Fahrenheit is generally safe for most hair types. However, fine or damaged hair may need a lower setting.

#3. Can heat damage from hair styling tools be reversed?

women checking her healthy hair

Once hair is damaged by heat, it cannot be fully restored to its original state. However, deep conditioning treatments can help improve its appearance and manageability.

#4. Are there any safer alternatives to hair dryers and flat irons?

Air drying is the safest method for drying hair. For straightening, consider hair wrapping or rollers as heat-free alternatives.

Conclusion

Now that you know which one (hair dryer or flat iron) is more damaging to the hair, here’s a summary…

Heat is not suitable for hair, no matter what form.

A hairdryer and flat iron will damage the hair if you do not prepare the hair before using it or use those frequently.

So the best option is to use a hairdryer or flat iron. When you do this, follow all the steps described above.

hair dryer and flat iron

Sources

1. Cobb C. Should You Really Air-Dry Your Hair Every Day? [Internet]. Healthline. 2021. Available from: https://www.healthline.com/health/beauty-skin-care/air-dry-hair

2. Best Ways to Protect Your Hair From Sun Damage [Internet]. Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic. 2020. Available from: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/best-ways-to-protect-your-hair-from-sun-damage/

3. French M. How bad is flat ironing your hair? | SiOWfa15: Science in Our World: Certainty and Controversy [Internet]. sites.psu.edu. 2015 [cited 2023 Jun 29]. Available from: https://sites.psu.edu/siowfa15/2015/09/18/how-bad-is-flat-ironing-your-hair/

4. Starnes A. The right way to dry your hair, according to a Cambridge academic [Internet]. CambridgeshireLive. 2017 [cited 2023 Jun 29]. Available from: https://www.cambridge-news.co.uk/news/cambridge-news/cambridge-university-hair-blow-dryer-13847971

About Sylvia K

Sylvia is one of the most joyful people you’ll ever meet. She is a high advocate of self-love and encourages women to take care of themselves both mentally and physically. She loves girly talks especially salon talks (a little gossip doesn’t hurt) and spends most of her free time on skincare or hair care. READ HER LATEST ARTICLES. Find her on LINKEDIN. Learn more about her HERE.

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