Damp Hair: Everything You Need To Know About It

Medically reviewed by Dr. Shruti Chavan, MBBS Dermatologist
Written by Annie Jangam

Raise your hand if you have ever gone to sleep with partial dry or damp hair after a late-night shower. Well, we all have been guilty of doing this at some point in our life. But if you are continuing this habit, you need to stop right now! Wondering why?

Damp hair is extremely fragile and can make your strands matted and knotty. It can also make your scalp itchy, smelly, and susceptible to infections and cause excessive hair breakage. This article covers everything you need to know about damp hair and the ways to protect your hair and scalp from further damage. Keep scrolling for more information.

What Is Damp Hair?

Damp hair is hair that is neither completely dry nor dripping with water. Water opens up the hair cuticles partially, making them elastic and porous. This makes the hair extremely fragile and breakage-prone. Hence, you have to be gentle with damp hair.

Do not confuse damp hair with wet hair. If you are wondering how they are different, scroll down.

How To Differentiate Between Damp And Wet Hair?

The moisture content of damp hair is different from that of wet hair. Wet hair is completely soaked and dripping with water. However, damp hair is 70%-80% dry. It does not drip water, but you can feel the moisture in your hair when you touch it.

Applying styling products like styling gel, wax, or pomade traps moisture in the hair strands and gives you the popular wet, sleek, gel-styled look. This hairstyling trend is known as the “wet hair look” and is not to be confused with actual wet hair.

Leaving your hair damp for a long time or sleeping with damp hair can expose your scalp to infections.

What Happens To Your Scalp Health When You Have Damp Hair?

Damp hair makes your scalp susceptible to fungal infections as the moisture creates a favorable environment for the growth of microbes. Keeping damp hair pinned up or tied in braids, buns, ponytails, and dreadlocks can cause itching, irritation, and a dry and smelly scalp.

When you sleep with damp hair, the moisture in your hair and the warmth in your scalp, along with the damp pillow, create the perfect breeding ground for mold and bacteria. This may cause scalp conditions, such as mold, mildew, dandruff, folliculitis, seborrheic dermatitis, and eczema.

Here are a few things you should never do if you love your hair and scalp and want to keep them healthy.

Things You Should Never Do To Your Damp Hair

Exposure To Excessive Heat: Ever heard that popping sound or sizzle while curling or straightening your damp hair? That is the sound of water evaporating too quickly through the hair, causing structural damage. Hence, be careful while using hair straighteners and curling irons on damp hair.

Exposing damp hair to high temperatures (175°C -215°C) even for five minutes can cause hair damage (1). Excessive blow-drying and using hot irons can change the hair texture and cause breakage, making your hair unmanageable and frizzy (2). To minimize heat damage, dry your hair completely in a cool setting and use a serum, heat protectant, or thermal styling gel on your damp hair.

Exposing damp hair to heat may cause “bubble hair,” where air bubbles are trapped in the hair cortex, causing hair damage (3).
  • Brushing Damp Hair: Do not use a hard brush on wet or damp hair as it stretches the hair and causes breakage. You may instead use a soft brush. To avoid damage, apply a detangling product once your hair is 90% dry and use a wide-toothed comb to remove knots and tangles.
  • Tying Up Damp Hair: Let the hair dry completely before tying it into a ponytail, a messy bun, or any other hairdo. Tying damp hair restricts the airflow, creating a moist environment for microbial growth.
  • Applying A Hair Mask: Hair masks must be applied to wet hair as they offer deep conditioning. The masks also repair hair damage and make hair feel softer.

There is yet another thing that you should avoid doing – sleeping with damp hair. What happens when you do it? Find out next.

What Happens When You Sleep With Damp Hair?

Sleeping with damp hair will make it matted, tousled, and tangled. This damages the hair, causing split ends and breakage.

It may also cause sinusitis, headache, and rhinitis through a mechanism called selective brain cooling, especially if your hair is wet from a cold weather. You may even catch a cold when your body cools down, causing upper respiratory tract infection and other allergies (4).

Moreover, as discussed above, sleeping with damp hair increases the risk of microbial infections and scalp acne.

However, if you cannot avoid sleeping with damp hair, here are a few tips.

How Do You Sleep With Damp Hair?

  1. Dry Your Hair: Use a microfiber towel to gently squeeze out excess water from your hair. Let it air dry. Avoid rubbing your hair vigorously with the towel. If possible, use a blow dryer on a cool setting to quickly dry it as much as possible.
  2. Switch To Silk Pillowcases: Silk pillowcases are non-absorbent and help maintain the moisture balance. They are gentle on damp hair and reduce friction to prevent breakage. They also have antibacterial properties (5). However, ensure you wash the pillowcases regularly.
  3. Avoid oiling your hair: Oiling wet or damp hair is not recommended. You may instead oil your hair before you wash it (when it is dry).
  4. Use Coconut Oil: Coconut oil helps moisturize the hair and prevents breakage (6). Apply it along the length of your hair to keep it healthy. Avoid oiling the scalp.
  5. Use A Conditioner: Hair conditioners contain conditioning agents that coat your hair strands to flatten your cuticles and prevent friction, frizz, knots, and hair breakage. If you have chemically processed hair (bleached or dyed hair), use a conditioner regularly.

If you plan to bleach or dye your hair, you have to be extra cautious as the hair is fragile when it is damp.

Can You Apply Bleach On Your Damp Hair?

Yes, you can apply bleach on damp hair, especially if you want to sport a balayage. When the hair is damp, the cuticles open up, making it easy to bleach. However, bleaching damages the hair, so you have to be careful when using bleaching agents. The same is applicable for hair dyes. Also keep in mind that damp hair may dilute the bleach (bleach developer already has some water content) and make it less effective.

Can You Dye Damp Hair?

You can dye damp hair as partially open cuticles help in better hair dye penetration. However, the excess moisture may result in uneven application and dilute the hair dye, affecting the color payoff. Hence, opt for semi and demi-permanent hair dyes if you want to dye your hair while it is damp.


Damp hair is vulnerable to scalp infections and hair breakage. It is because the hair bonds weaken when wet. Hence, you should dry your hair properly before going to bed. If you can’t avoid sleeping with damp hair, follow the tips mentioned in the article to minimize hair damage.

Frequently Asked Questions

What happens if you straighten damp hair?

Using a flat iron on damp hair can cause hair breakage and make it frizzy and unmanageable. Hence, ensure your hair is dry and use a heat protectant before you straighten it to minimize hair damage.

How long does it take to dry damp hair?

It may take up to 2 hours to air dry damp hair, depending on your hair type and length. You can cut down this time by using a blow dryer.

How to get rid of damp hair smell?

Use a clarifying or medicated shampoo to cleanse the hair and scalp and eliminate the damp hair smell. Natural remedies, such as tea tree oil or grapefruit oil, may also help in counteracting the odor to an extent.


Articles on StyleCraze are backed by verified information from peer-reviewed and academic research papers, reputed organizations, research institutions, and medical associations to ensure accuracy and relevance. Check out our editorial policy for further details.

Recommended Articles

Was this article helpful?
The following two tabs change content below.
Annie Jangam is a Molecular Biologist with 7 years of research experience in Rice Functional Genomics and Nutrient Signalling with International Publications in Abiotic stress, Nitrogen, and G-protein signaling. She specializes in writing on Health and Wellness. She has been an avid reader since childhood and is passionate about stories that help decipher life and its meaning. She believes in Human Rights for all and that one should "love others like we love ourselves."