What makes a hair day a really bad hair day? Static electricity. What causes it, and how can you stop it?
As a kid, during the winter, I would love to shuffle my feet across the carpeted living room and wait for my little brothers to come by. When they came around the corner — Zap!– I’d touch them, and a jolt of electricity would snap from my finger to their arms. It is this same static electricity that causes hair to float away or to resist your styling like it has a mind of its own. What causes this static buildup, and what can you do to prevent it?
Static is when you (or your clothes) become charged. That is, they develop a net positive or negative charge. Scuffing your feet across the rug causes you to accumulate negative charges from it. During the winter the air is dry and acts as an insulator, helping you keep charged. When you touch something that is not charged, the negative charges jump from you to the object, causing a spark. When you comb your hair, the negative charges move from your hair to the plastic comb or brush. This leaves your hair positively charged and the brush negatively charged. Because all of your hairs have a positive charge, they repel each other, flying away. This can also be seen when kids slide down a plastic playground slide: Their hair loses negative charges and becomes positively charged. The hairs repel each other and the stand on end.
Dry hair is a common cause for static reactions. Over-washed, over-treated (colors and straighteners) hair is stripped of its natural oil. In particular, 18-methyl eicosanoic acid (18-MEC) is a natural oil that your hair follicles secrete to protect the hair. Once 18-MEC is stripped off your hair, it cannot be replaced for the lifetime of that hair (which can be years for women or men with long hair).
To prevent this, try to minimize chemical treatments to your hair. Do not scrub your hair daily with oil-stripping, sudsy shampoos. Keeping the natural oils on your hair prevents the buildup of static charge and can prevent fly-away hair, even after taking off that wool hat you had on all day at the ski slopes.
Here are 4 more tips to prevent fly-away hair in the winter:
1. Use a moisturizing shampoo with hydrating ingredients.
2. If you use a regular shampoo, then apply a conditioner to your hair after every wash.
3. Use an ion hair dryer: There are no good studies to show that these work, but they might help add negative ions to your hair, preventing the positive charge fly-away.
4. Wipe your hair with a fabric softener. Really. They are designed to neturalize static buildup and can instantly counter a charge buildup before your hair begins flying away from your head.
Photo: Kretyen, Flickr.com