You planned to wash your hair this morning but hit the snooze button. Then your dog decided to drag his feet on the morning walk, so there went your shower time, and you decided to throw that hair in a bun, resigned to the fact that you’ll wash it tonight. We’ve all been there, and more than likely, we’ve all at some point hit that pillow exhausted, with our hair still humid — or, if you’re like me, sopping wet. Unfortunately, doing so may cause some unpleasant effects for the skin on your scalp, face, and other parts of your body.
“Personally, I was told never to go to bed with wet hair because it could result in various bad endings such as fungal and bacterial infections, which could lead to an itchy scalp and dandruff,” says Marilisa Sears, artistic director for Marc Anthony hair care, who first alerted Allure editors to the phenomenon. After doing our due diligence, we can confirm dermatologists agree that this old wives’ tale isn’t just fiction: When the dead skin cells, makeup, and natural oils that populate your pillowcase mix with wet hair, the results can be… not so pleasant.
If you’re brave enough to know what exactly that pre-bedtime hair wash might be causing to manifest in your bed and on your scalp, read on: We spoke to dermatologists and hair experts to understand more about how and why going to bed with wet hair is not recommended from a health perspective. But rest assured, there are preventative measures you can take if you just can’t avoid that nighttime shower.
Meet the experts
- Marilisa Sears is artistic director for Marc Anthony Hair Care.
- Kavita Mariwalla, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and micrographic surgeon in West Islip, New York.
- Priscilla Valles is a Los Angeles-based hair extensionist.
- Jennifer Linder, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and Mohs surgeon and founder and Chief Medical Officer of Linder Health.
- Noëlle Sherber, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist in Washington, D.C.
What are the disadvantages of going to sleep with wet hair?
Hair is at its most fragile when wet, so if you go to bed with it damp and proceed to toss and turn against a pillow, you run a higher risk of breakage. But aside from being rough on your delicate strands, hitting the pillow with damp hair puts you at risk of developing skin infections, primarily on your scalp. “Certain bacteria and fungi thrive in warm, moist environments and so will proliferate on scalp skin if it stays damp for hours,” explains Washington, D.C.-based board-certified dermatologist Noëlle Sherber. “Most commonly, a type of yeast called Malassezia can accumulate on the scalp and cause flaking, which can be mistaken for dandruff.” The best way to know what’s causing a flaky scalp is to see a dermatologist as the differences in their clinical presentations can be subtle, adds Dr. Sherber.
While sleeping on that wet hair, you could also be susceptible to developing small acne bumps or pustules (small, inflamed, pus-filled, blister-like sores) that could become itchy or painful. Dr. Sherber says this would be an infection called bacterial or fungal folliculitis. Despite the daunting name, though, folliculitis is a relatively common skin condition that occurs when hair follicles become inflamed. It’s best you visit a dermatologist if you find yourself experiencing persistent symptoms, though, as it would be difficult to self-diagnose, says Dr. Sherber, adding that it will be treated differently depending on whether it’s caused by bacteria or fungi. She says that while mild cases may be amenable to treatment with over the counter antimicrobial products, more severe cases may require topical and/or oral medication. One such over the counter option would be Tower28 SOS Daily Rescue Spray which contains hypochlorous acid, she says.