If You Sleep With Wet Hair, We Have Some News For You

In addition to breakage and frizz, your wet hair and pillow are a hotbed for fungus.
This common habit can destroy your skin and hair health — even after one night.
Fiordaliso via Getty Images
This common habit can destroy your skin and hair health — even after one night.

Old wives’ tales warn that sleeping with wet hair can make you sick or increase your chances of catching a cold, but there isn’t any scientific evidence that it can directly cause respiratory illnesses. However, there are risks associated with sleeping with wet hair, including hair and scalp damage. And fungus is involved.

When you wake up in the morning after sleeping on wet hair, you may find your hair smelling like mildew, harboring a stale and damp aroma similar to the smell of the early stages of mold forming, said Dusty Schlabach, a hairstylist and owner of Thairapy Salon in South Pasadena, California.

“If the hair is wet, all these conditions contribute to a much slower drying process, and can create a perfect environment for fungus and bacteria to thrive,” Schlabach said. “If this happens often enough, it can grow into a real problem on the scalp causing yellow discoloration, itchiness, buildup and flakiness. All in all, it’s gross. With enough buildup, it even stinks. I see it on new clients all the time.”

Fungi flourish in dark, moist and humid environments, and can live on the dead tissue of hair, nails and outer skin layers. As a result, your pillow is a breeding ground for fungus to thrive. A 2005 study by Wythenshawe Hospital and the University of Manchester found that there can be up to 16 types of fungal species found on your pillow.

You might also wake up with broken and tangled strands that can be hard to recover to their healthy state, especially for people with curly hair.

“The outside layer of the hair, the cuticle, is meant to expand when wet, and contract as it dries,” Schlabach said. “If it stays stretched for too long, it can split and crack, compromising the health of that outer layer. It allows way too much penetration from water and products you might be using. This leads to dryness, which leads to brittleness, which leads to breakage, which visibly translates to stringy ends and frizz.”

In addition to hair breakage, we asked dermatologists about the types of fungal infections that can form in your hair, how your scalp is affected and what to do if you have to sleep with wet hair.

Types Of Fungal Infections


Malassezia species inhabit the skin of 90% of adults and usually don’t cause any harm. The growth of these fungi may be attributed to humidity, sweating and oily skin, which can be a result of sleeping with wet hair.

Found in hair follicles, the fungus is also linked to a skin disease called dermatitis, a chronic form of eczema caused by genetic and environmental factors. An excess of Malassezia yeast can cause an immune system reaction that leads to fungal infections and skin changes.

Dermatitis is a broad category of conditions that share one common trait: they all cause inflammation of the skin, explained Dr. Peter Lio, an eczema expert and clinical assistant professor of dermatology and pediatrics at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University.

“Typically this manifests as redness, swelling, scaling and dryness, but in more severe cases can actually cause things to open up and become oozing wounds,” said Lio, who is also a member of the National Eczema Association. “On the scalp, the most common forms of dermatitis are seborrheic dermatitis and psoriasis, close cousins that typically manifest with flaking and scaling dandruff, dryness, and itch.”

Scalp Ringworm

Ringworm, or tinea capitis, is a fungal infection of the scalp hair. The fungi can make their way into your hair, affecting keratin and tissue, which causes your hair to become brittle and break. These fungi and their spores can remain on combs, brushes, unwashed towels, furniture and sheets for long periods.

Although most cases of scalp ringworm are caught from other people with the infection, one of the risk factors includes warm and humid environments where fungal spores may grow. Since fungi grow in wet environments, having wet skin or a wet scalp for a long period of time makes you more susceptible to developing the fungal infection.

“Despite the term ‘ringworm,’ there is no actual worm causing the rash,” explained Dr. Margarita Lolis, a board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in Hackensack, New Jersey. “It got the name because of the circular patches it causes.”

The infection usually starts with red, round patches on the skin that may look like dandruff, causing itchiness, scale formation and alopecia. Similar to symptoms of dermatitis, ringworm can lead to patches of hair loss.

Although scalp ringworm is not a dangerous condition, it is contagious, Lolis said. “If left untreated, it can lead to severe inflammation called kerion, which can drain pus and cause thick crusting on the scalp.”

Black Piedra

This rarer fungal infection affects the hair shafts by attaching to the hair and forming black nodules. Breakage of the hair can occur as a result of the nodules, and without treatment, the fungal infection may cause alopecia.

Black piedra is common in people with long hair with excessive hair oils, usually forming in hot and humid environments.

Unlike other forms of fungal infections, black piedra is asymptomatic and normal hair can be restored. However, it can be chronic, lasting for months or even years.

If You Sleep With Wet Hair, Try...

Drying Your Hair

It might be time to switch your shower schedule or try to let your hair air-dry before bed. However, if you don’t have the time to wait for your hair to dry, blow-drying your hair might be better than sleeping with it wet.

“If a client needs to or prefers to shower at night, I’d highly recommend drying it before bed. For curly hair, use a diffuser to avoid heat damage,” Schlabach said. “I tell my clients, ‘If it’s too hot for your skin, it’s too hot for your hair.’”

If you find yourself sleeping with wet hair regardless, it might be time to integrate products that can help prevent breakage and fungal infections.

Using A Silk Pillow

If you like to shower after a long day and don’t have time for your hair to dry, a silk pillow can help to save your hair. Using a silk pillow can provide less friction on your hair when you’re sleeping — even with wet hair, according to The Sleep Foundation, a non-profit that provides expert information for sleep issues.

Lea Brown, a hairstylist at Shine Aveda Salon + Spa in Sparks, Nevada, agreed. “Wet hair is weak and can safely stretch up to 30% of its original length, stretching any further will cause breakage,” Brown told HuffPost. “So, it’s best to sleep with a silk or moisture-wicking fabric to prevent friction. Friction equals frizzy hair and breakage. Hair will have less shine, fullness and strength.”

Although a silk pillow can help to prevent breakage while you’re sleeping, it doesn’t completely prevent hair damage.

Using Anti-Fungal Products

Anti-fungal products such as shampoos and creams work to kill the yeast on your scalp and hair that causes infection and to prevent it from coming back. However, they do not clear the infection fully.

In addition to skin and hair products, oral anti-fungal medications might also be needed to treat infections that reach the root of the infected hair follicles. They can be prescribed by your doctor.

“Products that do treat the fungus, unfortunately, wind up drying out the hair, leaving it brittle and dull, leading to breakage and frizz,” Schlabach said. “If they only knew to stop sleeping with wet hair in the first place — they wouldn’t need to trade one issue for another.”

Switching Your Shower Routine

If you can make time to shower in the morning, it can help promote skin and hair health, Lolis said. “Morning showers help combat oily hair and scalp. If you wash your hair at night, by the time you wake up it could still look oily. To ensure a fresh and clean style, it’s best to wash in the morning.”

Additionally, since our body releases toxins and bacteria, such as sweat, while we’re sleeping, showering in the morning removes sweat and buildup.

“There is no right or wrong time to shower, but the most important thing to remember is to ensure you are using lukewarm, not boiling hot water, and gentle soap to cleanse,” Lolis said.

Looking for a quick way to dry your hair? Reviewers say these are great alternatives to the expensive Dyson Airwrap.

HuffPost may receive a share from purchases made via links on this page. Every item is independently selected by the HuffPost Shopping team. Prices and availability are subject to change.

Revlon One-Step volumizer hair dryer and brush
With this handy brush, you can declutter your bathroom counter once and for all. It has multiple functions that eliminate the need for a slew of tools to do your hair every day. Not only does it dry your hair, but it also styles and adds volume as you use it. The nondetachable oval brush is ideal for smoothing hair, preventing frizz and picking up follicles at the root, and it has round edges to create a voluminous, curled-ends look. Multiple heat settings allow for drying and styling versatility.

Promising review: "I have a girlfriend who has a $500 Dyson blow dryer that I tried and loved but I wasn’t willing to spend that kind of money on a hair dryer. So I started searching Amazon and came across this model that had great reviews so I figured I mine as well give it a try! I have to say I’m thoroughly impressed! I’m great with my hair but round brushing is a labor or love. This tool cuts the time in half and my hair comes out smooth and looking like I just came from the salon. I just cut bangs and love to use it on my bangs because it gives me a very natural straight look. Easily my new favorite hair tool!" — Rene Sweeney
Sally Beauty
Ion Luxe 4-in-1 Autowrap Airstyler
Seen on TikTok and recently back in stock after being sold out, this multifunctional styler provides a powerful airflow to dry your hair quickly. It has three heat settings, a cool shot, three airflow settings, two barrels, a diffuser and a concentrator.

Promising review: "I love this product, and I've never been a fan of hair dryers. This one has 3 heat settings, 3 speeds, cool shot (that's ACTUALLY cool). Hands down the best hair dryer I've ever used. The curling function is also 10/10. Definitely takes some getting used to and figuring out how to best maneuver it for yourself, but so worth it when you do!" — Bailey B.
Shark HyperAir
Although Shark is known for its reviewer-beloved vacuums, the brand also has a foothold in the beauty space thanks to some popular hair dryer brushes. The HyperAir model offers super-fast drying power, heat control settings and a cool shot feature that aids in closing hair cuticles, ensuring a healthy shine. In addition to the brush and concentrator it comes with, you can also add on a diffuser for an additional cost.

Promising review: "I love this dryer! I had a Chi dryer for 15 years prior to purchasing this shark and the shark is more powerful, more quiet and I love the attachments. I wanted a nicer dryer but was unwilling to pay for a Dyson. I feel like this Shark does everything I want it to at a reasonable price. The attachments are great took especially the brush." — A. Tomlinson
Shark Clean
Shark FlexStyle
A recent addition to Shark’s styling tool lineup is the FlexStyle air styling and drying system. Choose three attachments from the five available (auto-wrap curlers, paddle brush, oval brush, curl-defining diffuser and styling concentrator) to attach to the wand and get the style you want to achieve.

There aren’t yet any reviews for this newly-launched product, but you can check out this TikTok to see it in action.
InfinitiPro by Conair hot air multi-styler
Get frizz-free hair with this hot air styling accessory that comes with three attachments: a nylon bristle brush for volume, curling iron for bouncy curls and paddle brush for straightening.

Promising review
: "This styler was super easy to use. I used it on dry hair using the paddle brush attachment, and it made my hair smooth, shiny, and volumized after running it through once. The hot air is gentle enough to bring directly to my scalp, which helps with creating lift. My hair looks great and I can't wait to try the different attachments!" — IzzyH
T3 AireBrush Duo blow dry brush
If you're looking for a hair dryer brush for your pre-flat iron hair-stretching process, look no further than this negative ion-powered brush. Its interchangeable design allows you to swap out attachments for more versatility and functionality. In the box, you'll find a 2.5-inch round brush attachment and a 3-inch paddle brush attachment. It comes with five heat settings and three speed settings.

Promising review: "LITERALLY has done for me what no other heat styling tools could do. The long handle helps get the sections in the back, and being able to touch the brush while it's on without burning my hand take so much user error out. I use the paddle brush for the sides and then the round brush for my curtain bangs. My hair is still in great form after days of use. Also my hair is long and I'm short so my arms are short, but it's ACTUALLY doable because of the long handle. Really loved it 10/10." — Nennanegra
Drybar Double Shot blow dryer brush
This brush combines the heat of a powerful hair dryer with a round brush to produce a smooth blowout without having to go to a salon. The ionic technology works to seal hair cuticles for less frizz while still delivering a healthy shine. It even has has three temperature settings (cool, medium and high) so you can adjust it to your needs, and with over 300 five-star ratings on Ulta, it's definitely worth trying out. Customers who've bought it mention that it works best on long, thick hair, so if that's you or someone you know, you can save time and money by getting a salon-quality blowout without having to leave home.

Promising review: "I am so glad I bought this. I wanted to splurge on the Dyson hair dryer but got this instead and I’m obsessed with it. my hair looks amazing after using it. For my hair type, this dryer brush is perfect. I have wavy hair that’s thin, but I have a ton of hair. It’s quick and easy to give myself a blowout." — mdeamicis
The special edition Dyson Airwrap
But if none of these hair care devices are tickling your fancy, then you may need to go ahead and get the almighty Dyson. This all-in-one tool boasts an array of brush and curl attachments that promise both sleek and wavy styles on a range of different hair types. It can smooth, curl, wave and dry hair with just a swap of attachment heads. And this special edition comes in a sleek blue color that you're going to want to look at and use every morning.

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