Why does my hair curl up when wet?

Because I am obsessed with hair, make-up, skincare, and everything to do with beauty, I love watching people. This was the case last year when I was at the campsite and went to take a shower.

Maybe you know it, everyone showering in separate cubicles and one by one back on your slippers too, in my case, our tent. There too, it is fantastic to watch people. People with all different beauty regimes, different hair types, and one thing struck me there.

There were several women who, when they came out of the shower, had wavy hair, while when it was dry, it was just straight!

That was also the moment when the question: why does your hair curl up when wet? came to mind. I decided to find out and that is why I am writing this blog. I’m sure there are many more people who either recognize it or have it themselves and would like to know the answer! So…

Why does my hair curl up when wet?

This will be a somewhat scientific story, but stay with me! Once you have read it, you will know why your hair curls when it is wet.

It has everything to do with the fact that your hair reflects the shape of the molecules it is made up of. 

These molecules (in this case many keratin molecules, a kind of protein) look like a kind of long spring with several springs wrapped around each other like a kind of twisted rope.

These strands (the springs twisted around each other) are held together by chemical bonds. But the individual molecules are held together by weaker hydrogen bonds.

The strong bonds we mentioned earlier can only be broken by heat (as they do with perms for example).

The hydrogen bonds, however, can be influenced by water and therefore they can temporarily change shape when they get wet.

So the fact that your hair curls when it’s wet comes from the fact that different types of molecules in your hair react differently to the water, giving you this effect.

Cool, isn’t it? your curls disappear when your hair dries! Have you ever thought about it that way when stepping out of the shower or seeing someone else step out of the shower with curly wet hair?

Why does my hair look curly when wet but dries straight?

Above you have read why your hair curls when it is wet, but I understand if you wonder why your hair straightens when you dry it. 

So when you shower, your hair may curl up a little (due to the different reactions of molecules). 

It then temporarily changes shape when wet but returns to its natural shape when dry.

So your hair only temporarily changes from straight to curly. As soon as you dry your hair, or let it air dry, you will notice that your hair goes back to its natural shape.

How do I stop my hair from curling when wet?

As you may have gathered from the previous explanation, it is almost impossible not to curl your hair when it is wet. The only way I can think of is to put on a hair net so that your hair doesn’t get wet at all.

Your hair simply returns to its normal shape when you dry your hair. The pattern of your hair is in your DNA and you just have to live with it.  

I hope you don’t see this as a negative thing! I don’t know you personally, but I just assume that even the slightly curly hair when you get out of the shower looks great on you! So embrace it and show yourself as you are :).

What if you have wavy hair that dries straight?

If you have wavy hair that dries straight, you normally have naturally wavy hair. When wet, your hair becomes heavy and/or stretched. This is normally because the water makes your hair heavy and stretched, so it dries straight. This is why a wavy hair needs a gel or mousse to hold the texture when the hair dries (a slightly different principle to when your hair is straight and curled in the shower).

How do you keep your hair from getting curly (frizzy) after a shower?

This is a question I was asked by a friend the other day. I think she is certainly not the only one with this question, so that is why I am answering it here too (even though it is a little off-topic).

Curly or frizzy hair is something you can do something about in the shower. In fact, there are a number of steps you can take and I will list them for you below:

1. Cold water is your friend

Washing your hair at a low temperature is very good for your hair. The cold water seals your hair follicles. This, in turn, prevents frizzy hair when you get out of the shower.

Fortunately, you don’t have to take a completely cold shower! Simply rinsing cold after a nice hot shower is sufficient. However, you can tie up your hair so that it suffers less damage from the hot shower. 

2. Conditioning Shampoo

As you may know, shampoos can sometimes cause your hair to become too dry and frizzy. It is therefore wise to go for the right shampoo. 

A conditioning shampoo is great because it helps detangle the hair and it realigns the hair fibers. Treating your hair in this way in the shower when it is still wet is the best thing you can do to prevent frizzy hair.

3. Stop using a towel

I have written about this before. The thing is, your towel may be partly responsible for your frizzy hair. A towel is pretty hard and it can rough up your cuticles. 

If you dry your hair with either a microfiber towel or a cotton T-shirt, for example, you can eliminate this problem. Both the microfibre towel and the cotton shirt are much softer on your hair and that way you can make sure that even after your shower, you won’t have frizzy hair anymore

There are lots of other tips about how to prevent your hair curling and frizzing after a shower. I think it would be a great idea to give that topic its own article because there’s so much to tell about! When it’s ready I’ll put it down below!

Conclusion

I hope by now you learned why your hair curls up when it’s wet, why it sometimes looks curly and then dries up straight, how you can stop it from curling up (you can’t), why your wavy hair dries straight and even what to do with frizzy hair!

This probably was a lot to take in, but I hope you get the gist. For me, this was an eye-opener. I found it really cool to learn that your certain molecules react in certain ways that make your hair curl up! I hope you found it interesting too!

If you want to learn more about why your hair curls up, I advise you to look below. Below I’ve set out a couple of articles that will help you learn a lot more about the concept of “curling hair”. Thanks for reading!

Reading material

Below are the articles I just told you about:
Why does my hair curl up when it gets longer?
My hair curls up at the back
Why does your hair curl up at the ends?
Why does your hair curl inward?