"I can't towel-dry my hair, because it'll tangle. So I put a towel on the bed and smack my head on the bed, like, ten times, so all the water will drain out" - Alanis Morissette

... and how do you dry your hair?

For many, hair dryers are great because it takes much less time. But some, particularly guys, don't like the "poofy" look they get with blow-drying. Others prefer air-drying because hair dryers damage their hair.

Hair dryer technology has advanced a lot since the time when our ancestors used the exhaust of vacuum cleaners. And, as our reader points out, one of the latest developments is the ionic hair dryer.

So how do ionic hair dryers work and are they any better than regular ones?

How Ionic Hair Dryers Work

It all starts with ions... atoms or molecules that have either gained or lost an electron. The addition of an electron produces a negative ion and the removal of an electron gives a positive ion.

Did you know? Ions were first theorized by Michael Faraday around 1830.

Ionic hair dryers work by the corona effect. A voltage is applied to an ion emitter, typically made up of tiny stainless steel pins, to create a strong electric field very near their points. This accelerates the energy level of the free electrons high enough so that collisions with air molecules will cause them to ionize.

A negative voltage applied to the points creates negative ions and a positive voltage produces positive ions (cations). The majority of hair dryers on the market today emit negative ions (anions).

Did you know? The word ion derives from a Greek word meaning "to go". Anion means "(a thing) going up" and a cation means "(a thing) going down."

Effect of Ions on Hair

...What the ads say

According to the promotions, ions help the hair to dry faster with less damage, leaving it "soft, smooth and shiny". How? Apparently one way is through the interaction of ions and water, although the stated mechanisms are somewhat different.

One example is that the ions "reduce the size of the water molecules". Another is that the ions "break water molecule clusters into micro-fine particles". While a third example is that the ions "reduce the size of water droplets."

Aside from speeding up drying times, the "smaller-sized" water is claimed to more "easily penetrate the hair shaft" and "restore the moisture balance of the hair".

The ions are also supposed to help by acting directly on the hair and "causing the cuticle to remain flat, "trapping" in moisture, thus eliminating the frizzies" or by " neutralis[ing] static and flyaway hair, leaving it frizz-free".

...what Science says

Would you be surprised that we could find nothing in the scientific literature to describe how ionic hair dryers work on hair?!?

What we have here is a product where the advertised benefits rely on anecdotal evidence (i.e. information not based on facts or careful study). This doesn't necessarily mean that ionic hair dryers are not an improvement over regular ones. But it does bring into question "why" they would be better.

Since we cannot use science to back up the claims for ionic hair dryers, let's turn to the consumer.

...what consumers are saying

According to postings at Folica.com, the majority of those who have bought (and took the time to comment on) ionic hair dryers found they do deliver... the drying time is reduced and their hair does look better. Similar comments can be found at Amazon.com and Epinion.com.

But also bear in mind that there are others who found no difference.

Many factors can affect how our hair dries, including its condition, length, thickness and texture. As one dissatisfied user posted, "I have relatively straight healthy looking hair... so maybe this dryer works better on some people than others (curly hair? really thick hair?) but it definitely [left] my hair looking lifeless."

Did you know? Average number of hairs on the head: 100,000.

The type of shampoo, conditioner or styling product we use can also be important. Consider this candid posting: "I noticed right away that my hair was smoother, with less static. This could also possibly be due to or helped by the fact that I started using the new [BRAND X] shampoo and conditioner around the same time as I got the hair dryer."

The bottom line...

One thing is certain... a lot of people are convinced ionic hair dryers perform better than conventional ones. On the flip side, we can't use science to explain why this is true.

Learn More!

What consumers are saying about ionic hair dryers (Folica.com; Amazon.com; Epinions.com )

Why there is skepticism about products that claim to alter the structure of water. Click here.

How science and research are applied to the study of hair and hair care products. Click here.

Bolduc C., and J.Shapiro. 2001.Hair Care Products: Waving, straightening, conditioning, and coloring. Clinics in Dermatology.19:431—436

Draelos, Z.D. 2005 Hair Care: An Illustrated Dermatologic Handbook. Taylor and Francis. New York. 217 pp.

Kirkland, K. 2004. The big blow-dryer boom. Beauty Store Business. June 2004. 6 pp.

Stan Megraw

Stan is a writer/researcher, a PhD graduate of McGill University and was a member of the CurioCity team for several years. As a kid he dreamed of playing hockey in the NHL then becoming an astronaut with NASA. Instead, he ended up as an environmental research scientist. In his spare time Stan enjoys working on DIY projects, cooking and exploring his Irish roots.

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Avatar  Alisa

Karmin is the best!!

Avatar  Agnes34

I personally love my Karmin! :)