Air Dry vs. Diffusing: Drying Curly Hair Methods Put to the Test

October 20, 2023
Alexis Gaskin
By: Alexis Gaskin | by L'Oréal
alexis drying her curly hair in a towel and holding carol's daughter curl products

Drying curly hair is a constant test of patience that any curly-haired person (or anyone who takes care of curly hair) can relate to. In general, the laundry list of things that those with curly and coily hair have to do for proper care is seemingly endless when it comes to searching for the right hair care routine, styling products and hair-drying methods. With the latter, the specific drying method is crucial for the most defined, shaped and frizz-free curls possible.

Whether you’re entering your natural hair journey or looking for new ways to dry your curly hair, you’ve come to the right place. Here, learn how to dry curly hair and a few of our favorite editor-tested methods. Additionally, find the best hair care products to minimize frizz while drying your hair and the heat protectant sprays to use before reaching for a blow dryer or curl diffusing tool.

Why Does Curly Hair Take So Long to Dry?

If you’ve ever started the beginning of your day with wet hair and ended it with strands that are still slightly damp, welcome to the club. This long dry time has a lot to do with your hair texture and hair porosity

Hair porosity determines how much water your individual hair strand can hold. If you have low porosity, then your hair cuticle is closed and doesn’t allow enough water into strands. Those with high porosity have a very open cuticle that absorbs a lot of moisture but doesn’t attain it as well, per the Journal of Investigative Dermatology Symposium Proceedings

It’s very common for those with curly and coily hair types to have low porosity, which means that it clings to all the moisture it can get.

3 Methods for Drying Curly Hair

In general, the method you choose to dry your hair will yield the best results when using moisturizing and sealing hair care products (consider the list in the next section). This means you’re adding proper hydration to your hair and sealing it in to minimize frizz and craft softer, healthier hair. Below, explore three methods for drying curly hair to find one that works best for you. 

1. Dry Hair With a T-shirt

Sounds simple enough because it is. After you get out of the shower, wring your hair with your hands to squeeze as much water out as you can so your mane isn’t sopping wet. (If you’re refreshing your hair with a spray bottle for second-day (or beyond) curls, you’ll follow the same instructions). 

Then, wrap your curls in a cotton t-shirt or microfiber towel (one big enough to cover your entire head of hair) to limit rubbing and friction. Start by folding the bottom of the T-shirt over the back of your head, then grab the neckline and sleeves and twist the fabric to gather them in a tight hold. Finish by tying the sleeves together at the back of your head.

This option is best known as curl plopping and lets your curls and coils dry closely bound to your scalp for the springiest shape possible. After 15 minutes you can let your hair down, add styling product and throw hair back in the wrap to let it continue drying, or you can air dry the rest of the way. 

2. Let Hair Dry Naturally 

Speaking of letting hair dry naturally, this method takes the longest out of any curl-drying process depending on how much hair you have and your porosity. If you have low porosity, it’ll take a while for your hair to air dry naturally, but the results are elongated curls with minimized shrinkage.  

For curly and coily hair, squeeze out as much water as possible from your hair using your hands or a microfiber towel, per the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). Then, use a hair clip to pull your hair up and out of your face to avoid water dripping and to achieve a springier curl shape. You can let hair dry naturally overnight; just make sure you apply your styling products before you go to sleep with wet hair and wrap your hair in a silk or satin bonnet to protect it from friction. Wet hair is more prone to breakage, so you’ll want to be careful with this method. 

3. Use a Hair Diffuser

One of the most popular hair-drying methods is to use a diffuser attachment with your blow dryer. Diffusing curly hair is a great way to dry curls fast; however, it can produce a lot of frizz without the right hair care. If you plan on using a blow dryer on your strands, get a heating tool that works for curls, like the Bellissima Italia Diffon Supreme Ionic XL, which combines a diffuser and hair dryer in one device without the bulky packaging. The extra large bowl allows you to dry more hair quicker without clumping pieces together. 

After you squeeze out excess water, add a heat protectant spray like the Carol's Daughter Goddess Strength Divine Strength Leave In Milk, which protects your hair from heat up to 450 degrees. The spray lightly covers strands and further detangles for separated curls. Follow up with a dollop of the Carol's Daughter Born to Repair Defining Leave-In Cream With Shea Butter to shape your curls and leave them frizz-free after the drying process. 

Keep in mind that you’ll want to add styling products to your strands before they’re completely dry to determine how your curls will look. To diffuse curly hair, start by passing the diffuser over your strands like it’s a regular hair dryer to dry the exterior parts of your hair. Then, once your final curl has begun to form, you can fill the bowl of the diffuser and scrunch curls to the roots, letting the tiny ports in the diffuser prongs dry the interior and scalp area of your hair.

6 Products for Drying Curly Hair Without Frizz

Frizz is incredibly common with curly hair since this hair type is more prone to dryness — according to the AAD. Dehydrated hair will most likely have frizzy pieces in need of moisture to smoothen the strand. While it’s a completely normal part of having hair, it can be bothersome for those who want a silky curl, free of flyaways

During the hair drying process, some strands can dry faster than others, losing moisture and appearing as frizz. To limit this issue, use one of the above hair drying methods and add one (or more) of the hair care products below to your hair care routine. The result: Strands with minimized frizz added shine, defined curls and moisture. 

L’Oréal Paris Dream Lengths Curls Refresh & Reshape Leave-In Spray

Revive your curls with this lightweight leave-in spray formulated with hyaluronic acid and castor oil. You can spritz your entire head with a light layer to detangle strands and add the hydration that dry hair needs. This is a great option for those who are styling their hair on a non-wash day and don’t have time to fully saturate their curls.

L’Oréal Paris Dream Lengths Curls Refresh & Reshape Leave-In Spray

Garnier Fructis Sleek & Shine Anti-Frizz Serum

This hair serum is a staple in my curly hair routine for its ability to combat frizz without leaving behind a greasy texture that can lead to product buildup. Infused with argan oil, the product adds shine to strands and combats humidity for up to 72 hours.
Garnier Fructis Sleek & Shine Anti-Frizz Serum

Matrix A Curl Can Dream Light Hold Gel

Hair gels and curly hair can be a tricky relationship, especially if the gel is heavy and creates crunchy curls that flake with every turn of your head. Thankfully, this gel from Matrix skips those hair woes and provides a light hold that gently wraps around hair to smoothen strands and define curls and coils. The added manuka honey extract seals in moisture to minimize the frizz that dry hair gets.

Matrix A Curl Can Dream Light Hold Gel

Dark & Lovely Blowout Silky Slip Blow Dry Cream

If you’re drying your hair to create a silk press or want smooth curls that are just as silky, use this blow-dry cream from SoftSheen Carson’s Dark & Lovely. The creamy hair moisturizer provides superior slip that makes unraveling tangled hair easy without pulling and tugging at coils. You’ll enjoy seven days of smooth, frizz-reduced hair and can also use this styler to protect from heat up to 450 degrees.
Dark & Lovely Blowout Silky Slip Blow Dry Cream

The Doux Mousse Def Texture Foam

Styling curly hair that takes forever to dry is all about lightweight hair care products and there’s nothing more lightweight than this airy mousse foam. It has the density and texture of a foam with the nourishing benefits of a hair cream. This styler detangles, tackles frizz and adds shine and volume for crunch-free curls that hold their shape throughout the day.
The Doux Mousse Def Texture Foam

Maria Nila Coils & Curls Oil-In-Cream

A personal favorite of this curly-haired editor, you only need a small amount to work through wet strands before drying curly hair. The concentrated formula doesn’t clump to the hair and easily spreads to define curls, nourish deep and detangle to bring out your natural curl pattern. The blend of shea butter, jojoba oil, aloe vera and vitamin E leaves curls soft to the touch while it repairs from within for healthier curls.
Maria Nila Coils & Curls Oil-In-Cream
Photographer: Alexis Gaskin Design: Juliana Campisi

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