The effects of water on heat-styling damage

J Cosmet Sci. Jan-Feb 2011;62(1):15-27.


Heated styling appliances, such as straightening irons, have grown in popularity in recent years, as have hair products such as heat-protection sprays. In this study we investigate whether the water in a heat-protection spray can affect the level of damage caused by heat styling. Tryptophan damage from heat styling was measured using fluorescence spectroscopy, and structural damage was investigated using light microscopy and single-fiber tensile testing. Hair samples were heat treated with straightening irons, following treatment with either a water-based, "wet," heat-protection spray or an ethanol-based, "dry," spray. Results showed that, as expected, tryptophan damage was reduced by repeated applications of both the "wet" and "dry" heat-protection sprays. However, no differences were seen between the "wet" versus the "dry" product. Light microscopy studies showed greater structural damage to hair treated with water and the "wet" spray. Tensile tests confirmed that there was greater damage to hair treated with the "wet" spray. Decreases in Young's modulus were greater in the presence of the "wet" spray. The results of this study suggest that the type of damage caused by heat treatments is different in wet versus dry hair. In dry hair, thermal treatments cause chemical damage and some structural damage. However, in wet hair, thermal treatments cause the same chemical damage, but considerably more structural damage, which causes significant changes in the physical properties of the hair. It is likely that the rapid evaporation of water from the hair is the main causal factor. Our experiments suggest that the effectiveness of commercial heat-protection sprays can be improved by the removal of water and by the use of volatile ingredients, such as ethanol, as base solvents.

MeSH terms

  • Hair / radiation effects*
  • Hair Preparations / pharmacology*
  • Hot Temperature / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Microscopy
  • Spectrometry, Fluorescence
  • Tryptophan
  • Water*


  • Hair Preparations
  • Water
  • Tryptophan