Beauty Bullshit: Ionic Hairdryers

Yay4Tay asks, “I am super late to the party (catching up on all your posts), but I would love for you to address how every hair tool ever is now boasting it’s modern ‘ionic technology!’×217-1020×217.jpg
My husband says this is the stupidest shit ever, as basically anything using heat is using ‘ionic technology’ as it basically translates to ‘blows hot air!’, and this is not anything to tout as new or amazing. But then I see shit like this:–faqinfo-6_27-185.html
And I’m like… it’s time to ask”

There are quite a few ionic hairdryers on the market, but they all make the grandiose statements about their products.
Conair’s claim is that “An electronic ionizer generates negative ions, which neutralize positive ions in the atmosphere. The neutralization process seals the hair cuticle, reducing frizziness and leaving the hair shiny.” H2Ion adds that their ionic products “prevent heat damage by reducing hair’s drying time, infuse vital moisture to dry brittle hair and eliminate frizz” [sic]. (No, you didn’t read it wrong. That’s not a sentence.) Claims can get even more wacky. For example, Fitness magazine says, “The negative ions break down water molecules to one-fifth of their size, so they’re able to penetrate each shaft, hydrating from the inside out.” I hope even those of you who haven’t taken a science class since high school can work out why that is a steaming pile of crap all on your own. (I even saw someone touting that magnetism was somehow involved! Whoever wrote that certainly didn’t think that through successfully.)

Pseudoscience or no, the yellow is pretty.

Note that these are three different mechanisms by which these ionic hairdryers supposedly work. Either they:
1. Bind to positive ions that are damaging your hair,
2. Reduce drying time, or
3. Magically bend physics.

The last of the three we’re just going to address using dismissive laughter. But what about the first two?

First, a basic chemistry recap: An atom is a basic unit of matter. At the center, it has a nucleus containing positively-charged protons and neutrally charged neutrons. Around it is a cloud of negatively charged electrons. If it contains the same number of protons and electrons, the atom is neutral. If it contains too many or too few electrons, it is an ion.

Water molecules are bent, meaning that they are polar. One side of the molecule is positive and the other side is negative. As a result, the positive side of one water molecule will be attracted to the negative side of the other molecule, meaning they get stuck together. This is called hydrogen bonding. As a result, water frequently will stick together in a sort of weak cluster. Real life water that you actually use when you wash your hair is filled with ions of all kinds. For example, sodium, potassium, hydrogen, and calcium ions are all in water to some extent or another.

Hydrogen Bonding

According to the marketing, ionic hairdryers are blowing some mysterious negatively-charged ions at your head when they work. I actually can’t even find any evidence that this occurs (the sources are the brands who are trying to sell you their products), and if it does occur, I have no fucking idea what ions we are even talking about. Saying “an ion” is almost as vague as saying “a molecule”. Which ion? Which molecule? I assume we are talking about ions like O2– and N2-, but I can’t find a single piece of commercial or non-commercial literature that is willing to be specific about the physics of what they are purportedly achieving. Nonetheless, we’re going to assume that these hair dryers are actually pumping out negative ions for the purposes of this post. This certainly is possible (using high voltage charges), so I don’t necessarily find that suspect on its own.

When we start talking about the purpose of ionic hairdryers, though, my creeping suspicions simply can’t be ignored. A negatively-charged ion that you might generate in the air, such as O2-, will pass off its extra electron to one of the copious ions already in the water before it will bind to your hairshaft. Thus, it can’t directly solve your hair’s damage problem. Furthermore, a few extra dissolved ions aren’t going to break up the massive amounts of hydrogen bonding occurring in your soggy hair, so reduced dry-time seems equally unlikely.

There aren’t a ton of consumer tests out there, but what does exist seems to support this theorizing. For example, a Good Housekeeping Institute comparison of ionic and non-ionic hairdryers found no relationship between whether or not the hairdryer was ionic and the overall dry-time of participants’ hair.

The chemical implausibility combined with the complete absence of any scientific information whatsoever suggests that, when it comes to hairdryers, “ionic technology” is, well, a load of hot air. Presumably, companies are trying to create a public perception that masks the sad reality: hair dryers just aren’t very good for your hair. It may be more than ‘blowing hot air’ (as Yay4Tay’s husband suggested), but it there’s no evidence that it will have any practical implications for your locks beyond that of a traditional blowdry.

1. But… I want to believe! 😀 Thanks for the great post though.


2. This might be my favourite beauty bullshit so far! I remember when I got my new hair dryer it said some of that crap on the side and I had a good laugh.

3. My dryer has a switch to turn the “ions” on or off. If it’s so wonderful, why would I ever turn it off? That alone was enough to convince me it was nonsense.

4. I was always under the impression that the “negative ions” were supposed to neutralize the frizz caused by static electricity because hair tends to lose electrons easily or something (balloon and hair effect).
Though not sure how true that is for wet hair. Either way, the touted claims are outlandish and ridiculous.

5. Hi – can you do an article on topical caffeine? I see it added to so many skin products, and I don’t know whether to take it seriously or not.

6. Have you seen this one?:

7. Do you know anything about the silk vs cotton pillowcases? I just read that cotton pillowcases puts “pressure” on your face but silk doesn’t? I don’t know, but that seems like crap. Overall, I don’t know what impact using silk pillowcases have.

8. I enjoyed this post, but I have a question about this sentence: “Water molecules are bent, meaning that they are polar”. It’s my understanding that polarity designates an unequal sharing of electrons in a covalent bond. So since oxygen has a greater electronegativity, it holds the electrons of the o-h bond more strongly. This point doesn’t change anything else in the post, I am just wondering if I’m incorrect.

9. “Bent” is referring to the 3-D geometric shape that the molecule forms when we consider what a molecule’s most stable form will be (using VSEPR). In this situation polarity is referring to the entire molecule rather than just the covalent bonds. Yes, the electronegativity of oxygen causes the electrons of the hydrogens to stay in closer vicinity of it. We also have a dipole moment (basically just taking quantitative measurements into account) that comes into play, and that is what gives us that bent form, allowing us to call it a polar molecule. is referring to the interactions involved with this form since the partial negative and partial positive sides of the molecule allow for hydrogen bonding.

Unless I totally missed what you were asking, since I felt you were mainly unsure about that she was saying the molecule was bent lol 🙂 I’ll gladly try to explain in a better way.

10. This comment has been removed by the author.

11. I love you, never stop writing your blog please 😀

12. You are going to fucking LOVE this Joyus video selling an eye cream applicator that “uses ions to really help it penetrate”. Oh my god, it is a masterpiece. Not only does it sound like tons of Beauty Bullshit, but there’s an extra level of bullshit sheen because of the intense uptalking, the use of the phrases “I like to…” and “just go ahead and….”, and of course the flurry of sentences whose clauses don’t match.

It combines ultrasonic micropulses with ion technology!!!!!!!! You could essentially use this every time you put on your eye cream!!!!

I would also dearly love a Beauty Bullshit post about whether you can actually cause wrinkles by touching your eye area too hard. People seem to always be like, “Don’t rub your eye cream in! Pat it in! gently!! OR YOU WILL CAUSE WRINKLLLEEEEEESSSS!” Like… how, exactly? And: more or less than if I just didn’t use eye cream?

13. There is no evidence whatsoever that that is a concern! But yeah, I can write about it, if you like.

14. Hey! Have you read the patents for these ionic hairdryers yet? Apparently, the ionic hairdryers are equipped with something to emit electrons, not to make specific ions. I haven’t looked at the precious details of how, if the claims are actually plausible, and which specific brand patented the product, but the marketing claims and the patent claims seem to be totally different. The patents only claim that it helps hair to be styled more effectively because when brushing, there is an overwhelming positive charge on hair.

15. If you haven’t done one on biotin and collagen shampoos that are recently popular, I’d love to know if any of it actually works from a chemistry standpoint. They also have a spray and hair lotion too. Does biotin even work topically? Or collagen? (Sorry to leave a comment on such an old post, haha.)

16. Would you be willing to do a beauty bullshit on sulfate-free shampoos? Granted I know very little about chemistry, but I’ve looked at the ingredient list of a few ‘sulfate-free’ shampoos and instead of “sodium laurel sulfate” they’ll list something “disodium laureth sulfosuccinate” I know just enough about chemistry to know that the two are related. Is the second actually better?