There are fibs our parents told us that truly were for our own good: Eat your carrots and you’ll be able to see in the dark… and the even more familiar, eat your spinach and you’ll be strong like Popeye. And then there were the warnings that our parents honestly mistook for truth, such as “go outside with wet hair and you’ll catch a cold!” After all this time, and much scientific evidence, the question, “can you catch a cold from wet hair?” still has many duped.
The Myth of Wet Hair and Colds
According to a survey conducted by the journal Pediatrics, 40% of well-meaning moms erroneously believe that cold weather plus a wet head a sick child makes. This myth most likely originated from an 1878 study conducted by French chemist Louis Pasteur. Pasteur inoculated chickens with anthrax and then dipped their feet in icy water. All the chickens contracted the virus and died. Pasteur repeated the experiment, but wrapped the chickens in a warm towel instead—all the chickens lived!
Human studies conducted during WWI corroborated Pasteur’s animal study. Soldiers housed in cold, wet barracks were four times more likely to catch a cold than were soldiers bunking in dry barracks. It would appear that the link between wet hair and colds is solid, but science debunks the correlation.
The Truth Behind Those Pesky Colds
You cannot catch a cold from wet hair and you cannot catch a cold from going outside without a coat! You can only catch a cold from being exposed to one of the 200 plus cold viruses. Wet hair doesn’t transmit viruses…people transmit viruses. If you are in close physical proximity to someone who sneezes or coughs and fails to cover his mouth or nose, then the virus may creep into your nose or mouth. Viruses hang out on surfaces such as sinks and counters. Should you touch an object handled by a sick person, you’ll likely pick up that cold virus.
The connection between wet hair and colds appears viable simply because cold weather increases your susceptibility to viruses. Lack of humidity in the cold winter air dries out the mucus lining of your nasal passages, making it easier for viruses to creep in and take hold of your immune system.
Why do kids catch more colds in the fall and winter? Because those are the seasons of the school year when they are housed in close quarters, not because they are attending class with wet hair! So the next time you’re in a hurry, ditch the blow dryer and let your hair air-dry outside. We promise you’ll be none the sicker!