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The Truth About Ions

By Amalah

Photo by mikebaird

Wise, all-knowing, super-smart Amalah, I have a question that’s been keeping me awake at night:

What are ions?

No, it’s not really keeping me from sleeping (nothing can do that), and, yes, I swear I paid attention in physics and chemistry. But, last month my hair dryer finally bit the dust, and I was forced to go look for a new one. Every one that met my basic criteria (hot, warm, cold, 2 speeds), boasted some sort of ion technology. The one I eventually bought (this one) has settings for Fine and Extra Fine, and promised to deliver “conditioning ions.” What on earth are “conditioning ions,” and why the hell do I want them shooting at my head??? It makes me feel like I should be wearing aluminum foil over my ears to keep the conditioning ions from seeping into my brain….

Also, I’ve tried both the Fine and Extra Fine settings, for at least a week each, and have noticed… nothing. I have very fine hair, but I can’t tell the difference between them. What I have noticed is that my hair seems to be far more static-y than it was with the previous hair dryer, and I’m constantly trying to get it to stop sticking to my face or sticking straight out. I do live in Arizona where the humidity hovers around negative 30%, but that hasn’t changed since I bought the blow dryer; and we only just turned on the heat a few days ago, so that’s not it, either, since the static seemed to have started with the new blow dryer a month ago. I condition the ends, and my hair doesn’t appear dry at all, and in fact, thanks to all your super advice, is probably the healthiest it’s been in years!

So, are the ions worth it? And, what should I have been looking for in a dryer? (’cause I just may chuck this one if it turns out the ions are melting my brain)

Thank you!

Okay, so here’s the marketing blah blah behind the Rise of the Ionic Blow Dryer:

An ionic blow dryer, instead of taking regular ol’ air from your regular ol’ room and heating it up (like a “traditional” blow dryer), uses charged ionic particles to dissolve moisture droplets. Basically, ions are molecules with a positive or negative charge. Thus, an ionic dryer uses less heat and power to dry hair in less time. And less heat equals healthier, smoother, shinier hair.


Honestly, there really isn’t a lot of actual SCIENCE behind these claims. There’s been little to no research to either prove or disprove the effect of charged particles as applied to the Very Important Task of hair drying, yet that has done little to stop the popularity of the feature. About 90% of hair dryers these days are ionic, so it’s almost as if the debate over whether they’re better is settled and done. Yet Good Housekeeping has done a good number of comparison evaluations and found that *at most* the ionic models shave only a minute or so off of drying time. Most people will swear, however, that switching to an ionic dryer made their hair sleeker/shinier with less fizz/static/time.

I’m with you. I never noticed ANY DIFFERENCE when I went out and bought my first ionic hair dryer. My all-time favorite dryer (OF ALL TIME) was a Vidal Sassoon travel dryer that was easily six years old when I stole it from my mom to take to college. God, I loved that thing. Small, lightweight, loud as hell, got the job done in no time. It lasted another six years before finally dying, and I was totally dismayed to find that I could no longer buy an identical replacement. Everything had gone fancy and ionic. But there wasn’t really a price difference, so I caved to the ion marketing and was…duly underwhelmed. If anything, I think the ionic dryers take LONGER to dry my fine hair and I miss the powerful roar of the olden kind.

So. Your hair. Static! Totally likely related to the dryer, absolutely. “Conditioning” ions my ass. They are *charged molecules.* Harmless to your brain, I assure you, but they aren’t *conditioning* anything. Static electricity is caused by an imbalance of positively and negatively charged electrons. I’m guessing your dryer was created and tested in areas with at least some humidity, and is simply not compatible with your dry, arid climate.

So what to do?

If you want to give your dryer one more shot, try a leave-in conditioner or thermal styling spray before you dry it. Giving your hair a little bit more moisture and conditioning might keep the ions from throwing it out of whack so easily. Other static-reducing tips for hair: use wooden combs and brushes as they conduct less electricity, spray them with a anti-static spray (like one for clothes) before using them on dry hair, or rub a dryer sheet over your hair to settle the flyaways.
If you do decide that you hate your hair dryer and want to replace it, well…I have got some MORE scientifically fuzzy marketing gimmicks for you! Like I said earlier, most hair dryers these days are ionic. It’s actually very hard to find one that isn’t, particularly if you want nice features like multiple heat and power settings and attachments — diffusers, angled nozzles, etc. And you DO want those nice features. Fine hair, for example, should be dried at low heat, but most of us do need a nice powerful blast at the roots for some lift. Plus you always want to set your ends with cold air. So yeah. No cheapie travel dryers with an ON/OFF setting, despite my nostalgia for my old dryer. (I loved a lot of things I shouldn’t have, back in those days.)

So. Your other options these days are ceramic and tourmaline. Ceramic dryers use ceramic heat coils instead of metal for better conductivity and again — the promise of less heat damage to your hair. Sciencey! Kind of! But this one I can at least say that I’ve sort of noticed? And I prefer ceramic dryers to regular ones? Tourmaline dryers use a gemstone to produce a higher number and ratio of negative ions — thus making all the same promises as a regular ionic dryer, only better: sleeker, shinier, faster, more. You can also find dryers that combine all three of these features.

One thing is clear: You so do NOT have to spend hundreds of dollars on a hair dryer. The dryers in the $30 range are usually the favorites in the comparison studies, like this one about tourmaline dryers from Good Housekeeping. I don’t doubt that the professional dryers are indeed awesome, but there is absolutely no justification for buying one for home use when Revlon and Vidal and Conair are essentially using the exact same technologies at a tiny fraction of the price.
So basically, you probably can’t fight the ions. Enough people swear by them to mean they aren’t going away anytime soon. I’d recommend all the anti-static tips, combined with either a ceramic dryer or a ceramic/tourmaline dryer. Stick with models in the $25 – $35 range, like this Conair or this Remington, though again — there really isn’t that much of a difference between brands when you’re talking the same wattage and technology. Get one with attachments you’ll use, a variety of heat and power settings (I like ones that stick with classic high/medium/low instead of gimmicks involving hair type), and a size and weight you can use comfortably.

ALSO! Sephora just launched SephoraClaus today where they will be granting one beauty wish per day (up to $150), until December 18. Get thee there! (this is NOT sponsored… we just think you’d appreciate it!)


Published December 16, 2009. Last updated December 13, 2017.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Muirnait

    December 16, 2009 at 11:57 am

    Oh heavens, I find blow drying my hair to be an awful lot of work, and don’t bother most days, but right now it’s too dang cold old to go out with damp hair! It literally freezes 🙁 I really do need to get a new blow-dryer though, with the fancy attachments and whatnot, because I can actually get pretty decent curl with a diffuser. When my hair is in the mood. Oy 😛

  • Alison

    December 16, 2009 at 12:31 pm

    I have to say, I have the ridiculously expensive T3 Bespoke Labs hair dryer, and it’s made an enormous difference — more in terms of the amount of time it saves me, but also somewhat in my hair. I felt absurd paying $300 for a hair dryer and vowed I’d return it immediately if I didn’t see a dramatic difference, but I did see one. It seriously cut my hair-drying time close to in half. I love it.

  • Olivia

    December 16, 2009 at 12:48 pm

    The ionic thing always sounded like a bunch of hooey to me. This the the dryer I bought a couple of months ago
    This is the second one I’ve purchased. The first one lasted 7 years. No ions, dries hair fast, and I love the cord-keeper feature.

  • Jamie

    December 16, 2009 at 12:57 pm

    dude! Can we do one about flat irons next? Mine just broke (it was mediocre at best but at least it worked) and now I have NO CLUE what to get as a replacement.

  • Pinkie Bling

    December 16, 2009 at 1:11 pm

    Amalah, you are making me cry with this one. I just ordered a Sedu from Folica – awesome savings over MSRP, but still so not a $25 dryer. It hasn’t shown up yet…I’ll report back on whether or not I feel like a total sucker after I’ve used it. 🙂

  • Velocitygrl

    December 16, 2009 at 2:07 pm

    Take it from a chemist specializing in ion chemistry- it is all a big marketing gimmick. It could potentially make a slight difference in static in hair, but I doubt it. It certainly won’t hurt your brain either, so that is good news.

  • Bethany

    December 16, 2009 at 3:00 pm

    This might sound silly, but do the ions have an on/off switch?
    My hair dryer (maybe $30?) has a button I can hit so there are ions, or hit again for no ions. So you have ions but have the option of going without.

  • Cass

    December 16, 2009 at 3:27 pm

    I always thought that the ions thing was a bunch of marketing hoopla, but when I picked up my hairdryer back in July I bought one. Surprisingly enough it cut my fine hair frizzyness in half. It was a little weird though not having the extreme power that my old hairdryer had.
    Luckily the thing was only about $25.

  • SuzyQ

    December 17, 2009 at 1:39 pm

    What about those wet-to-dry flat iron thingies and wet-to-style with the round brush styler thingies? Do they work? They seem entirely too magical to me.
    Anyone? Bueller?

  • Melissa

    December 17, 2009 at 2:34 pm

    One benefit to the dryer sheet to combat static hair — whenever I’ve done that, without fail, I will get a compliment that I smell nice from a guy.

  • TasterSpoon

    December 17, 2009 at 2:56 pm

    Dear Velocitygrl:
    I have a friend who only drinks (bottled) ionized water. Can I tell her she is a sucker?

  • Tracy H.

    December 17, 2009 at 3:35 pm

    I’m so happy to hear I can keep using my regular old hair dryer and not have to spend a fortune! And I second the request for a post on flat irons, mine if definitely on it’s last legs.

  • Kirstie

    December 19, 2009 at 11:36 am

    SuzyQ – I have a wet-to-straight flatiron, and seriously I love. I can’t remember the last time I actually blow dried my hair … I don’t even have a hair dryer anymore, actually. I don’t use it when it’s sopping wet, because it can get VERY hot – it produces a lot of steam. But on dampish hair, it’s awesome. I LOVE IT.

  • Velocitygrl

    December 20, 2009 at 12:39 am

    Dear TasterSpoon-
    Is your friend drinking “de-ionized” water? That just means that some (or most) of the ions are removed from the water- it essentially is a filtering process that removes ions. It isn’t really healthier unless you have reason to believe that you have something dangerous in your water (like a heavy metal ions etc). But it does change the taste, so it depends why she is choosing to drink it.
    If your friend is in fact insisting on drinking only ionized water, I have no idea what that would mean. That seems like total BS marketing. And no, it would not be healthier or anything. Truly, ionized water would be water that has been separated into a positive hydrogen ion and a negative chloride ion.
    All water has ions in it- water ionizes salts when they dissolve. For example- when you dissolve table salt (NaCl) in water you get positive ions (sodium…Na) and negative ions (chloride ions…Cl). Some ions are extremely soluble in water. Water will dissolve sodium ions from regular glass if the water is stored in a glass bottle.
    Hope that helps.

  • Chataine

    December 21, 2009 at 10:07 am

    I have that Remington dryer that Amy linked to, bought after my old crappy Revoln dryer died about a year ago, and I really do love it. I’d had an ionic dryer once before and HATED IT – it didn’t get hot enough to tame the frizz, so despite any possible long-term benefits of lower heat, it looked terrible on a day-to-day basis. (I need HIGH heat to tame the frizz, but WITH high heat, there is no frizz.) So I was hesitant to get an ionic one, but this one had good reviews and honestly, works great. It’s powerful, has three heat settings and three “blast” settings, a cool shot button…and the price was fine. So I recommend that one!