In short, hair is extremely flammable. If your hair catches fire, the fire will burn quickly, but will only last for a brief amount of time – unless you hold your hair in the fire.
The flame will burn orange, and then char your hair leaving it as a dark ash that will turn to powder when crushed.
The reason why a fire spreads so quickly through hair is because it has a huge surface area to volume ratio.
On average a person has 100,000 individual strands of hair on their head alone – which is a whole lot of hair which can catch alight.
For example, if you take a pound of wood block and a pound of sawdust, the sawdust will ignite violently and burn out pretty quickly.
In comparison the wooden block will take a lot longer to fully ignite and will burn over a longer period of time.
Now if we compare the hair on our head to the sawdust, there’s a lot more individual pieces, all of which are exposed to oxygen. So, when a flame hits, the reaction is a lot faster.
What Temperature Does Hair Burn At?
Human hair will burn at the same temperature as paper which is 451 °F (223 °C). When your hair reaches this temperature, the hair shaft will begin to melt which can lead to all sorts of problems.
These range from dry and brittle hair, excess frizz, split ends, breakage, loss of natural curls and thinning hair/hair loss.
One of the most common causes of heat damaged hair are straighteners/flat irons, hair dryers and heated brushes. A lot of these tools allow you to adjust the temperature settings.
To avoid causing any unnecessary heat damage, make sure you use these tools on lower heat settings.
What To Do If Your Hair Has Caught on Fire
Depending on the extent of the fire, your hair should be fine, and will recover. If you’ve suffered any serious injuries – like skin burns – it’s important you seek medical attention immediately.
However, if it was only a chunk of your hair that caught ablaze, and your scalp is untouched, a stylist will suffice.
When your hair catches fire it singes rather than burns. If you try and fix the damage yourself you can risk making the damage worse, and your hair will take longer to recover, so it’s always best to go to a professional hair stylist.
Once your hair has been damaged by heat, there’s no going back. The damaged hair will need to be cut off to prevent any further damage. The good news is that hair grows from the scalp, so new growth shouldn’t be a problem.
Frequently Asked Questions – Is Hair Flammable?
What is the Best Way to Put Out a Fire in Your Hair?
The best and fastest way to distinguish a hair fire is to use a cloth, jacket, shirt or blanket of some sort. You want to smother the fire to make sure it is extinguished quickly and can’t spread.
Although hair is highly flammable, it doesn’t burn for very long, so it should be easy to put out a fire in your hair.
Once the fire has been put out, apply water to the hair to make sure that the fire is out, and to prevent any further damage from occurring.
What Does Burnt Hair Smell Like?
When hair catches on fire, it produces a sulfurous odour. This is because there is keratin in our hair that contains large amounts of cysteine (a sulfur-containing amino acid).
Burnt hair has a very distinctive (and unpleasant) smell which can cling to your nostrils for days.
Hair doesn’t just smell after it’s caught alight. Quite often it can smell as if you’ve “burnt” it after using any hot hair tool.
If you do notice a burning smell, it means that you’ve burnt the outer section of your hair follicle. When your hair smells burnt after using any heated hair tools take it as a warning that you’re using too high of a heat.
Make sure you turn the temperature down, otherwise you’ll just damage your hair further.
Does Burnt Hair Grow Back?
The ability of burnt hair to grow back depends on the level of damage. In most cases, burnt or singed hair has suffered relatively minor damage, and the scalp will usually make a full recovery.
However, if the burn was severe and damaged your scalp, you may have to undergo surgery.
Once your scalp has fully recovered, your hair follicles will begin producing hair again which will typically happen around three months after the scalp has healed.
If you notice that there is little to no regrowth within a year of the incident, your scalp is scarred and the hair will not regrow.
How Do Burn Scars Cause Hair Loss?
When we suffer a burn injury to our scalp, the hair around the affected area is burnt away.
The tissue and hair follicles under our scalp become damaged, and they cannot withstand the heat.
Second and third-degree burns can cause massive hair loss, as both lead to scarring.
When skin is scarred it is far too damaged to heal properly, so when scar tissue grows over a wound it does not replace the lost hair follicles and no regrowth can occur.
How To Repair Damaged Hair At Home
The simplest way to treat heat damaged hair is to cut it off. As hair regrows from the scalp, any regrowth will be undamaged, and your hair will be healthy and stronger than it was before.
If you’re not too keen on debuting a new shorter haircut, there are a few at home remedies that can help heat damaged hair.
Make sure you’re still conditioning your hair after you’ve cut/trimmed off the damaged ends.
In addition to using your regular conditioner, professional hair stylists recommend using a hair deep conditioning hair mask at least once a week.
This will give your hair some much needed moisture, and will help soothe any damaged strands.