If you've been surfing the internet long enough, you would have seen the viral stunts of hair stylists from Italy, Brazil, Spain, and even the US. They ignite and style the burning hair of customers with claims that it gets rid of breakage and split ends. When I viewed these videos, the question popped up: is hair flammable?
Although I had an answer based on a childhood experience, I needed to understand the flammability of hair. These details will help you identify potential hazards and provide precautions for safe handling in the future.
Is Hair Flammable?
Yes, it is. Although not highly flammable, hair burns when exposed to open flame. So, why is hair so flammable? It's dry and coated with natural oils and products that increase flammability. Hair burns like paper; when exposed to fire, it ignites between 392°F- 451°F.
Unlike liquids that use flash points to determine flammability, solids like hair have their flammability determined by how easily they burn after ignition under normal conditions. The composition and condition of human hair make it easy to ignite.
What Is Hair?
Hair is a filament that grows from follicles around the body. Hair can be found on over 50% of your skin surfaces. And, based on gender and genetics, some even have hair on up to 90% of their body.
On average, the human head alone has 100,000 hair strands. It's divided into the visible part called the hair shaft and a hair root that firmly attaches it to the scalp and skin surfaces.
The major component of your hair is a protein called keratin that gives it structure. But, like every protein, it gets denatured under heat, ultimately damaging hair strands. In addition, keratin contains sulfur which is responsible for the odor when burnt.
How Often Can Hair Catch Fire?
Very often, most times by accidents. Your hair undergoes many processes, especially during styling, that expose it to potentially hazardous temperatures. For example, ignition sources can be faulty hair dryers, curling irons, and other hair tools.
The hair is a delicate part of the human body as it seems dead and alive. And unlike your skin, your hair can catch fire, and the only thing you'd notice is a weird smell until the heat reaches the scalp. Of course, this puts you at risk, and I was once in that position when I was a child.
As a child, I often used a crude kerosene lantern to read, and one time my hair got caught in the ventilation chamber. It all happened so fast that it only took about six seconds after it ignited that I began to feel the heat on my scalp. So hair burns often, and most times by accident.
Why Is Hair So Flammable?
The human hair offers a large surface area and thin strands for fire to come in contact with, encouraging the fire to catch and burn more quickly. Just like saw dust catches fire easier than a block of wood and shredded papers catch fire faster than textbooks, your hair gives the fire more surfaces to work with.
What Happens When Wet Hair Is Exposed To Open Flame?
When wet hair is exposed to open flames, it won't catch fire until dry. But that depends on what is used to wet the hair. I expect you would avoid dousing your hair in gasoline; however, some hair products, like hairspray and oils, are highly flammable.
In most cases, when we talk about wet hair, we are talking about hair that was wet with water. Water significantly reduces the flammability of hair by temporarily providing a protective film over the hair. This leads to a commonly asked question: does hair melt when burnt?
Hair is made from protein, it may break down, decompose or denature, but it won't melt. When hair burns, it changes color, coils up, and forms small balls of char that can be crushed to dust. But just like meat, your hair won't melt.
How to Put Out A Fire On Hair
Firstly, you'd need to stay calm. That's a bold request, considering the speed with which hair burns. However, staying calm doesn't mean taking deep breaths and meditating while it burns; running would increase the oxygen supply to the fire and disorient you.
Luckily, if your hair catches fire, the flames are pretty easy to quench, especially if your hair doesn't have too much product. If you can access a bowl or sink, dip your hair in water to quench it immediately. You could also dip a towel in water and cover the burning hair.
It's time to stop, drop and roll when the fire spreads to your clothes and surroundings. If you don't know what that is, cover your face, drop on the floor, and keep rolling till the flames go out. If you experience any burns, seek medical attention and avoid DIY remedies.
Safety Precautions For Handling Your Hair
Hair is very delicate, especially the hair located on the head, as its proper styling and care significantly improve attractiveness. Here are some safety precautions to prevent fire and health hazards when handling hair.
Keep Your Hair Away From Open Flames Or Fire
When exposed to flames, your hair will readily ignite, so keep away from open fires, including wigs. Identify combustible hair products and avoid cooking with your hair left out, especially when these hair products have been used.
Don't Overwork Your Hair Tools
Turn off dryers, straighteners, and heat curling tools, as poor maintenance can lead to overheating, reduced efficiency, and electrical faults in subsequent uses. In addition, there have been cases of hair catching fire in the salon dryers or dryers exploding, which you can prevent with proper maintenance of tools.
Properly Store Your Hair
In most cases, this applies to your artificial hair or wigs. They should be stored away from open flames or contact with electrical appliances. Imagine a wig catching fire and falling into a carpet or laundry basket with clothes.
That scenario could easily lead to a bigger fire, especially if you're not home. So, ensure your hair is stored correctly.
If you have first-hand experience of your hair catching fire, you would have a solid answer to the question: is hair flammable? Or, how flammable is hair? The answer is not debatable; human hair in all body parts is flammable.
It's combustible and will readily ignite and burn, just like paper. There's no sensation or burning feeling, so ensure you handle your hair carefully, especially around naked flames.