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Can COVID-19 Live on Your Hair?

I am a firm believer that when it comes to health, you can never be too cautious. If I had it my way, everyone would dress like Naomi during the pandemic and the spread would totally stop. As much of a pipedream as that may feel like right now, while we’ve all suited up with masks and largely gloves, not much has been said about how the hair should be treated. Do we have to put it up? Are we safer with a hood or headwrap? Should we be washing our hair after we’ve been out? We had questions, so we consulted an expert physician—Dr. Richard Firshein, founder and CEO of the Integrative Health Site LaylaHealth.com.

My first question for Dr. Firshein was if viral particles can live on the hair since there’s evidence that the virus remains on inanimate objects (like groceries, mail, and shared surfaces) for up to days at a time. Luckily, the hair does not function in the same way as these objects, mostly because of its natural oil. “While viral particles SARS COV-2 can and do attach to your hair, it is very unlikely that would become a source of infection for you or to others. In a sense, viruses are not actually alive, but the particles can remain intact for hours or days on the hair which means they can still cause the disease COVID-19. It is believed though that the oils in the hair probably inactivate some of the viral particles,” explains Dr. Firshein.

COVID-19 hair | Mane Addicts
(via Unsplash)

How to Wear Your Hair When Going Out

Since social distancing measures have been in place, the risk of exposure has decreased. But, the only way to continue avoiding exposure is to maintain a safe distance. “If you are going outside, the risk of exposure is low. If you were in a pre-coronavirus environment like a concert or sporting event the risk would be higher, but so would the risk for direct contact either through the oral or nasal route. Practicing safe distancing is an effective way to deal with potential viral exposure,” notes Dr. Firshein.

That being said, covering up is never a bad idea. “In general, the less surface area the better,” he says. While completely wrapping or covering the hair would be best, wearing the hair up would also provide more protection than just leaving hair down, and hair length should also be considered.

Should You Wash Hair More Frequently?

You should wash your hair more often if you’ve been exposed to someone who is infected. “For general exposure outside, washing hair frequently is helpful but not as essential as washing your hands or face,” says Dr. Firshein. He adds that if your nervous tick is touching your hair, then yes, you should probably wash it more. “Touching your hair frequently presents another issue and if someone can’t stop doing that more frequent hair washing would be a good idea,” he shares.

While you don’t need to worry about direct exposure between an object (like a scrunchie) transferring from the hair, if you touch the hair tie and then touch your mouth, you’re entering shaky territory. “Coronavirus can adhere to different materials such as metal or plastic and paper or cardboard. When thinking through how to protect yourself consider the most likely route of transmission. The primary exposure route is through the nose, mouth, and to a lesser degree, the eyes. COVID-19 also seems to worsen with increased exposure either through duration, length of time, or both. So low-grade exposures probably are happening quite frequently and for many are not causing any problems,” says Dr. Firshein.

Hair Hygiene During COVID-19

If there’s one thing this pandemic has taught us, is that there’s no such thing as too clean. When it comes to the hair, think about what you’re touching the most, and wipe it down with alcohol, even as an over-precaution. “As mentioned, with COVID-19 it’s always helpful to think of places or surfaces that have repeated contact. Think putting your phone to your ear/hair or your hairbrush. So, a good place to think about hygiene is there. Clean those both thoroughly. Oils in your scalp and hair will naturally reduce the ability of the virus to adhere and may inactivate some.”

There’s still so much we don’t know about this new virus, and that’s part of the main issue. “This virus and the properties it possesses are constantly being updated,” comments Dr. Firshein, who shares some grounding advice about the pandemic generally. “Avoiding the virus in crowded city environments is certainly most difficult. People who serve as points of contact health care workers, grocery store clerks, and bank tellers will be at higher risk due to the amount and intensity of potential exposures. These individuals should do whatever is necessary to reduce their exposure burden and be conscientious about wearing masks, gloves, and keeping their hands away from their face and hair. Whenever you consider your risks, always consider others. This virus affects different groups differently. The general age, or whether you or another person is compromised, will play a significant role in how you protect yourself and others from getting COVID-19.”

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