As coronavirus continues to spread across the U.S., researchers and experts are finding out more information about how long the virus can survive on certain surfaces.
The CDC estimated that the virus could be viable for “hours to days” depending on the surface and conditions. When it comes to stainless steel and plastic, for example, coronavirus can live on the surface for two or three days, according to research shared by the National Institute of Health.
One seemingly untested surface is hair. Dr. Saad Omer, director of the Yale Institute for Global Health, said that he doesn’t “recall anyone” testing hair amid the coronavirus outbreak, but said that the virus likely wouldn’t live on hair as long as other surfaces.
“Usually, viruses survive for lesser durations on porous surfaces, such as hair, than smooth surfaces, such as stainless steel,” he said.
Dr. Adam Friedman, the interim chair of dermatology at the George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences, noted that it depends on the circumstances of the hair.
“If you were to just rip out a few strands of hair, put them down and someone who’s positive for corona sneezed on it, could the virus live on that hair, which has been ripped out and is no longer part of the human system? From what we’re seeing from a New England Journal of Medicine paper, it’s very possible it could live on that surface for up to three days,” Friedman explained.
If that same hair were still attached to the scalp, however, it would be a different story.
“This hair is not just hair sitting on a table,” he said, citing the natural oils that cover strands act as a protectant. “They do have some antimicrobial properties, and they limit how well organisms can bind to the hair.”
But we can’t rely on natural oil production alone, especially since it varies for each person and hair type, Friedman said. The best way to stay safe is to wash your hair.
“Using shampoo, there are surfactants — charged molecules that will bind to dirt, to oil, to bacteria, to viruses — and get them off or kill them,” he said. “Washing hair will prevent whatever matter is on your hair from being maintained.”
Saad recommends that people wash their hair daily during the coronavirus pandemic, and Friedman emphasizes that there’s no need to panic or wash your hair multiple times a day.
“I don’t think you need to be that aggressive,” Friedman said. “It’s not the same as washing your hands. … The way the virus will infect us is through mucosa. That’s how it gets in. If your hair is not literally falling in your face or you’re running your hands through it, I think there’s less of a risk.”
While “theoretically” the coronavirus could be passed from hair to hands to mucosa, Saad said there is no direct evidence if that’s really the case.
When it comes to hair and COVID-19, the real risk is going to barber shops or hair salons where a hairstylist would be in much closer contact. Friedman emphasized the importance of social distancing, and said that there’s little risk from getting the coronavirus from your own hair.