The US government warns people against using conditioner after a nuclear explosion. It could trap radiation in your hair.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns citizens not to use conditioner after a nuclear explosion, since it can bind to radioactive material.
- Rinsing with a gentle shampoo, on the other hand, is a critical part of the decontamination process.
- The guidance is part of a set of dos and don'ts the US government wants citizens to know in case a nuclear attack were to occur.
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Rinsing with a gentle shampoo, on the other hand, is a critical part of the decontamination process. A few differences between the ingredients in shampoo and conditioner make one a life-saving tool and the other a dangerous agent in the wake of an explosion.Read more: If a nuclear bomb explodes nearby, here's why you should never, ever get in a car
Nuclear explosions release radioactive dust that could land in hair
But a longer term threat comes in the minutes and hours after an explosion: Nuclear blasts can produce clouds of radioactive dust and ash that disperse into the atmosphere - that's nuclear fallout. These particles can land in your skin and hair, exposing you to radiation poisoning, which damages the body's cells and can prove fatal.
Use shampoo but not conditioner following a nuclear explosion
If you find yourself outside during a nuclear explosion, the CDC recommends seeking shelter immediately in the nearest brick or concrete building. Ideal structures also have a basement and few to no windows.Once inside, the CDC instructs people to seal off contaminated clothing and hop into a shower as soon as possible. According to the agency's recommendations, it's good to use soap as long as you're applying it gently. Scrubbing too hard could break the skin, which acts as a natural protective barrier. The water should also be warm, but not scalding, and you should cover any cuts or abrasions.
Washing your hair with shampoo is also critical, since shampoo is designed to cling to oil and dirt in your hair, then carry away any dirty particles when you rinse the shampoo out. The molecules responsible for this process are called surfactants - they attract water at one end of the molecule and oil at the other.Conditioners also contain surfactants, but theirs have different properties. Most conditioners have what's called cationic surfactants, which are positively charged. Shampoos, meanwhile, contain anionic surfactants, which are negatively charged. Since hair fibers have their own negative charge, they're more attracted to the conditioner than they are to the shampoo. So not all of the conditioner gets washed out in the shower.
After 48 hours, the exposure rate from a 10-kiloton explosion (the type that might damage but not destroy, a city) goes down to just 1%. At that point, it might be safe to venture outside and resume your normal personal care routine.
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