Do You Really Lose the Most Heat from Your Head?

Do we really lose more heat from our heads than from any other part of the body? Mike Dawson, our resident health myth buster, investigates.

I love awful, cold weather. What once created the ultimate landscape for playing Army and snow-fort building has evolved into an excuse to wear cashmere, stomp around in Red Wings, and drop way too much money on a snowboard I seldom use.

Now when I brave the wind-swept canyons of the city en route to the bodega, or when I walk the mutt through the frozen tundra of the park I may wear a hat. But when I commute to the office or head somewhere in a suit? Never dude. I'm going sans chapeau no matter what the mercury reads. Hat head is not my jam.

I do this knowing that the cold doesn't make you sick; other people get you sick.

The other morning, however, my smug cleverness gave me no solace. As my head froze and my eyes watered, I wondered if I really could feel twice as warm if I simply threw on a lid, hat head be damned. Is the age-old winter refrain true: Do we really lose the majority of our body heat through our uncovered heads?

According to a 2008 British Medical Journal paper, the study that helped establish this popular domes-as-chimneys notion was a (spoiler alert) poorly executed Eisenhower-era study in the Arctic. Researchers exposed men to the cold and measured heat loss over their entire bodies. The thing is, these human lab rats had clothes on, but not hats, so naturally it showed the exposed top lost more heat than the clothed areas. But to conclude that the majority of total body heat was escaping via the head based on this no-duh observation was a seriously flawed leap.

Most legit studies show that, generally, heat leaves all exposed parts of our body at an equal rate, so a stamp-size area of exposed skin on the leg will lose the same amount of heat as a stamp-size area of exposed skin on the head, neck, and so forth. And as the surface area of a hat-less head goes, we can only lose, at most, about 10 percent of total body heat through our noggin.

Of course, sometimes that 10 percent can be a real son of a bitch.

—Mike Dawson is a magazine writer and editor and a regular contributor to Details.

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