Don’t let your hair turn into a midsummer nightmare! After countless beach trips, late night dips in the pool, and days spent at the lake, swimming can totally wreak havoc on that gorgeous head of yours. Whether your hair is minimally processed or you’re getting weekly blowouts and regularly dying it, it is important to understand your hair type and how to care for your it before, during, and after swimming.
While different types of hair require their own unique routine and treatments, exposure to chlorine, fresh water, and salt water can really do a number on anyone's hair during the summer months (click here for a full guide on how to take care of your hair during the summer). This is why we’re providing you an in-depth guide on how to care for your hair when swimming in different types of water, hair care tips to prevent future damage, and how to maintain silky smooth hair long after a dip.
How does salt water affect your hair?
Salt water is a total anomaly when it comes to the effects on your hair. Most of us strive to get those coveted mermaid-esque beach waves we get from frolicking in the salty ocean. Unfortunately, overexposure to salt water can actually have an adverse effect on your hair leaving it damaged, parched, frizzy, and untameable especially if your hair is dyed or processed. Similar to your skin, when hair is well-hydrated, it is smooth, full of life, and easier to manage. Salt water, to put it simply, draws water out of your scalp and hair, leaving it rough and dehydrated. Over time, this loss of moisture leads to flakey scalps, split ends, and breakage—turning your beautiful beach waves into a dull and lifeless mane. Dry and brittle hair can be especially difficult to brush and style, even after summer has ended.
How does chlorine affect your hair?
When it comes to protecting your hair from chemicals, chlorinated water should sit at the top of your list. Chlorine is one of the harshest chemicals your hair regularly encounters in the summer and can cause a large amount of damage to even the healthiest of locks, which is why it is important to take the proper steps to care for your hair before and after swimming in chlorine.
When exposed to chlorine, hair is stripped of its natural oils and can cause the protective cuticles to break apart. This results in dry, stressed, brittle hair that is easily susceptible to split ends and breakage. Hair isn’t the only part of your head that is vulnerable to chlorine—prolonged exposure to chlorine can also irritate your scalp by stripping it of its natural oils resulting in dryness, irritation, and excessive dandruff.
Those of us who process and dye our hair—whether it’s highlights, balayage, concealing pesky greys, or regularly using hot tools—need to be extra cautious. Chlorine accelerates fading and strips away hair color, resulting in a dull, lifeless head of hair. Pool water has always been especially notorious for turning blonde hair green and will require a little extra treatment after taking a dip.
How does fresh water affect your hair?
Of all the different types of water we’re exposed to when cooling off during those hot summer months, fresh, lake water is perhaps the best and safest water that your hair can come in contact with. Fresh water is considered "soft water,” which is naturally occurring. Fresh water contains lower levels of calcium and magnesium, making your hair less susceptible to negative side effects, so you can go ahead and jump in the lake during your weekend cottage trips with no guilt!
How does hard water affect your hair?
Sometimes, fresh water will have a higher mineral content, making it “hard water.” This can leave behind a buildup of film causing hair to look dull, cause discoloration, and distort the texture making it difficult to brush and style. Hard water can be found in lakes with high mineral contents or even in your shower! Hard water can irritate the skin on your body and on your head (similar to that of salt water and chlorine) causing your scalp to become dry, itchy, and flaky. We recommend doing your research (see below) before taking a dip into fresh water you’ve never been in before and also look into the type of water you’re washing your hair with. Hard water can really do a number on your hair, so taking the proper steps to care for it and finding the right products that work for you are crucial to maintaining smooth and healthy hair.
Now that we know the types of water that can cause damage to your hair and why, let's jump into the actual hair care tips for healthy hair when swimming (no pun intended).
Hair care tips before swimming
Tip #1: cut back on using hot tools.
This is quite possibly the best hair care tip in general, regardless if you are swimming or not. After countless hours swimming, exposure to UV rays, and constantly washing your hair after going for a dip, hot tools are only accelerate any damage your hair feels. Embrace your natural hair during the summer months and opt for that natural, tousled look. We recommend to curl your hair the heatless way, but if you really want to keep your hot tools as a part of your regular routine, a good heat protectant is key.
Tip #2: apply chlorine hair protection products
There are plenty of easy-to-use products formulated for swimmers, but who says you can't use them to protect your hair when swimming? Leave-in treatments are a simple and convenient way to get UV protection, replenish hair with moisture, and help prevent discoloration and fading. Quickly spritz it some before heading out the door and toss in your bag to apply on your hair again before you take a dip in the pool or ocean.
Hair care tips when swimming
Tip #1: cover your hair
Okay, we don't mean go out there and buy an Olympic swimmer level swim cap, however, there are many cute, vintage inspired swim caps available now, that you can wear as part of your beach or swim look. This is the best way to protect your hair when swimming, because your hair will not come into contact with water at all! At the very least, if you choose not to wear a swim cap, we recommend to tie your hair up and avoid getting it in contact with water as much as possible.
Tip #2: rinse your hair
If a swim cap isn't your thing but you just can't resist a refreshing dunk in the water, we recommend to give your hair a quick rinse before and as soon as you hop out of the water to stop the elements from further stripping your hair of moisture. Re-apply a leave-in treatment after rinsing off and before getting back in the water.
Hair care tips after swimming
Tip #1: use a soft cloth to dry your hair
It's just natural for us to jump out of the water and begin rubbing at our hair with a beach towel, however, the towel's rough material is terrible for your hair! Instead, keep a soft t-shirt or microfibre cloth available in your beach bag, and gently pat your hair dry after a swim.
Tip #2: avoid brushing your hair right away
Again, you may feel the need to brush through your hair right after drying it (unless you're going for that beachy look, in which case, leave your hair as is). Since wet hair is more susceptible to breakage, and brushing through it while wet puts tension on the hair strands, leading to more breakage. Wait a few minutes for your hair to dry in the sun, before brushing through it with a wide tooth comb.
Tip #3: Apply a deep conditioning hair mask
The keyword to protecting your hair is moisture. Ironically, spending all that time floating around in water actually causes your hair to become thirsty and lifeless which is why you need to replenish your hair's natural nutrients and put moisture back into it. DIY hair masks, leave in conditioners, and hair oils are a fantastic way to replenish your hair, re-hydrate, and soothe your scalp. Apply jojoba oil, olive oil, or Coconut Oil all over your hair, comb oil through, then tie it in a top knot. Leave the oil treatment in for 20-30 minutes or let it sit overnight for an extra surge of moisture before washing your hair normally the next morning.
If an oil treatment isn't your thing, you can also treat your hair to some extra moisture while you’re in the shower. Simply apply a little extra conditioner to your ends but don’t rush to rinse it out. Allow the conditioner to sit an extra 10-15 minutes, then wash away with cold water to seal the hair cuticle in order to decrease frizz and increase shine.
At times it can be difficult to stay on track with a consistent hair care regimen and by the end of the summer you have a lackluster head of hair, but by following our after swimming hair care guide, you can be sure that your hair looks healthy and full of life all through the summer. For more hair care tips, click here for more ways to prevent damage to your hair, and click here for the ultimate summer hair care guide to get healthy summer hair.