By Jc of The Natural Haven Bloom
Choosing to wear your hair in its natural state should not hinder you from exercising, the benefits of which are numerous. This post is for the exercise enthusiasts especially if your chosen activity leads you to sweat. This is also a post for regular swimmers or those wanting to take up swimming.
Questions that many naturals ponder include how often should hair be washed, how quickly can you style your hair when you need to go to work after exercise and of course will sweat/chlorine damage hair.
Here are my tips on how to best care for your hair before, during and after exercise
1. Style choice
The first thing to do before exercising is to pick a style that will protect your hair. If you are going to swim or plan to wash your hair every time you exercise, it makes sense to select a braided or twisted style. Braids are a safe bet for most hair types but twists are more suited to hair where regular washing of the twist will not matt up the hair (from my personal experience, very kinky fine hair tends not to fair well with regular wetting of twists but does well with braids)
If you do not wish to braid or twist your hair, it is still possible to exercise with free hair. Simply aim to keep your hair up either by holding it up in a ponytail/bun, pinning it up or placing it into 1/2 large cornrows/french braids. If your hair shrinks heavily when wet (over 100%), you may want to consider not wearing it free unless it is short as knotting and tangling is highly likely to occur.
2. Wear a sweatband or a swim cap
Sweatbands are a greatly underestimated exercise accessory. They can easily soak up most of the sweat forming around the forehead and prevent it from going into the hair. If your physical activity is a dry land based exercise, consider buying and using a sweatband.
For swimmers, a swim cap will not keep your hair dry but it will greatly limit the amount of water contacting your hair and secondly it will eliminate the friction between the water and your hair as you swim. For this reason, hair extensions are not suited to regular swimmers as it can be difficult/impossible to actually fit them under a swim cap.
3. Will washing your hair daily damage it?
There is nothing wrong with washing your hair daily after exercising or swimming. The thing to remember is that such a high level of frequency means that your hair will not be particularly oily or dirty. There are several options to your wash routine
-If you do not sweat heavily or are not swimming, you do not need to wash your hair. You can opt to rinse it with water to remove sweat or if you are using a sweatband and the sweat is soaked up well enough, you do not have to wash at all.
-If you wish to wash your hair, select a very mild shampoo and follow up with a good quality conditioner to help to protect the cuticle. With swimming, I would recommend always using a shampoo with every wash but with general exercise, it is not always necessary to use a shampoo. You can opt to interchange cowashing and shampoo washes.
4. Dry your hair gently
If you are exercising daily, you should aim to completely eliminate heat drying as part of your routine. High or regular heat use can cause severe damage to hair which is not apparent initially. Opt instead to use a smooth absorbent fabric to dry your hair such as an old cotton t-shirt or microfiber towel. Traditional terry cloth towels can be quite rough on hair in comparison. Aim to gently squeeze or pat your hair dry rather than rub when drying.
5. Styling post-exercise
If you do not use heat to dry your hair, in all probability it will be damp should you have selected to wash or rinse it post exercise. For those with free hair, a wash and go using your regular styling products and allowing your hair to dry on its own over the next 1-2 hours is one option. It is also possible to place hair into large twists, pin them up and then reveal the twist out after 1-2 hours. For those with braids or twists, life is much easier as you can style them as normal (hanging down, pinned up, french braided etc).
For the vast majority of naturals, it would be beneficial to add some oil to your hair after washing. A high frequency of wetting/washing hair leads to removal of oil and the oil on the surface of hair helps to maintain moisture. Coconut oil in particular is also known to protect hair from combing damage. However some naturals prefer heaving oils such as castor oil or shea butter for ‘sealing’.
Ladies, how do you maintain your hair while staying active?