By Jc of The Natural Haven Bloom
Summer is here in its full glory and many of us will be dashing to the ocean to cool off or kicking our swimming exercise routines into full speed. The worry many naturals have is how best to protect hair while swimming. This article is all about the science of what can happen to your hair while swimming and how you can minimise damage.
1. Ocean water – The main risk with ocean water is salt water drying on hair. The salt residue can make hair feel and be drier than it should be. In general rinsing hair (and skin for that matter) post swim is enough to prevent this.
2. Pool water- The general risk to hair is chlorine as well as potential acidity of water although well maintained pools will generally keep pH to a level between 6-7. Chlorine can affect hair by dissolving the oil that keeps the cuticle layers together (J Soc Cosmet Chem, pp 359-370, 1987). The general preventative mechanism is to minimise the contact level of the water with hair which is detailed further below.
1. Keep it in perspective
Even the most active swimmers do manage to maintain their hair – I am talking about professional swimmers spending 4-6 hours per day every day in a swimming pool. In that group there are those whose hair does not need extra attention and there are those whose hair does need extra care. The main thing to take home is that you can maintain beautiful hair and still enjoy swimming. Do not worry excessively about damage.
The second part of keeping it in perspective is styling your hair for swimming. Do not use twists if they unravel easily or mesh when wet. Do not go for free hair if it shrinks heavily and will require a lot of gentle manipulation and time to style post swim. Pick a style that will allow you to move easily from wet hair to styled hair post swim (i.e a style that you can work with when hair is damp).
2. Look at the water, pay attention to smell
I previously talked about the acidity level in water and in general most public swimming pools will not tell you how acidic the water is. However if a pool is badly maintained you will be able to see it and smell it. Chlorinated pools generally are a pale blue in colour and the scent of chlorine is generally not overpowering. A badly maintained pool will generally have a green or yellow tinge to the water and often the chlorine smell hangs heavy in the air. My advice is to always look at the water and avoid swimming in badly maintained pools (noting that good chlorination and filtration is essential for killing germs in the pools).
3. Protect your hair before swimming
With chlorinated water you are aiming to minimise the amount of water contacting your hair. The techniques commonly used to do this include minimising water entry using a penetrating oil such as coconut oil, wetting your hair before you get into the pool (give it 15 minutes to full absorb) and applying barriers to the hair such as heavy oils (shea butter, castor oil, mineral oil, silicones). Some swimmers like to apply hair conditioner but in my view, this is a very weak protection as most hair conditioners are very soluble in water and will wash off in the water.
4. Wear a swim cap
Swim caps in general cannot keep off all water away from hair, but they do protect hair from the full onslaught of the water. For swimmers wearing extensions or with locs, a BGLH reader recommendation is ‘my swim cap’ which is a larger adjustable cap.
The idea is not to keep your hair dry but simply minimise contact with the water and avoid the water rubbing against your hair as you move through the water.
5. Take care of your hair post swim
Take the time to really rinse your hair after swimming. Rinsing is the most underestimated procedure but it does help get rid of a lot of chlorine/salt water before it has a chance to dry or bind to your hair. If you can aim to keep the water running for at least 5 minutes. Shampoo and condition your hair with the best product you have. Aim to use gentle products if you are a regular swimmer and regularly clarify (once every fortnight/every month) if you use heavy oils to protect your hair.
Ladies, how do you manage your hair while swimming or spending time at the beach?