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5 Ways to Protect Your Hair While Swimming

Avatar • Aug 14, 2012

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.

The Water

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.

Minimising Damage
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?

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Jules
Jules
8 years ago

I was the one that recommended the my swim cap.…good to know BGLH actually read the comments. I love this website. It has definitely been instrumental in my transition phase.

imelda
6 years ago
Reply to  Jules

I want to get this swim cap. But it’s $25. It’s well worth it if it’ll keep my hair dry. Does it really keep the hair dry?
Thanks

B
B
8 years ago

Great article but a few misspelled words.…

Natalie
Natalie
8 years ago
Reply to  B

Those are not spelling mistakes. The author and I are British and use British English, the correct English, the Queen’s English.

Amelie
Amelie
8 years ago
Reply to  Natalie

+1!

Barbadianne
Barbadianne
8 years ago

I just returned to the UK from the caribbean where I swam in the sea most days. Funny thing I found is that my normally curly in bits but quite frizzy hair became so curly, frizz free and manageable.

Less so when I shampooed and conditioned after. When I just rinsed or used the bentonite mud mask after a seas swim the hair curled on its own with a bit of my shea butter/argan oil/beeswax/ olive oil and jojoba mix. I think the humidity really helped.

Veronika
Veronika
8 years ago

Naptural85 on youtube did a very informative video on protecting natural hair from chlorine too!

df
df
8 years ago

sort of off topic but does anyone know the source of that photograph. I’ve been seeing it for years and I love it so much! Black girl surfers FTW!

Dee
Dee
7 years ago
Reply to  df

Check out Black Surfers Collective… (facebook page) Lots of us 🙂
[img]https://bglh-marketplace.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/7522800614_0ffc3eb12e_o.jpg[/img]

JH
JH
7 years ago
Reply to  Dee

and black girl surf video

Heart Curly
8 years ago

I mostly to go to the beach with my hair down or in a bun. In both styles my hair is always messy because I like to achieve the beach look before actually going there. I don’t stress getting my hair wet because I know when I get home I will make up for any damage. When I get home I like to deep condition and shampoo/condition my hair to make sure I get all of the salt out.

simply
simply
8 years ago

I read a blog post in which the author examined, under the microscope, hairs coated in coconut oil, olive oil or conditioner. Each hair was immersed in chlorinated water.

She found the conditioner (both with and without silicones) actually DID repel the chlorinated water effectively. This is likely because the conditioning agents adsorb to the hair.

Pretty interesting read!:

http://scienceyhairblog.blogspot.nl/2011/10/your-hair-onuntreated-hai-chlorine.html

Andrew
8 years ago

Please have a look at SwimSpray. This vitamin C product will completely eliminate chlorine from your hair and skin, thereby eliminating the bad effects of chlorine. We have heard particularly good reviews from people with black and/or curly black hair.

I’d be happy to provide more information — I am the inventor.

Andrew
8 years ago

Olympian Jenna Randall shares her tips for post-chlorine exposure:

http://skyliving.sky.com/beauty-secrets-team-gb-olympic-synchronised-swimming-captain-jenna-randall

Sequitta J
Sequitta J
8 years ago

Glad I saw this…going on a cruise in two weeks and I KNOW I’m getting in some water! LOL!

At_East
At_East
8 years ago

Thanks for the link to the swim cap! Good tips in the article. I love BGLH 🙂

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[…] Five Ways to Protect Your Hair While Swimming […]

NaturalV
7 years ago

Nice post, i would love to swim everyday but i don’t want to wash my hair every time i swim, because this makes maintaining my twists very difficult especially as i want to leave them in for a long time as am in school and i have less time these days for styling my hair. I really hope the recommended swim cap company delivers to Nigeria.

clearclips
6 years ago

This is the perfect blog for everyone who really wants to find out about
this topic. You realize a whole lot its almost tough to argue with
you (not that I personally will need to…HaHa). You certainly put a brand new
spin on a topic that has been discussed for years.
Great stuff, just excellent!

Lucy Coleman
6 years ago

I’ve just stumbled across this site — large swim caps and even shower caps for dreadlocks or afro’s!!

http://www.dreadlocks.com.au/en/28-accessories

Superman
Superman
5 years ago
Reply to  Lucy Coleman

No, but if you put leave in conditioner it works crazy good

imelda
6 years ago

Does this swim cap really work in keeping the hair dry?

Thanks

August Nana Yaa
August Nana Yaa
5 years ago
Reply to  imelda

No it does not at all.

Adgener
Adgener
6 years ago

Can anyone recommend some gentle (but reasonably priced) shampoos and conditioners that can be used 3–4 times a week? I usually only wash once weekly, but now that my doctor has prescribed swimming, I’m in the pool much more often without a swimming cap.

Scotch
Scotch
6 years ago

I grew up doing competitive swim, i am now a lifeguard and swim instructor and also moved to america. I used to see my hairdresser once a month and she would just do small plaits on my hair and it protected my hair really well. Now that I’m living in america, 1)“hairdressers” have no idea what to do with my hair(and here i am thinking it’s so simple 2) If there is someone that can do it it’s really expensive and it comes out really bad(ugly!!) 3) Hairdressers in america don’t know how to take care of afro/kinky hair, one… Read more »

Rode
Rode
3 years ago
Reply to  Scotch

So you don’t take down the braids /twist evenly might to wash cholrine out?

KB20
KB20
3 years ago
Reply to  Rode

Ideally you wash it while plaited so you don’t have to take the plaits down

Plumeria
Plumeria
3 years ago
Reply to  Scotch

As a black girl who’s lived in America all her life, what you need to do is find Dominicans to do your hair. I’m not to keen on allowing a person that has never actually had to live with something like my type of hair their whole lives doing my hair. So please, its always best to go to a hair salon with people of color working there.

YUCOOKIE
YUCOOKIE
5 years ago

I can’t believe this is true!! Now my hair isn’t falling off!! You guys are the best! Love BGLH!!!!!

trackback

[…] styles — even rockin’ my natural hair have worked too. Articles in EBONY Magazine and Black Girl Long Hair also review ways to protect natural hair while swimming, including wearing a swim cap. Follow the […]

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