Summer Hair Care For Swimmers

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted in the blog, but there is an important subject I just cannot leave alone: Summer hair care for swimmers. Presently, we are in the midst of one of the hottest summers on record. Naturally–especially here in the land of unrelenting sunshine–the temptation is to jump into one of the many refreshing pools dotting our desert city. We all probably know that chlorine isn’t the best thing for color-treated hair (everyone has a story somewhere in their past of seeing blonde hair turn green). But did you also know that the chemicals in pools damage the structure of hair, right down to the follicle? Read on, swimmers…

Now, I am not one to discourage the joys of swimming or keeping cool, but I would like to share some knowledge and preventative steps you can take to help keep your hair lovely and healthy this summer. Or at least permit me to be the voice of caution to remind you of the damage that is all too common this time of year, and what you can do to protect your investment.

Let’s start with the water itself… Soaking in water swells your hair shaft. This raises the outside cuticle layer and washes out color molecules. Wet hair is only about one third as strong as when it’s dry. So in addition to fading your expensive hair color, you run the risk of breakage when detangling it. Although this happens to a certain extent every time you are in the shower, it is the long exposure time to water and the nasty dehydrating chemicals in it that leads to an extremely damaging experience for swimmers.

Your hair has some built-in protection provided by an oily substance the body produces called sebum. While that sounds kind of gross, it is–in effect–the way the body keeps the more fragile stacks of keratin and melanin (responsible for hair color) intact.

When chlorine or salts encounter organic material, their primary function–as you can probably guess–is to separate and break it down. While this bacteria-busting property is great for keeping pools clean, it can also destroy our hair. The oily, sebaceous layer breaks down and chlorine bonds and crystallizes within the gaps in the keratin. As chlorine accumulates, it can push out melanin proteins and essential minerals, leaving hair dull and rough. As hair continues to be exposed to these disinfectant chemicals, breakage can occur–splitting ends and breaking long, hard-fought strands.  Once these chemicals are absorbed into the strands, they are attached with an ionic bond (positive & negative charge) and require a special mineral-fighting shampoo or treatment (chelating shampoos or Malibu crystal gel) to remove! Clarifying shampoo will not take it out.

Even salt water can break down hair, eventually. Sodium Chloride (NaCl) gets broken down into chlorine anyway, so the damage is about the same. Consider the salt sprays we use to give a temporary, tousled and beachy look–if left to accumulate, salt water in hair would have a similar effect (In fact, I hear ocean swimmers fretting about the effects of salt water on their recently color-treated hair quite often). 

So what can be done? Here are the steps I recommend in any swimming scenario to mitigate the damage:

  1. If possible, don’t get your hair wet and keep a hat on! It’s the best scenario for both your hair and your face! But, if you must….
  2. Wet your hair thoroughly with clean water (and twist it up into a clip if possible) BEFORE jumping in. Keep a spray bottle or water bottle handy when you aren’t near a hose or outside shower. Your hair is essentially a sponge. Unless it’s already sopping wet, it will soak up anything it can. Prevent the salt water or chlorinated water from being absorbed by making your hair already full. Consider a small amount of conditioner in your hair as well. Be courteous if you are at a public pool or in the ocean. Any product on you will partially end up there and who wants to swim in an oil slick of sunscreen and hair conditioner?
  3. If it is convenient, rinse your hair each time you get out of the pool or ocean. At the very least, when you are done swimming for the day, shampoo and condition your hair with a product that is designed for the job. Malibu C has an unbeatable line called Swimmers Care. I have this on sale each summer at the salon. I cannot stress this enough… your regular shampoo will NOT remove the chlorine from your hair.
  4. Protect your hair daily with products that nourish it. If you use shampoo that contains sulfites, STOP! These lathering detergents dehydrate your hair on a daily basis. There are many great shampoos out there  and you get what you pay for; cheap products do nothing to repair your hair. At minimum, you will need a swimmer’s care line to remove chemicals, a deep moisturizing conditioner once a week on towel dried hair to replenish essential moisture and a good detangler to help prevent breakage.

I help whenever I can. If you know you need these products, I can help make them affordable for you. I have a refill program that saves 50% off the retail price that I will make available to anyone who wishes to up their hair care game. My goal is always to do what’s best for your hair. It’s important to take preventative steps; the cumulative damage caused by a whole summer cannot be undone quickly so get on it as soon as you can! The Swimmer’s Summer Special (de-chlorinating treatment, Olaplex mini rebonding treatment and haircut) is $50 through the summer and takes about an hour. Let me know if you would like to upgrade your next appointment.

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