As the new year begins, many of us have resolutions to up our workout regime. For me, someone who is basically, fundamentally opposed to body movement of any kind, this means swimming—AKA the only physical activity I can stand. Getting in the pool for half an hour a day has noticeable benefits on my mental health. It almost works like a sort of moving meditation, where I can focus on my movements and give my brain a bit of a rest.
However, for every action there must be an equal and opposite reaction, and in the case of swimming, the brain benefits are countered by massive hair-related issues. And although swimming may be the worst offender, pretty much all working out comes at the detriment of your follicles. Luckily, I’m a seasoned pro at avoiding excess hair damage. Here is all I’ve learned.
Master An Up-Do
If you’re doing a non-chlorine-based workout, you’ll probably want to wash your hair after each sweaty session. While tempting, it’s best if you can manage to wait in between washes. The best way to deal with slightly dirty hair? Find a pulled-back style which works for you. Whether it’s a chic chignon or a cool-girl topknot, the extra dirt will help give your hair extra hold—plus, you’ll save on damage caused by over-washing.
Dry Shampoo is Your Friend
Another good trick for maximizing time between washes is dry shampoo. The best way to use it is pre-workout, rather than post. Spritz a good amount on your roots and it’ll help absorb any grease that emerges during your exercise session, meaning your hair will look much fresher even afterwards. Batiste, although among the cheapest, is, in my opinion, still the best.
Make Your Mask a Styling Product
Another great way to use your exercise sesh to your hair’s advantage is to apply a mask beforehand. If you’re swimming, you can tuck your greasy-looking strands under a swimming cap, but if you’re working out on dry land, simply use your mask to achieve a chic, slicked-back hairstyle. As you move your body, the heat generated by your head will help the mask penetrate deeper into your hair follicles. After you’re done, you can rinse it out and be satisfied in your multitasking prowess.
You basically want your hairbrush to work as gently and non-disruptively as possible. If it’s too tough on tangles, it can end up ripping hair at the root, overstretching the follicle, or tearing strands mid-way. Investing in a quality brush can seem like a boring way to spend money, but if you’re trying to avoid hair damage it can really pay off. I have two favorites: the Sheila Stotts Removal Brush and the Aveda Paddle Brush. If your hair is thick and unruly, go for the Sheila Stotts, and if it’s finer and more delicate, go for the Aveda. Both turn hair-brushing (even on wet hair) into a smooth and actually enjoyable experience.
Before ever, ever taking a brush to your hair, you should be liberally spritzing on some sort of leave-in conditioning product. This will boost your brush’s glide ability, plus deliver some well-earned nourishment to your hair. I like to go for something fairly cheap for this, and use a lot. The It Haircare 12-in-1 (a shameless It’s a 10 knockoff) is both cheap and cheerful, although if you do want to spend a little extra, the Davines OI Milk is one of the best products on the market—and not just in terms of haircare.
A Well-Oiled Machine
I have areas of my hair which are bleached, and bleach plus chlorine is a fearsome combination if you don’t want your hair to literally snap off. My solution is likely already in your kitchen cupboards: coconut oil. Before I enter the pool, I saturate the sections of my hair which I don’t want chlorine to touch. Over the course of a swim, the chlorine erodes through the thick, waxy substance, so don’t worry about washing it out. Think of it as a sort of barrier cream for your hair.
I consider myself something of a beauty expert, and in my (extreme) experience, you can basically trick people into thinking you have healthy hair if your hair is shiny. The best way to add shine is through some sort of silky, silicone-y serum. While they don’t tend to offer any actual benefit in terms of boosting hair’s health, they’re invaluable in creating the illusion of healthy hair. It’s all smoke and mirrors, people. The best one is the Kerastase Oleo Relaxe, but there are a ton of drugstore options which work pretty well, too. They just tend to be a little heavier, so use a little and build up rather than going in too hard and creating an oil-slick effect.
Another (possibly swimming-exclusive) hair issue? The alteration to your hair’s tone. I had an unfortunate episode with a semi-permanent green dye last year (I was going through something), so my hair has an irritating tendency to lean a little on the green side anyway. This can be hugely exacerbated by chlorine, particularly in my blonder areas. Luckily, I have a pretty well-practiced method to counter the green, and it’s all based on an amazing product by Bleach London called the Smokey Shampoo. I use this every time I wash the chlorine out of my hair, and it replaces any murky green with a warm wash of smoky lilac and shimmering rose tones. You can also mix this with a mask to create a semi-permanent grey dye.