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Must-try summer hair care

Summer activities can do major damage to your hair. A few simple steps can keep your locks looking healthy all summer long.

Mother and young daughter having fun in swimming pool.
Though it is part of our routines to make sure to protect our skin before heading out for a fun, sun-filled summer day (and every day!), rarely do we give our hair the same attention. From chlorinated swimming pools to the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays, our hair experiences heightened stress in the warmest months of the year. To avoid damage and provide protection to our locks, it’s essential to understand the risks and take proactive measures. To keep your hair healthy, silky, and shiny, try these board-certified dermatologist-approved swim season tips.

What happens to our hair in the sun

Hair, similar to skin, is susceptible to damage from the sun — specifically UV damage, says Dr. Farah Moustafa, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist and assistant professor and director of laser and cosmetics at Tufts Medical Center in Boston. While all hair may be impacted, she says lighter, blond, or gray-colored hair is more susceptible than darker shades. How come? Dr. Moustafa explains it’s due to the lack of a naturally protective pigment known as melanin. This pigment works to protect against free radicals caused by UV light and their effects on keratin, an important protein in hair biology. According to Dr. Moustafa, UV damage breaks down the proteins in hair and also changes its color. "This manifests as dry, brittle, frizzy hair which lacks luster," she continues.

Another way we put our hair through the wringer in the summer is by swimming in pools. Though most add chlorine to keep water fresh and clean, this chemical isn’t good news for our locks. As we practice our backstroke, chlorine dissolves our hair lipids, which are the fats in our hair that coat the hair shaft and offer protection. Thus, Dr. Moustafa says, we are more susceptible to damage and split ends. Additionally, chlorine can break down the chemical bonds of the protein in our hair, which leads to even more breakage.

And one more thing: if you have blond hair and your mom ever warned you about taking a dip in the pool, she wasn’t wrong. Dr. Moustafa says chlorine works with the copper in the water and becomes absorbed by your hair, resulting in a green hue.

Dermatologist tip

Apply oil or a leave-in conditioner to your hair before entering the pool. This creates a physical barrier between your hair and harmful chlorine.

How to protect your locks

Although you may not be able to cover up all your hair every time you venture outdoors, you can provide strength and help keep your hair healthy by taking a few precautions.

  • Use sun protection. When in the sun, Dr. Moustafa suggests wearing a wide-brimmed hat to cover your hair. As much as possible, try to avoid peak hours of sun exposure, typically from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. There are also many hair care products, including leave-in conditioners, sprays, powders, and so on, that include SPF. Seeking shade also protects you from the sun.

  • Time your trip to the salon. If you regularly have your hair professionally colored blond or highlighted, you’re putting your locks through a bleaching process to arrive at your preferred light-colored hue. To get the most out of your hair color and to protect your locks from the sun’s rays, Dr. Moustafa says to avoid coloring before you take a sun- and pool-filled vacation. "When you dye your hair blond, you make it more susceptible to UV damage and damage from chlorine," she says. However, if you go darker, you’re not increasing your risk.

  • Consider a swim cap for pools. If you’re a fan of doing laps or simply splashing around in a pool, Dr. Moustafa recommends purchasing a swim cap to keep your hair out of harm’s way. If it’s too uncomfortable for you, she says you can also apply oil or a leave-in conditioner before entering the pool. "This creates a physical barrier between your hair and the harmful chlorine," she adds.

  • Rinse and wash your hair after swimming. When you’re ready to hang up the pool towel for the day, rinse your hair immediately after swimming. Then, wash your hair with a specially formulated swimmers’ shampoo. This removes the chlorine from your hair. Follow up with a deep conditioner to help restore moisture.

Bottom line: Your hair needs some summer TLC, too, so add another step in your routine to protect those dazzling locks.

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Last updated: 8/31/21