Some days it can feel like you have to choose between your body or your hair: You can go for a run but sabotage the awesome blowout you just got or skip the gym to avoid a potentially bad hair day but miss out on all the muscle-toning, calorie-burning, health-boosting benefits of a workout.
While this choice affects every woman, African-American women in particular may forgo their spin class for fear of ruining an expensive straightening treatment or time-consuming style, a recent study found.
Forty percent of black women have at one time avoided exercise for fear it would mess up their hair, researchers at the Wake Forest School of Medicine report. One reason may be pricey treatments: Sixty-two percent said they regularly had their hair relaxed, a chemical process that straightens tresses to make them more manageable but also makes them more fragile, especially when washing. Women also expressed concerns about sweating out their hairstyle; the time to wash, dry, and style their hair; and scalp itching.
While the study didn’t look into solutions for these worries, lead author Amy McMichael, M.D., offers a few suggestions: “There are various hair wraps that can be used to hold hair in place during exercise to help preserve the hair style,” she says. “Fitness programs can also be scheduled to include more strenuous exercises at the time when hair washing is eminent.” And if itching is a concern, a visit to a dermatologist can help to clear up any underlying scalp problems.
You can also try sporting a bun (Gabrielle Douglas may have gotten flak, but what’s easier and more efficient?) or a low ponytail secured with shine-inducing hairspray, says L.A.-based celebrity hairstylist Frank Galasso, who’s worked with Vanessa Williams and Kelly Rowland. And of course textured hair is great for holding a braid or cornrow, adds Michigan beauty salon owner Athena Solomon.
Then in the locker room, use these expert tips to make your hair look great post-workout and say good-bye to bad hair days—and wasted gym memberships—for good.
1. Embrace your natural curls. Titi Branch, co-founder of the luxury hair care line Miss Jessie's (Alicia Keys and Holly Robinson Peete are fans), says that if African-American women learn to manage their hair without chemical relaxers, they’ll have the freedom to exercise whenever they please. Try her “wash and go styling” technique: Wash and condition hair, apply a styling aid made for curly hair, and blow-dry using a diffuser to fight frizz.
2. Use dry shampoo. Spray it directly onto roots before your workout to absorb sweat and oils, Galasso says. If you find that dry shampoo makes your hair appear ashy or powdery, or causes your locks to feel heavy or gritty, you’re likely not using it correctly, says Meaghan Frayne, creative director at New York City’s Angelo David Salon. She advises following three steps:
- Turn the canister upside down and shake well for about 30 seconds. This allows the powder components that have sunk to the bottom of the can to mix with the aerosol components so that when you press the nozzle, the product will distribute in a steady, even stream without spitting or clumping.
- Hold up thin sections of hair perpendicular to the ceiling and position the canister 6 to 10 inches away from your hair. Spray only the first inch of your roots while moving your arm back and forth horizontally across the section to equally distribute on the section. Avoid spraying directly on the scalp in a static spot.
- Brush over the dry shampoo from roots to ends to create a seamless fusion between your hair’s natural oils and the product.
3. Give it a spritz. Solomon, who says 60 percent of her clientele are women of color, recommends lightly spraying your scalp after exercise with olive oil, shea butter spray, or argan oil to rejuvenate hair, reduce frizz, and offer a sweet natural smell.
RELATED: If perspiration has you worried about frizz, try one of these 8 no-sweat workouts for a great routine and no need to shower after!
4. Get a Brazilian. No, not that type: “If you wash your hair after the gym every time you work out, it's best to consider a Brazilian straightening treatment,” Galasso says. This keratin treatment takes about 90 minutes in a salon and costs $200 or more but lasts up to three months and could give you the freedom of working out without worrying you’ll ruin your hair.