Chlorine and salt water can seriously mess up your strands. Follow these steps to avoid damaged hair, then bring on the beach waves
Why Care for Your Hair
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"Chlorine strips away the natural oils on your hair, leaving it dry and brittle," says Melissa Piliang, M.D., dermatologist at the Clevland Clinic, who specializes in hair and scalp disorders. Salt water isn't much better: "Like chlorine, the salts in ocean water dry out your hair and damage the cuticle." Ultimately, too many summer swims (you know, if there were such a thing) can weaken strands and cause breakage. Forget #beachhairdontcare, and use these tips to avoid damage. (Plus, use Your Summer Hair Rescue Guide to fix the rest of your summer hair woes.)
Step One: Saturate Your Hair
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Your hair can only hold so much water (Piliang likens it to a sponge), so you want it to soak up as much fresh water as possible. That way, it'ill be too saturated to take on the damaging kind.
Step Two: Create a Conditioner Shield
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Apply a leave-in conditioner or conditioning spray for extra protection: "Conditioner will further seal the fresh water in your hair," says Piliang. Think of it as a damage force field.
Step Three: Put a Cap On It
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"Wear a swim cap when swimming in indoor pools, which often have higher chlorine levels," says Piliang. Doing so will keep the fresh water and conditioner in and the chlorine out. As if you have time to deal with hair in your face as you're sprinting laps anyway. (Don't forget one of these One-Piece Swimsuits Worth the Tan Lines!)
Step Four: Rinse, Rinse, Rinse
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You don't need to do a full shampoo sesh (suds are more for your scalp than your strands), but Piliang does suggest rinsing hair with fresh water as soon as you exit the water. "If you wait, the water will eventually evaporate, leaving high concentrations of chlorine and salts behind," she says. Then, apply a heavy conditioner or oil from your ears to your ends to replenish any lost moisture. We recommend coconut oil, which studies have shown helps protect hair from bleach-induced protein loss. (Chlorine is basically diluted bleach, notes Piliang.)
Step Five: Wear a Hat
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"Wearing a hat outdoors will help protect the hair (and the delicate skin of your face!) from the damaging rays of the sun," says Piliang. What does that have to do with pool water? "UV radiation in sunlight breaks chemical bonds in the hair and weakens its keratin, leading to fragile hair that's more easily damaged by other environmental factors like chlorine, salt water and wind," says Piliang. "It's a compounding effect."
Step Six: Try a Moisturizing Mask
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Hair masks have similar moisturizing fats and oils as regular conditioners, with one crucial difference: they have more. Once you return from your beach trip (womp womp), shower as usual, then apply a moisturizing mask like Living Proof Perfect Hair Day Night Cap ($28, sephora.com), leave in overnight, and style normally the next morning. (Only use an overnight mask twice a week.) (It may sound weird, but you can treat your hair with what's in your pantry—not just your medicine cabinet! Try a mask made from one of the 12 Foods You Can Put in Your Hair.)