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How to Protect Your Hair from Sun, Salt, and Other Summer Hazards

Back view of a woman with long, curly hair sitting on the beach.
Alliance Images/Shutterstock

From beach trips to picnics to bucket lists, summer is the season of fun. But good times for you might not be so great for your hair.

Have you ever returned home from a day at the beach, only to find you can barely run a brush through your hopelessly tangled hair? Or faced a greasy mess caused by heat and humidity that makes you want to shampoo twice a day? These problems and more can plague us in the summertime—but they all have a solution.

When the temperature rises, you might be tempted to shave all your hair off. But with these tips, you can keep your hair healthy at any length, all summer long.

Salt, Sun, and Sand: Protecting Your Strands

Summer comes with some unique threats to your hair. These include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Chlorine: This pool chemical can give you dry, crispy hair, and even strip away the color.
  • Salt, dirt, and dust: More time outside means more gritty contaminants can get into your hair and dry it out, or leave it dirty and tangled.
  • Sun: Your scalp can get sunburned if you don’t use protection. The sun can also dry out your hair or fade your hair color.

The best way to protect your hair is to prep it with the right products and consider protective styles.

Your hair absorbs things like salt and chlorine when you’re in the water, so before you go for a swim, dampen your hair and apply a leave-in conditioner. This way, your hair soaks up the clean water and conditioner, leaving less room for salty or chlorinated water to penetrate the shaft.

If you color your hair, pick a leave-in formula designed to prevent fading. Also, always wash your hair as soon as possible after going swimming, so the salt or chlorine has minimal time to do damage.

To keep airborne dirt and dust at bay, your best bet is to wear your hair up or back, such as in a bun or a braid. Otherwise, you’ll need to wash your hair more often.

Finally, minimize the harmful effects of the sun with a sun-protection product designed for hair. Sprays are easy to apply, but pick the formula that works best for you. Look for something water-resistant that includes SPF to protect your scalp. Consider hiding your hair under a scarf or wide-brimmed hat if you plan to spend a lot of time in the sun (this will also protect it from dirt).

Don’t Sweat It: Staying Clean in the Heat

In addition to salt, dust, and dirt, your hair also faces an extra dose of sweat in the summer. Sweat and heat—especially when combined with humidity—can make your hair look limp and lifeless.

As tempting as it may be, you should avoid washing your hair every day. Daily washing triggers your scalp to produce more oil to combat the drying effects of shampoo. But you also don’t want to wait too long between washes, as the buildup of sweat and oil can damage your scalp, and prevent new hair from growing.

Each hair type is different, so experiment until you find the perfect balance of wash-frequency for yours. Add shampoo just to your scalp, and let the runoff give the rest of your hair a gentle cleanse. Look for a moisturizing shampoo and always use conditioning products. A cleansing conditioner is also a great choice for summertime.

Between washes, you can extend the clean feeling with dry shampoo. However, some people have experienced hair loss caused by dry shampoo, so use it sparingly.

Dry or Humid: Moisturizing Your Hair

Finally, summer’s heat tends to dry out your hair. Even if it’s humid outside, your hair still needs moisture. In dry heat, the need is even greater.

Always use a moisturizing product, but change the formula, depending on the climate and your hair type. Thick or curly hair tends to need heavier products, like leave-in conditioning creams, while thin hair does best with lighter ones, like conditioning sprays. Humidity also calls for lighter, frizz-fighting products, while dry heat often requires something heavier. But whatever you choose, use only as much as you need—if you use too much, or layer on too many products, your hair will look heavy and greasy.

No matter the climate, try to cut down on heat styling and chemical treatments during the summer. Hot tools and chemicals can exacerbate the dryness and damage caused by summer heat. The more you can embrace your natural color and texture, the better.

Boost the results of your conditioning products by using a hair mask once or twice a week. You can find lots of different types to suit your hair and lifestyle, from overnight repair to in-shower “minute masks.” You can even apply a mask before you go to the pool or beach—just wear your hair up so that it doesn’t look greasy. The mask will protect your hair, and you can rinse it out when you shower afterward.

If you notice your hair is getting dry, consider scheduling a trim. Dryness tends to come with split ends, but you can minimize the damage by cutting them off before they get worse.

Finally, your scalp needs hydration to keep healthy strands growing, so make sure you stay hydrated throughout the summer. Your body will thank you—and so will your hair.

Looking for more ways to beat the summer heat? Find out how to keep your home cool without relying on AC!

Elyse Hauser Elyse Hauser
Elyse Hauser is a freelance and creative writer from the Pacific Northwest, and an MFA student at the University of New Orleans Creative Writing Workshop. She specializes in lifestyle writing and creative nonfiction. Read Full Bio »
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