How To Work Out And Protect Your Hair From Sweat
If you’ve started to work out regularly, you’re likely experiencing the upsides of exercise — establishing healthy habits can help to reduce stress and have a really positive effect on your physical and mental wellbeing.
Regular training also comes with the inevitable: sweat. Vigorous exercise can mean sweaty hair, and your hairstyle might require extra maintenance after your workout. Beyond that, you might be wondering if sweat can have a negative impact on your hair health, too.
The effects of sweat on your hair, for both looking after it and maintaining a particular hairstyle, can be a major barrier to exercise for many women — but there are a number of ways you can go to the gym and still maintain healthy hair, as well as your hairstyle.
What does sweat do to your hair?
Sweat itself is not inherently damaging to your hair. And when you work out, you’re inevitably going to get a build-up of sweat on your scalp (and the rest of your body). It’s what you do with your hair before, during and after your workout that influences your hair health.
If after your workout you leave the sweat in your hair to dry, this is where the damage can occur. Sweat can dry on your scalp and potentially clog your hair follicles, as it can be mixed with bacteria and irritate or damage your scalp.
The high salt content in sweat can also impact your hair colour if it’s been dyed. Similarly, when your hair is wet it is more prone to breakage, which means how you wear your hair while working out can impact your hair health.
But the good news is none of this is inevitable — there are a number of ways you can help keep your hair in good shape while working out regularly.
Common barriers to exercise — due to sweat
There are a number of reasons you might be avoiding working out due to how it will affect your hair.
Damage to your hairstyle
If you straighten your hair frequently, or you use chemical straightening products on your hair, sweat is likely to be a big deterrent for working out. Getting your hair wet, including through sweat, can affect your hairstyle and make working out feel like a chore.
Sweat can also affect women with different hair types in a variety of ways. A 2019 qualitative study by the University of the District of Columbia in the US found that concerns around hair care and hair maintenance, in particular, are significant barriers to exercising regularly for Black women.
Not having time to style your hair
Another barrier might be not having time after working out to do your hair. If sweat wreaks havoc on your hair and makes it frizzy or ruins a style you need to wear to work, this can often be a big deterrent for exercising.
If you have textured or curly hair, your considerations when it comes to haircare and exercise might be more complex. A 2013 survey of 103 participants from Wake Forest University School of Medicine in the US found that 40 per cent of Black women avoid exercise due to hair-related issues. Black women further experience “hair bias” — whereby one in five black women feel pressure to keep their hair straight for work, according to a 2016 study by the Perception Institute in the US. These factors can mean the cost and time to maintain straight hairstyles that are affected by sweat can also be a reason for skipping a workout.
Needing to wash your hair more often
Washing your hair too frequently can also contribute to dryness. If you work out every day you may be tempted to wash your hair after every workout to get rid of the sweat. This can then lead to damage caused by excessive washing — making this a side effect of otherwise beneficial frequent workouts.
How to take care of your hair while working out regularly
Inevitably, no matter what hair type you have, sweat is going to impact your hair, in regards to your hair health and style. But there are a number of ways you can protect your hair while also enjoying a good, sweaty workout.
Use dry shampoo — but not after your workout
Many women use dry shampoo as a way to mitigate greasiness and sweat in hair after exercise. However, if your workout was particularly sweaty, then dry shampoo can actually make matters worse — by sticking to the damp pieces of hair and making it cakey.
That’s why it’s best to apply dry shampoo before your workout when it’s dry — this is a preventative measure that can help reduce the amount of sweat, while also preventing your hair from appearing as greasy after your workout is done.
Spray it with treatment
For women with curly or textured hair, spraying your hair and scalp before your workout with hair oils such as argan oil can help to reduce post-workout frizz, and reduce dryness. You can also use a leave-in conditioning treatment or gel after your workout to restore moisture and help set your curls.
Brush your hair after working out
Brushing your hair after working out (while sweaty) can help to prevent the sweat from remaining clogged at your roots and scalp. This can distribute the oils more evenly from roots to end and allow your scalp to breathe.
Use a hair wrap or silk head scarf while working out
A hair wrap or workout headband can help minimise sweat build-up in your scalp and absorb the sweat as you exercise. They also have the added benefit of keeping your hair out of your face as you work out.
Hair wraps are particularly helpful for curly or textured hair — they help keep your hairstyle in shape and reduce frizziness. Just be sure not to wrap or tie it too tightly on your head.
Wear your hair in different ways
Another way to protect your hair is to alternate how you wear it each time you workout. Try alternating the way you secure your hair for workouts — such as using plaits or braids, a high pony or low pony, or using a headband, hair wrap or cap to keep hair out of your face. This can help protect your hair from damage from getting wet and being worn in the same spot every day.
For women with textured or curly hair, wearing a protective hairstyle such as box braids or cornrows can help to protect your hair, and even a gruelling workout won’t damage your hairstyle. You can also try wearing your hair in a pineapple ponytail style — which will keep your hair out of your face and won’t ruin your curl pattern.
Use the right hair ties
Sometimes, sweat is not the culprit of hair damage. If you’re working out you likely want to tie your hair up — but be sure to use a hair tie that doesn’t have a metal fastening — these can cause snags and breakage in your hair strands. Opt for a snag-free elastic like a scrunchie or simply a hair tie that doesn’t have metal.
Schedule your workout around your hair
If taking the time to style your hair is important to you, another effective (but sometimes a little tricky) way to protect your hairstyle from damage from sweat is to schedule your workouts around your hair.
This might mean scheduling your workouts for the evening (rather than in the morning before work), or leaving plenty of time after your workout to style your hair before your day begins.
Use a UVA/UVB protecting treatment if exercising outside
Did you know the sun has an impact on hair health, too? While the focus with sun protection is often on the skin, it’s important to remember that your hair also needs protection too. If you’re working out outside, be sure to apply sun protection before you start (or even wear an exercise cap to protect your skin too).
What not to do with your hair after working out
There are a couple of things you should not do after working out that will help protect your hair health and your hairstyles in the long run.
Don’t wash your hair every time
While washing the sweat out of your hair is not a bad idea, if you’re working out every day it’s best to avoid washing your hair after every workout. Try brushing your hair out after and applying dry shampoo before your workout instead.
If you do wash your hair after a workout, make sure to dry it completely before tying it up — tying up wet hair can also cause breakages.
Don’t use the gym shampoo
When washing your hair after the gym, make sure you use a good quality shampoo instead of using shampoo provided by your gym. The quality of the shampoo and conditioner you use has an impact on your hair health — so try to ensure you’re using the same one each time.
Haircare, health and the gym
It’s important to do what is going to be most comfortable for you when you work out. If a high pony is an absolute must when you work out, then go for it — but be sure to brush your hair out after, and ensure you always use snag-free hair elastics.
Looking after your health, and your hair, is also not just about what you do in the gym or during your training.
* Results may vary. Strict adherence to the nutrition and exercise guide are required for best results.