How To Protect Your Hair From Sweat While Working Out
If you’ve started to work out regularly, you’re likely experiencing the benefits of exercise — establishing healthy habits can help reduce stress and have a positive effect on your physical and mental wellbeing.
Regular training also comes with the inevitable: sweat. Vigorous exercise can mean sweaty hair, and factoring in extra time and effort for washing or restyling your hair after your workout. Let’s face it, we’ve all had days where we’ve rescheduled our workouts to line up with our hair washing schedule!
If your workouts leave your hair sweaty, you might be wondering - how often should I wash my hair? Can all this sweat damage the health of my hair? And what can I do to look after my hair before, during and after my workouts?
The effects of sweat on your hair, for both looking after it and maintaining a particular hairstyle, can hold many women back from regular exercise — but there are a number of ways you can work out regularly and still maintain healthy locks.
Is sweat bad for your hair?
When you work out, you’re inevitably going to get a build-up of sweat on your scalp (and the rest of your body). Luckily, sweat itself is not inherently damaging to your hair - it's what you do with your hair before, during and after your workout that influences your hair health.
If you leave the sweat in your hair to dry after your workout, this is where damage can occur. Sweat can dry on your scalp and potentially clog your hair follicles, as it can mix with bacteria and irritate or damage your scalp.
The high salt content can also impact your hair colour if it’s been dyed. Wet hair is also more prone to breakage, which means how you wear your hair while working out can impact its health.
But the good news is — there are a number of ways you can help keep your hair in good shape while working out regularly.
When sweaty hair becomes a barrier to exercise
There are a number of common 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 use chemical straightening products, sweat might put you off 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. For many Black women, a quick wash and go just isn't an option. Black hairstyles can be time-consuming and costly to maintain and certain styles such as complex braids and extensions can also add extra weight to your scalp.
It's not surprising that choosing between a workout and a good hair day is a common dilemma for many Black women, with a 2019 qualitative study finding concerns around hair care and maintenance can be a significant barrier to exercising regularly for Black women.
Not having time to style your hair
If sweat wreaks havoc on your hair and makes it frizzy or ruins a style you need to wear to work, not having the time to style it can often be a big deterrent to exercising.
If you have textured or curly hair, your considerations when it comes to haircare and exercise might be more complex. A 2013 survey from Wake Forest University School of Medicine in the US found 40% 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 involved in maintaining straight hairstyles that are affected by sweat can also lead to skipping a workout.
Washing your hair more often
Washing your hair often can be an inconvenience, but frequent hair-washing can also contribute to dryness.
If you work out every day you may be tempted to wash your hair daily. Excessive washing however can cause damage — an unwanted side effect of otherwise beneficial frequent workouts.
Before or mid-workout: Dos and dont's
Inevitably, no matter what hair type you have, sweat is going to impact 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 always before your workout
Many women use dry shampoo after exercise to mitigate greasiness and sweat. However, if your workout was particularly sweaty, 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 to your roots 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 greasy after your workout.
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 reduce post-workout frizz and reduce dryness.
Many Black women like to use treatments to moisturise their hair and prevent the salt in sweat from drying it out. You can also use a leave-in conditioning treatment or gel after your workout to restore moisture and help set your curls.
Use a towel, 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 sweat as you exercise. They also have the added benefit of keeping your hair out of your face as you work out. Otherwise, keep a sweat towel handy to dry your face and hair.
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 mix up your hairstyle each time you work out. Try styling your hair with plaits or braids, a high 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, and styles like braids can give your scalp more access to oxygen. Experiment and find what works best for you!
For women with textured or curly hair, wearing a protective hairstyle such as box braids or cornrows can help 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 when it comes to hair damage. If you’re working out and want to tie your hair back, be sure to use a hair tie that doesn’t have a metal fastening — these can cause snags and breakage.
Opt for a snag-free elastic like a scrunchie, a spiral hair coil, or choose 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 hair 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 your hair also needs protection too.
If you’re working out outside, be sure to apply sun protection before you start (or even wear a cap to protect your skin too).
Post-workout: Dos and don'ts
There are a couple of things you should and shouldn’t do after working out that will help protect your hair health and style in the long run.
Do brush your hair after a workout
Brushing your hair after working out (while it's still 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 ends and allow your scalp to breathe.
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 daily. Try brushing your hair out after and applying dry shampoo before your workout. If your scalp is super sweaty, you can try doing a quick rinse of just your roots.
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 the 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 and your overall health
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 for you, then go for it — but be sure to brush your hair out after, and ensure you always use snag-free elastics.
Looking after your health and your hair is also not just about what you do while you're training.
* Results may vary. Strict adherence to the nutrition and exercise guide are required for best results.