As much as I’ve always loved the water, when my hair was relaxed, I barely allowed it to get wet when I went into pools or the ocean. My childhood memories of my mother begging me not to get my hair wet rang through. Plus, as I got older, I realized the chemicals in the relaxer and chlorine combined would truly do a number on my tresses. So, I avoided something that I loved, and as a result, was not a swimmer. Since returning back to being natural, I have really enjoyed my time in the water and actually swim. As much as I now love being in the water, I realized that I had to figure out a way to ensure that the ocean’s salt water and the pool’s chlorine didn’t damage my hair.
First, I looked at the differences between salt water and chlorine. Salt water is extremely drying to our natural hair. Keep in mind that if you’re in salt water, you’re also probably in the hot sun, so even more damage is being done to your tresses.
Pool water has chlorine, which also dries and damages our hair because the chlorine dissolves the oil that keeps cuticle layers together. One thing I’ve noticed recently is that some pools are opting for salt water, as opposed to chlorine, which would definitely be a safer option for your hair and body.
Prior to going into the water, it is important to protect your hair as much as possible. I use to wet my hair and then apply a thick conditioner, which is definitely better than doing no prep work, but soon realized that the majority of that conditioner was coming off in the water. Instead, now I first wet my hair and I try to ensure that I let my hair stay wet for 15 minutes; as it takes that long for hair to be fully saturated. Next, I apply an oil that will penetrate the hair shaft (i.e. coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, or avocado oil), and seal it with a heavier oil or butter (i.e. shea butter, Jamaican Black Castor Oil, Jojoba oil, or grapeseed oil).
To avoid tangles, it is best not to keep your hair out, but rather braided or in a bun.
I don’t own a swimming cap, but if you do, or are extra cautious about your hair in the chlorine (especially if your hair already has some chemical in it (i.e. is coloured), it would be a great idea to wear one in the pool. Some people even wrap their head in saran wrap first, for a second layer of protection.
Once you’re out of the water, it is important to ensure that you rinse your hair thoroughly so all of the salt water or chlorine comes out completely. Hair should be shampooed and conditioned (with a wash out and then a leave-in conditioner). If you are swimming often, a clarifying shampoo is a good idea to use every few swims, but you MUST ensure that you deep condition afterwards to put back the moisture/oils that clarifying shampoo strips from your hair. If you’re using the pool at your local gym, put on your deep conditioner and head on over to the sauna or steam room to intensify the treatment. Avoid styling the hair with heat (i.e. blow dryer and/or flat iron) and try to style it in a way that requires less manipulation.
So there you have it, ladies (and gents!). With a few simple steps, it is possible to swim regularly and maintain your hair health. Happy swimming!