Black Hair and Swimming: a Guide to Healthy Locks

Updated 03/21/19
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Unfortunately, laws which prohibited black folk from enjoying community pools during the worst era of segregation have led to a ridiculous stereotype and a million bad jokes. However, there's another issue that has nothing to do with legalities: hair. Men and boys can hop into a lake or the ocean with few worries, but after the tedious work of straightening natural hair, who wants to mess everything up by swimming? Even advancements like relaxers haven't really helped much. If you spend hours styling your hair, or waited all day at a salon and paid someone to style it for you, ruining your 'do with a dip in the pool doesn't make a lot of sense.

Today, however, with the natural movement only growing, many women are shaking off their fear of water. No more running out of the rain, or avoiding the pool at a pool party. Regardless, you don't have to be natural to enjoy swimming. Yes, there will be more upkeep and maintenance to your hair if you swim regularly, but with some care and planning, everyone should be able to swim worry-free. Whether you take a dip every day or only on occasion during the summer, following a routine designed for swimmers will keep your locks healthy.

Pre-Swim

Swimming caps have come a long way, thank goodness! The old caps didn't even really do their singular job of keeping the hair dry. Today's swim caps are much more varied, and some are even stylish. As for fit, it can still be hit-or-miss, and you can't always try on a cap to see if it's snug and secure before buying. Whether you wear a cap or not is entirely up to you; if it doesn't keep all water out, there's not much point in spending unnecessary money on one.

If you choose to swim bare-headed, wet your hair completely before getting into the pool or ocean. Don't apply conditioner, only fresh tap water. Running it under water prevents your tresses from soaking up as much chlorine, other chemicals, and salt as they would if you dunked them completely dry. Long, natural hair can easily become tangled when wet, so before hitting the water, twist or braid your tresses in several sections. It's not necessary, but it will make detangling an easier task when it's time to cleanse your mane after a day of fun in the sun.

If your hair is short, you don't have to worry about it.

Post-Swim

When you're done swimming for the day, rinse your hair completely with clean water. You have to remove any salt or chemicals as soon as possible. If you swim often, shampooing after each swim won't be the best option: you don't want to dry your hair with excessive cleansing. Conditioner washing is a safe alternative. Focus on cleansing the scalp, and make sure your locks are completely rinsed with clean water.

Even women who don't use clarifying shampoos any other time should use one during swimming season. You don't need to use them often, even if you swim frequently. Once a month is still the suggested time frame. These specialized cleansers remove buildup from products and chemicals that coat your hair while in a chlorinated pool.

Sun and chemicals can be very drying to your mane, so conditioning after every swim is important. But depending on how often you swim, you may even need to ramp up deep conditioning to as often as once or twice a week. Look for conditioners that are typically recommended for black hair textures, moisturizing, and designed for dry and damaged manes. Include leave-in conditioners after each cleansing/co-wash session for additional moisture, whether you prefer a liquid leave-in that keeps your curls lightweight and bouncy, or a creamier formula that coats your strands and prevents further damage on a deeper level.

If your hair is colored and/or relaxed, protein treatments are something you have to do to keep your hair healthy. It's best to maintain a routine so that emergency treatments aren't required. Using products like Joico's Defy Damage Protective Masque or Olaplex No. 3 a couple of times per month keeps your tresses strong. Even if your locks are all natural, applying occasional protein will help to maintain your hair's strength.

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