Essential Tips for Protecting Hair From the Summer Sun, Chlorine and Salt Water


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After slathering on sunscreen from the top of our foreheads to the tips of toes, we’re usually feeling well-protected and ready to enjoy the great outdoors. There’s one key spot that we’ve forgotten about, however — our hair.

Many of us spend a lot of time (and money) on frequent haircuts, deep conditioning treatments and hair masks to keep our hair looking lovely. Yet when it comes to protecting hair from the sun, most of us skip this essential step. Hair may not burn in the same way as skin, but it can still get damaged by the sun’s harmful rays.

And it’s not just the sun we need to consider during the summer. When heat styling tools, chlorine, salt water and air conditioning are factored in, unprotected strands become vulnerable. Lawrence Wesley, principal colorist at Antonio Prieto Salon, explains, “Days become longer and the sun becomes more intense during the summer months. We also tend to be in chlorine and salt water more during this time, so hair tends to be drier and hair color tends to oxidize faster than during the colder months.”

Rather than worrying about rectifying the damage after it’s been done, there are preventive steps you should take to keep hair protected while you enjoy the sunshine.

Wear a Hat

Fans of hats will be pleased to know that floppy hats and baseball caps will help protect hair. Evo brand ambassador Kenna Kennor recommends scarves as a chic way to cover up. Just be aware that while hats are definitely helpful, they are not enough on their own. Wesley explains, “Covering your hair with a hat is great, but just like the delicate skin on your face and body, additional protection is needed.” That’s where hair products come in.

Apply a Protective Hair Product

Before stepping outside, it’s key to coat hair with a protective product. It’s especially important for those with color-treated hair so they can keep their blondes bright and their rainbow dye jobs on point. Instead of applying a traditional sunscreen, look for hair products that offer UV protection in spray or even cream formulas. Wesley recommends Shu Uemura Art of Hair Color Lustre Brilliant Glaze Thermo-Milk ($38). It functions as a great heat styling product. Plus, it contains lipids that mimic hair’s natural protective insulation.

Reapply Protection Throughout the Day

Just like with faces and bodies, SPF products need to be reapplied to hair throughout the day to ensure optimum protection. Kennor suggests using an easy-to-apply spray formula. Shiseido Ultimate Sun Protection Spray Broad Spectrum SPF 50+ For Face/Body ($36) comes in a convenient spray bottle that can be spritzed on at home or at the beach.

And if it gets cloudy, Kennor says reapplying protective hair products is still important. “Do the same even when it’s cloudy because the sun’s rays reflect off of the clouds and can be just as damaging as direct sunlight.”

Choose the Right Shampoos and Conditioners

Having the right shampoos and conditioners is essential for color-treated hair to preserve the finish. And the right products can also help with oxidation and UV damage from the sun. Kennor likes Evo Mane Tamer Smoothing Conditioner ($30), which helps fight frizz while providing a color boost to oxidized hair. Before buying new products, inspect the labels for details about their UV protection and oxidization.

Rock a Swim Cap

Heading to the beach? The hair experts suggest wearing a bathing cap a la synchronized swimmers. There are plenty of fun styles besides the classic athletic ones. The Speedo Flamingo Cocktail Silicone Cap ($14.99) is just one brilliant example. Before applying the cap, Wesley recommends thoroughly saturating dry hair with conditioner.

Always Wet Hair Before and After Swimming

Don’t stick a toe into the pool without wetting hair first. Kennor says it’s essential to hop in the shower pre- and post-swim. A pre-swim shower will help prevent locks from absorbing the chlorine, while a post-swim one will help remove chlorine buildup.

It’s worthwhile for frequent pool users to get clarifying shampoos that are specifically formulated to remove chlorine. The Paul Mitchell Travel Size Clarifying Shampoo Three ($4.75) removes buildup and helps prevent that dreaded “swimmer’s green” tint. The mini bottle is also perfect for stashing in beach bags.

Put On a Leave-In Conditioner

Honey Artists hairstylist Daven Mayeda says it’s a good idea to apply a leave-in conditioner before going to the beach or pool. He reasons, “Your hair follicles have little tiny holes like a sponge and soak up the pool chemicals and [that] may be damaging to your color or the integrity of your hair. Use a generous amount of leave-in conditioner on dry hair before going swimming to prevent damage.” He recommends Amika Leave In Cream Conditioner ($12.59). The paraben- and sulfate-free formula protects strands from environmental damage and heat styling. It’s also color-safe.

Don’t Forget About the Scalp

Hair doesn’t completely protect scalps from damage. Scalps can get painful sunburns just like the rest of skin, according to Dr. Dendy Engelman, dermatologic surgeon at Manhattan Dermatology & Cosmetic Surgery. Therefore, ensure that SPF products are applied to the entire head as opposed to just the lengths of hair.

Try a Hair Mask

Kennor recommends regularly using hair masks and treatments to help strands stay nourished throughout the season. His pick is the Evo The Great Hydrator Moisture Mask ($28). It replenishes moisture in hair while enhancing shine. Try applying hair masks at the same time as sheet masks to get into the habit of doing it.