5 tips for swimming with natural hair

Summer is here! Well, not officially, but close enough right? The weather is heating up, which means it’s pool season!

 black woman swims with natural hair

Whether you’re the next Simone Manuel or you’re still learning how to doggy paddle, there’s one problem we all have when it comes time to take a dip in the pool – what to do with our hair?

First there’s the problem of getting your hair wet and having to style it afterwards. Then there’s the even bigger problem of how to keep the chlorine from ruining your curls.

black woman in pool with healthy afro hair

What’s in pool water?

It’s not just chlorine that can wreak havoc on your hair. Swimming pools also contain oxidizers to help break down contaminants in the water. Then there’s cyanuric acid that keeps the chlorine from degrading.

Other chemicals are needed to balance the pH, to keep algae from growing in the water, and to keep the chlorine from irritating your eyes and skin. The last type of chemical is an alkalinity adjuster to keep the water clear.

pool with chemicals that damage afro hair

None of these chemicals are great for your hair. If you’re a frequent swimmer, or if you’ve ever gone too long without washing your hair after being in the pool, you know that pool water can cause your hair to be dry, weak, and brittle.

How to prep for swimming

1. Wear a waterproof swim cap 

Most swim caps are not meant to keep your hair dry. They are made to keep your hair from slowing you down when you swim, and they aren’t very good at keeping the pool water out.

black girls in pool with swim cap to protect hair

Look for a waterproof cap made of silicone. You can also try wearing a regular swim cap or a thin shower cap, with a silicone cap over it for extra protection.

Make sure the cap isn't too tight around your edges. If it feels tight, move it back a little to be sure you aren't putting too much tension on that area.

2. Wet your hair before getting into the pool

If your hair is already saturated with water before you get in, there will be less room for the chlorinated water to be absorbed into your hair shaft. That means you'll have less work to do to get those chemicals out after you swim.

3. Don’t swim with loose hair

Yes, you look like a mermaid with your hair floating behind you, but you'll pay for it later. Leaving your hair loose in the pool will cause your hair to tangle. Especially with the damaging chemicals that we already know are in the water. Braids, twists, or a bun are all great styles to keep your hair detangled while you swim.

african american woman with afro hair floats in pool

I also don’t advise swimming with extensions as this can make your hair harder to cleanse and moisturize. This can lead to dryness, which will make your hair harder to take down when you’re ready for a new style.

How to care for your hair after swimming

1. Rinse thoroughly

Rinse your hair immediately after getting out of the pool. When you hit the shower to rinse the chlorine from your skin - make sure you give your hair a thorough rinse for at least 5 minutes to get as much of the pool water out of your hair as possible. Even if you’re wearing a swim cap, you still need to rinse your hair after swimming.

2. Don't let chlorine stay in your hair

Do not, under any circumstances, leave chlorinated water in your hair for more than an hour after leaving the pool. Do your best to rinse your hair before you leave, but if you can't, make sure you do it as soon as you get home.

Leaving pool water in your hair overnight is a recipe for disaster.

3. Co-wash if it's not your shampoo day

If you are not shampooing your hair right after leaving the pool, you should at least do a co-wash and then add a leave in conditioner or moisturizer like our Argan Aloe Leave In Conditioner before styling.

4. Shampoo regularly

Shampoo your hair at least once a week with a sulfate-free clarifying shampoo. Follow with a deep moisturizing treatment like our Honey Hibiscus Deep Conditioner.

Twice a month, use the Ayurvedic Clay Mask to add even more hydration to your hair and protect against damage. You can use the mask after shampooing, then follow with the deep conditioner.

If you swim every day, you can use a mild moisturizing shampoo mid-week to keep chemicals from building up in your hair. It may take some trial and error to find a shampoo frequency that works for you. 

5. Use a pre-shampoo oil

You do not need to oil your hair before swimming – you don’t want the oil running down your face or into your eyes while you swim. But you can use our Organic Pre-Shampoo Oil for 15 minutes each week prior to shampooing.

If you prefer to oil your hair before swimming, make sure you are only applying a very light coating. Your hair does not need to be saturated with oil.

What hair styles work best for frequent swimmers?

You want a style that will be easy to do and to take down, easy to wash, and something that will be suitable for work or a night out between swim sessions. Try two strand twists, mini braids, or a wash and go to get you through the summer.

Got questions? Make sure you sign up for my email list where you can email me directly for one-on-one help with your hair!

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