Just as the sun damages your skin, it can damage your hair, too. Saltwater and chlorine also take a toll on our tresses. The not-so-pretty outcome: A few weeks into summer, hair that was shiny and easily managed looks and feels fried.
Fried hair isn't just a figure of speech. Jessica J. Krant, MD, MPH, a New York dermatologist, says the ultraviolet rays of the sun actually "cook the hair shaft." The damage is most obvious when we see color-treated hair becoming faded, bleached, and brassy.
Even hair that isn't colored will suffer from sun-induced stress. Those UV rays dry out hair and rough up the normally smooth cuticle, or outer layer, of the hair shaft.
The dryer hair is, the more likely it is to suffer from a summer malady that's even more irksome than mosquito bites: frizz.
That's because parched hair soaks up the extra humidity in the air, causing the shaft to swell and leading to breaks in the cuticle. Hair puffs up and goes every which way but smooth.
Swimming beats up your hair, too. Take a plunge in a pool and while you're doing the breaststroke, chlorine is stripping your hair of its natural protective oils. If you're a blonde, you may find your locks taking on an unflattering greenish cast. That's caused by the copper molecules and other pool chemicals that bind to the protein in the hair shaft.
A dip in the ocean stresses hair in another way. The heavy salt content in seawater draws water out of your hair and skin, Krant says. We end up with prune-y fingers and parched hair.
Tips for Healthy and Gorgeous Summer Hair
Summer doesn't have to be the season of bad hair days. With some extra TLC, your hair can look great on the steamiest days. Here are some hot-weather tress-taming tips from Krant and Julia Papworth, a celebrity hairstylist who has worked with stars including Cameron Diaz, Elijah Wood, and Sarah Silverman.
- Start summer with a trim. You'll get rid of split ends and refresh your style. You might need a mid-season cut, too. Hair really does grow faster in the summer. That's because there are more hairs in the anagen, or growing, stage during late spring and summer than in the dead of winter, Krant says.
- Shield your strands from the sun. Make a daily habit of applying a hair care product that contains UV filters (these can be in spray, gel, or cream formulas). These products protect hair from sun damage and help keep color-processed hair from fading. If you'll be spending lots of time outdoors, wear a wide-brimmed hat. Not only will it keep your strands from getting scorched, it will also protect your scalp and ears, areas that are vulnerable to skin cancer.
- Saturate strands before taking a dip. If your hair is drenched with clean water or leave-in conditioner, it won't absorb as much saltwater or pool chemicals, Papworth says. It's also a good idea to try to rinse your hair after a swim. If there isn't a shower nearby, keep a spray bottle filled with fresh water.
- Switch to a moisturizing shampoo and conditioner. You may be washing your hair more frequently to deal with summer's sweat and grime. Papworth also suggests using a clarifying, or anti-residue, shampoo once a week to clear away product buildup and chemicals. Just be sure to follow with a deep-conditioning treatment.
- Skip the hot tools. At least once or twice a week, give your hair a break from blow dryers, flat irons, and curling irons. Papworth recommends washing your hair at night and piling it up in a bun, a braid, or ponytail before you head to bed. "When you wake up, you'll have a nice beachy wave," she says. It's the perfect look for weekends, or make it work-ready with accessories like a thin headband or pretty barrettes.
- Outwit frizz. Hair that's healthy and well-maintained is your best defense against frizz. Along with regular trims and conditioning, a drop or two of an anti-frizz oil or serum can help smooth hair and add shine. (Papworth likes products that contain argan oil.) Use only "a teeny tiny drop" of oil, Papworth advises, or you can end up weighing down your hair, especially if it's fine or limp.
But let's face it: When the air is so thick with humidity it feels like molasses, frizz is going to happen. Don't waste your summer trying to fight frizz. Instead, find an easy go-to hairdo like a slick pony, high bun, or side braid for those high-humidity days.