How to Cope With Summer Hair Problems

Experts give advice for treating some common summertime hair problems.

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on July 06, 2007
4 min read

Our crowning glory -- and Samson's source of strength -- human hair has long been a fascination and an obsession. What a shame that summer can reduce this glorious body adornment to ruins. What's the worst that can happen -- and how can you "head off" or heal the damage?

WebMD spoke to experts to get tips for coping with five summertime hair problems.

Without hesitation, Phillip Wilson, once voted the best hairstylist in 100 years and president of the Angles & Collections Salon and Day Spa, tells WebMD that the sun is the biggest enemy of hair during the summer.

Wilson, who often journeys to the Sundance and Cannes film festivals to tend to his movie star clients, says not only in Hollywood do 85% of women have color-treated hair. "That's the figure nationwide," he says. "Sun dries hair out. If it's already processed, it's already depleted and can become dry straw."

To combat this, Wilson says, "the coolest thing on the market" is leave-in conditioners. "If not overly used," he adds, "they start the styling for you, adding volume at the roots."

David Bank, MD, director of the Center for Dermatology, Cosmetic, and Laser Surgery, in Mount Kisco, N.Y., also recommends a pretreatment with an SPF spray made for hair. "We see some skin cancers of the scalp and these not only protect hair, but guard against those," he says, adding that SPF sprays are a light mist. What level of SPF? "Whatever you can get your hands on -- 15, 30," Bank says.

Hats can also protect hair from the sun, but there is a trade-off -- hat head.

If a swimming pool is not properly balanced, metals such as copper in the water can leach onto hair. You know that nice green patina of a copper picture frame? It looks less fetching on the head.

Again, treated hair, especially the blond shades, tinges the most. "Chlorine is a nightmare!" exclaims Wilson. He recommends pretreating your hair with a pH balancer to try to get it to a pH of 3.5, which is acidic. "This almost creates a barrier [to greening substances in the water]. It's like a mist."

Bank is not sure that a spray might not wash out. "It might not solve the problem."

He recommends rinsing hair thoroughly before going into either a chlorinated pool or the ocean. If the fresh water has saturated the hair, the salt or chemically treated water may not be able to get under the protective scales on the hair shaft as readily.

Japanese straightening techniques, defrizzers, straighteners for African-American hair, dyes -- any chemical process can weaken hair, Bank points out. "When you add chemicals to sun, it's a double whammy. Even chemicals to prevent frizzies in the humidity of summer can have a mild weakening effect."

Wilson has another archenemy: 6% peroxide. "People put this in their hair, even the biggest stars," he says, "thinking it will create highlights in the sun. There is nothing more damaging! It blasts open the cuticle and if nothing is deposited underneath and the sun glares down, it can turn the hair to shredded wheat. This cannot be fixed sometimes, either."

"Any hair combing, brushing, or blow drying has the potential to weaken hair," Bank says. He adds that the 100 strokes a night recommended by grandmas is a hair care trick that has seen its day.

"Some rough brushing of wet hair can pull it out by its roots!" he admonishes. "Use a wide-toothed comb. If you use a dryer, use a diffuser."

Wilson recommends a tourmaline blow dryer. Reapply the leave-in conditioner before drying with any blow dryer, he adds. And, of course, if you've been in the water, rinse with fresh, untreated water.

If your hair has any body, you can also apply a texture product, curl sections around your finger and wait a few minutes for it to dry. Fluffing up curls with your fingers also avoids turning on the dryer. Or you can braid the hair (loosely), let it dry, and then finger-comb out the waves.

"Never rub your hair dry with a towel," Wilson says. "Blot with the towel -- gently. If you rub you raise up the cuticle; then if you apply heat (from a dryer), it can damage the hair." Special, superabsorbent hair towels are available on the beauty web sites.

Scrunchies and (heaven forbid) rubber bands can weaken hair, Bank says. "Any time you grab, tug, twist, or pull hair, it is weakened." Too-tight ponytails (or those casual little postswim knots and buns) can even cause the hairline to recede over time.

If you have extensions, you can swim, shower, or do anything you want with them in. "I recommend the ones that are waxed in, not clipped," Wilson says. "Extensions are good for three to six months."

Getting frequent trims to lose the split ends is also a good idea in summer. And if you have been glomming on all these products, use a mild, clarifying shampoo once in a while to rinse them out.

Food belongs inside you. Eating omega-3-rich foods, such as fatty fish and flaxseed oil, benefits hair. Bank is a believer in biotin, a B-complex vitamin. "I tell people to take 2.5 milligrams a day," he says. Read the labels and talk to your doctor before starting any over-the-counter product.

Still, some people insist on putting food items on their head. Lemon juice, beer, onion juice, olive oil, and mayonnaise are a few do-it-yourself hair treatments that Bank and Wilson have seen used. "Use professional products," sighs Wilson. "These have been tested."