How To Care for Salty, Sun-Damaged Hair

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Anyone who spends their free time in the ocean quickly realizes that having the lush, soft, beach hair displayed in magazine ads is nothing but a farce. Any time we take our luscious locks into the sea, there’s damage being done.

Photo: Courtney Clayton

Think of how many times you’ve had to pull a chunk of hair from your dive mask strap, untangle a mat that came as a side-effect of a massive wipeout, or yank your hair from the Velcro of a wetsuit. Salt leeches moisture from our hair, causing it to become brittle and prone to breaking. The combination of sun, salt, and watersports gear means that most of us end up with dried out hair that feels horse chow.

In this guide, we’ll tell give you some strategies for keeping your hair shiny, thick, and healthy — no matter how often you go in the ocean.

Before you go into the water…

Healthy hair often stems from a healthy diet. Stay hydrated and eat plenty of leafy greens for iron, nuts and seeds for healthy fats, fruits for vitamins, and lentils for protein.

Most hair types do not need to be washed every day. Shampoo and hair styling products strip natural oils from your hair and can leave a film of chemicals that are potentially damaging to the ocean. Wash your hair only with gentle cleansers, avoiding leave-in conditioners or synthetic masks.

Photo: Christopher Campbell

Avoid blow drying, straightening, or adding extra heat to your hair. For obvious reasons, this dries out your hair and can make it prone to being extra damaged with saltwater exposure.

If you do need to deep condition your hair before a dive, create a natural mask by blending avocado and coconut oil and massaging that into your hair. Or, keep it simple by just using coconut oil. Warm a small amount up and rub it into your hair starting from the ends working upward. Many women love the mask by LUSH — but use it as a post-water treatment rather than a pre-water treatment.

A few minutes before going into the water, rinse your hair with fresh water. This will saturate your hair so that it’s less susceptible to absorbing the saltwater. If your hair is very tangle-prone, add a small bit of coconut oil into your hair as well. Add a little extra oil to the nape of your neck — it’s the area prime nesting area for birds.

Photo: Maxx Miller

For above-water sports like surfing, kitesurfing, standup paddling…

Wear a surf hat to avoid burning your scalp and drying out the top of your hair. If you hair wearing a hat, dab a bit of reef-safe sunscreen onto your pinky and apply it to your part before going into the water.

For underwater sports like scuba diving, freediving, and swimming…

If you have colored hair — especially bright colors — wear a swim cap to preserve the color. Saltwater does strange things to dyed hair, often turning blue or purple hair green instead of fading it into a pastel.

You can prevent your hair from getting tangled in your mask strap or wetsuit by wearing a buff or diving hood. Make sure you have a neoprene mask strap cover for extra protection.

The best tangle-free hairstyles in the water

Ponytail with elastics

Space elastic bands all the way down the length of your ponytail. Be sure to fasten them tight.


Two pigtail braids with an hair ties on both the top and the bottom.

Photo: Amos Bar Zeev

Top knot or top buns

A great choice for divers to keep hair away from catching in their wetsuit, above the mask strap. Not a great choice for surfers/kitesurfers as it tends to unravel after a wipeout.

Photo: Jakob Owens

French braid framing the face

Frame your face with a small french braid to keep your hair away from your face. A great style for any sport. Pair the braid with any other hairstyle that pulls the hair back.

Photo: Brooke Cagle

If all else fails, why not get a pixie cut or bob? Short hair just might truly be the most mermaid-friendly hairstyle out there.

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