Hair Rehab: 5 Ways to Repair Post-Summer Damage

From chlorine and saltwater to intense sun, summer can take its toll on your hair. Find out how to reverse the damage with these proven solutions for silky-soft hair!

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If you’ve noticed your locks have lost some of their luster, there’s a good chance the long days of summer fun may be to blame. From sun exposure causing color to fade to chlorine and saltwater transforming healthy tresses into a dull, brittle mess, we’ve got you covered with proven solutions to get your hair back on the right track. Consider this your intervention for summer hair rehab!

Pool-Party Hair Gone Bad

Chlorine is known for leaving hair dry and dull, and for blondes, there’s also the chance that time spent in the pool may turn your hair green! A swim cap can help significantly in protecting your hair from chlorine, but let’s face it, most of us aren’t willing to go to that length … at least not in public.

The alternative solution? After being in the pool, make a beeline to the shower and wash your hair immediately, or at the very least rinse your hair thoroughly with tap water. Follow up with a good leave-in conditioner or a silicone-rich serum to restore moisture and shine.

What about that green hair issue? As it turns out, it isn’t actually caused by the chlorine in the water, rather it’s the combination of the chlorine and the minerals in the water (Ultrastructural Pathology, 1995). Chemistry expert Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D., explains: “Oxidized metals in the water bind to the protein in the hair shaft and deposit their color. The metal that produces the green tint is copper. The bleach [chlorine] that is added to a pool may be responsible for oxidizing the metal, but it’s not the cause of the color.”

So, what should you do if your hair turns green after a swim? Simple: Use a shampoo labeled “clarifying” to chelate (bind with) the metallic elements, allowing them to be rinsed away, and taking the green tint with it!

(Brittle) Beachy Waves

True to its name, saltwater contains salt along with other minerals (like chloride and magnesium), which can rough up the cuticle layer and cause the hair shaft to swell and feel dry.

To minimize the damage from exposure to saltwater, wash your hair with a gentle shampoo as soon as you get home. Try one with a cushiony lather, like Paula’s Choice All Over Hair & Body Shampoo.

It’s crucial to avoid letting saltwater-drenched hair dry naturally in sunlight because it puts the already-weakened hair at risk for a double dose of damage. Speaking of which …

Sun-Bleached Tresses

Too much sun exposure can be nearly as bad for hair as it is for skin! When sunlight hits hair, it immediately begins breaking down hair’s protective cuticle layer. Think of this layer like shingles on a roof; what happens when the shingles degrade? Your roof lets unwanted substances (like water) in, and damage occurs.

As the sun exposure breaks down hair’s cuticle layer, it exposes the delicate inner portion of the hair, which is even more vulnerable to damage, including color loss (Collegium Antropologicum, October 2008). Such damage is especially noticeable in the case of dyed hair—in particular, reds tend to lose their vibrancy and rich brunette tresses can turn utterly drab.

A hat is probably sounding pretty good right about now, and that’s certainly a smart option for days when you’ll be outdoors for an extended period of time; on the other hand, we realize that not everyone is a hat person, nor is it convenient for all situations. Thankfully, research has shown that using leave-on products with silicones (such as dimethicone or trimethylsiloxysilicate) can help limit the fading of hair dye due to sun exposure (Journal of Cosmetic Science, 2004). So, by all means, slick a silicone serum or spray through your hair before hitting the beach.

What about SPF-Enhanced Hair Care?

Repeated, ongoing sun exposure will gradually weaken your hair (Journal of Cosmetic Science, April 2008), allowing it to break more easily and leading to a change in texture from silky-smooth to dry and rough. Overall, hair becomes dry, frizzy, and generally a lot less manageable from the cascade of damage.

To combat this damage, some haircare products claim to contain UV filters, but there is no reliable way to measure how much sun protection they provide because the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not permit SPF rating for hair products. While it’s likely they provide some protection, the bigger question remains: How long will they really hold up with all that hair goes through?

What can you do instead? Try misting your hair with an alcohol-based spray-on sunscreen rated SPF 25 or greater. Although it’s true that alcohol isn’t the best for hair, it evaporates quickly and keeps the active sunscreen ingredients from weighing hair down. Do this as the last step once your hair is styled, just like applying hairspray, and reapply throughout the day when you know you’ll be in the sun for long periods.

DIY Hair Rehab Treatments: DO or DON’T?

If you’ve dropped by Pinterest lately or skimmed through a beauty magazine, you’ve likely seen your fair share of DIY hair tips telling you to drench your locks in all kinds of food ingredients, including mayo, avocado, eggs, yogurt, and honey. While some of these can help moisturize hair to a minor degree, they don’t hold a candle to the types of ingredients that are used in even the most basic haircare formulas today in terms of softening and smoothing dry/damaged hair. Factor in the unpleasant aroma (do you really want your hair to smell like mayo?) + messy application and it’s easy to see why you’re better off sticking to conditioning treatments from the drugstore.

That said, we understand that sometimes it’s fun to try something “outside the box,” so if you’re keen to try a DIY hair treatment, opt for coconut oil. Not only is it rich in fatty acids to moisturize and help smooth damaged hair, it’s also less difficult to work with than other food-related hair treatments—plus it smells a whole lot better!

Apply the coconut oil to dry hair, but only to the ends (avoid getting it any closer to your scalp or on the roots, as it will look really greasy). Leave it on overnight (the longer it is in contact with hair, the better to soften and add shine) and put a towel over your pillow to avoid staining. In the morning, wash with your normal shampoo and conditioner, and voilà, you’re on your way to softer, smoother, shinier hair!

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