Marc S. Schneider, M.D.
Let’s face it, keeping up with your gym routine can be hard – and harder yet when you have plans later and don’t want to ruin your look. The implications of gym hair care, gym hairstyles, and the necessary hair hacks so you can look great, can be a huge demotivator from working out, going for your run, or attending your class.
You have your goals and you’d like to stick to them, but you also want to enjoy life outside of the gym. Luckily, we’ve managed to pull together some tips from eSalon, a company who has won awards for for their line of custom hair color, that take the effort out of thinking and get you back in the gym!
Culprit #1: Overshowering
In order to come up with the best gym hair routine, it’s essential to understand what’s plaguing your look. Perhaps the most obvious culprit of unhealthy hair is over showering.
Although water is beneficial to almost every facet of human health, constant showering can strip your hair of its natural oils which work to keep your hair healthy and hydrated. To compensate for having its natural oils removed so frequently, your body produces more oil in the scalp which can be damaging to your roots and cause excess shedding. This problem is exacerbated by deep cleansing shampoos that feature surfactants.
Surfactants, more commonly known as “sulfates,” are mixtures of molecules that attract water and oil. Sulfates work to separate dirt and oil from the skin, allowing water to rinse it off of your body. This allows sulfates to be extremely effective as cleaning agents, but as far as your hair is concerned, a bit too effective.
Since sulfates attract and remove oil, they strip your hair of its natural oils even further; depriving hair of needed moisture. Shampoos with sulfates should also be avoided by those of us with color-treated hair, as the cleaning chemical can be too strong and can hasten the process of color dulling and fading. Additionally, sulfates may be too invasive for those with sensitive scalps and are even thought to contribute to types of irritation like redness, dryness, and itching.
As an avid gym goer, you’re probably going to want to wash your hair often. However, we generally recommend washing your hair a maximum of 2-3 times per week with a light sulfate-free shampoo. That being said, you should also take your hair type into consideration. If you have thick, oily hair, you may want to consider washing more often than someone with thin, dry hair.
Try to avoid hot water showers which dry out your scalp, leaving you with frizzy, brittle hair prone to breakage. If you simply cannot do without a hot shower (I know I’m guilty here), then try rinsing hair with lukewarm or cold water for 1-2 minutes before getting out of the shower.
Culprit #2: Sweat
Sweat – the same thing that lets everyone at the gym know you’re the next Lara Croft and you don’t care who knows it – is also another culprit of bad hair health. Sweat is a mix of water, salt, and protein. When you sweat too much, salt builds up and creates a layer of salt and water on your scalp, ultimately drying out your hair and making it more prone to breakage. Our scalps are susceptible to absorbing substances through the tiny pores that comprise it. When we sweat, salt can block these pores or even get absorbed. Hence, minimizing the damage caused by sweat is crucial to hair health.
If you’re struggling with excess sweat and oil in your hair post-workout, try using light sulfate-free shampoo. Dry shampoo is essentially oil-absorbing powder that can gently cleanse hair of grease and grime without the need for water. Dry shampoo is applied by spraying it onto the hair and scalp from about 6 or so inches away and combing it in for about 1-2 minutes.
For a workout-proof hairdo, try applying dry shampoo before your workout. The added texture will help hold your hair in style and prevent excess sweat and oil from building up. After your workout, dry shampoo can be used again, as it’s less invasive than typical shampoos and can help eliminate any remaining oil or sweat. We recommend spraying the roots before flipping your hair over and blow drying your roots on cool. Next, flip your hack back and do a final spritz of dry shampoo for added volume and texture.
Just be sure to avoid using dry shampoo on wet hair, as this will leave a cakey mess that is definitely not the most flattering look.
Culprit #3: Your Hairstyle
I hope I didn’t hurt any egos with this one. Yes, it’s true. Your favorite gym hairstyle may be hampering your hair health and post-workout look. It can be easy to throw your hair in the same ponytail or bun every workout before heading off to the gym. It’s fast, easy, and keeps the hair out of your face when it matters most. However, you should be warned that ponytails can be one of the most damaging hairstyles. This is due to the strain you put on your hair from elastic hair ties that pull on your hair too tightly, especially when you’re constantly pulling on the same sections of hair.
As someone who clearly takes their look and health seriously, you’re going to want to look into some less-invasive hairstyle alternatives. But we don’t recommend the same for everyone, as we are all unique in our own special ways! We realize everyone works out at varying levels of intensity and may be genetically inclined to sweat more or less. For this reason, we’ve decided to split up our solutions based on workout intensity.
If you didn’t sweat much from your workout and your hair doesn’t seem wet, it may not be necessary to wash your hair after. In this case, try sporting braids, a loose bun, or bantu knots which can easily transition into a flashy post-workout hairdo. These hairstyles have the added benefit of being able to fall into other looks with natural waves and curls.
Want to pick it up a notch? Have a long cardio sesh planned? Try a side braid or bun. Like a normal ponytail or bun, this will keep your hair off your face and neck, while also taking the pressure off of your usual areas.
If you cannot go without your beloved ponytail or bun, don’t fret! Be selective. Replace your elastic bands with thicker hair ties made with a fabricky material for a firm hold that’s easier on your hair. Try looser versions of your same favorite looks to minimize strain and reduce fraying and breakage. Avoid using the same style every day and switch between high and low ponytails or buns to even out pressure throughout your hair.
When you finally get around to that CrossFit class your friend was raving about or you’re pretty confident your workout will end in wet hair, try using a sweat-wicking headband or hair wrap. This will ensure your hair stays in place while allowing for some breathability for perspiration and heat to escape throughout your workout. Your hair should also be kept tied up until it’s fully dried, as loose, wet hair can be easily damaged.
Culprit #4: Malnutrition
Your hair, like the rest of your body, requires the proper nutrients to grow. A healthy diet with the right nutrients can grow stronger, shinier hair, that’s more resistant to hair loss.
“The irony: what many people think of as a healthy diet – that is, mainly consisting of fruit and vegetables, with minimal protein and calories – often doesn’t include all the elements needed for optimum hair growth.”
— Lisa Caddy, Trichologist at the London Trichological Clinic
To function most effectively, your cells require the proper balance of protein, complex carbohydrates, iron, vitamins, and minerals. This is why vegetarians and vegans should aim to supplement their diets with sources of complete proteins. Complete proteins are comprised of all essential amino acids needed for a healthy diet. Vegetarian and vegan diets may also be deficient in Vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid, which are needed for hair growth.
Essential fatty acids also play a role in hair health. You can find essential fatty acids in omega 3’s, which can be found in fish like salmon, tuna, and mackerel; nuts like walnuts and almonds; and omega 3 supplements.
There are so many reasons to make sure you’re eating a healthy diet, and your hair is as good a reason as any. Take care to monitor what you are putting into your body, especially if you experience hair loss or want to remediate breakage.
Ensure you are eating at least one serving of lean meat a day. Chicken, eggs, and fish are excellent sources and pair well with just about any meal! Alternative sources include nuts, yogurt, soy protein, or a whey protein supplement, to name a few.
Be wary of crash diets, as depletion of any number of essential nutrients can starve hair follicles, potentially resulting in hair loss. Additionally, your body will primarily direct nutrients to the most vital organs of your body to ensure your survival, and can only direct what’s left over to other parts of the body.
For this reason, we recommend a stable diet of fruits, veggies, grains, and lean meats, as well as using supplements to address deficiencies. Doing so will not only help you achieve your goals in the gym but help you look and feel great in the process!