is salt water bad for your hair guy with snorkle in the middle of tropical sea
Written by
Morgan German

Going to the beach must be one of the most exciting activities in summer, which provides several health benefits for both the body and the mind. But when it comes to hair, though, the exercise might be a double-edged sword.

In this article, we'll go through the burning question - Is salt water bad for your hair?

EDITOR'S PICK:

What is seawater composed of?

Seawater is majorly composed of water together with 2,5 % - 3,5 % salt and smaller amounts of other substances.

Talking about the salt in sea water, it is much more complicated than you may think. It comes from diverse mineral deposits that are dissolved in seawater through the water cycle. Besides sodium and chloride ions, there are 92 other elements that are present to some extent (see Figure 1).

These ions are derived from various activities including the internal chemistry of the ocean, the dissolving of biological materials, sediments from the bottom of the sea, and the runoff from the land.

Salinity, or the amount of salt in seawater, varies depending on the specific location.

major constituents of sea salt water

Figure 1: Major constituents of salt water (Source: NASA Salinity)

How could seawater damage your hair?

Seawater has a high concentration of minerals and vitamins, which helps to detoxify the skin, reduce swelling, and treat wounds, among other things. However, it’s important to acknowledge the potentially harmful effects of salt water on your hair.

First of all, we should agree that average exposure won’t hurt. It is even beneficial if you take advantage of seawater properly. But constant saltiness combined with an increase in temperature during the summer may cause hair shedding or other types of hair damage.

Moisture-wicking

Your hair, like your skin, is soft, elastic, and moisturised due to its high water content. In that regard, hair can become dehydrated when too much moisture is lost.

With its high salt content, seawater can draw water out of your hair and scalp. Natural oils in your scalp could also be reduced thanks to the cleansing effect of saltwater.

You could notice that blow-drying your hair will take longer, or that curling or maintaining a style is challenging after you visit the beach. Being stripped of its natural oils and losing moisture, hair becomes dry, brittle, and more fragile.

Strand-twisting and frizzing

Moreover, saline water could disturb different bonding interactions inside hair strands and create additional cross-links inside our hair strands. Thus, beyond giving your hair a piece of its beach waves, salt water could impair your hair strength, eradicate its shine and smoothness. 

Hair-splitting

In its most extreme form, besides dandruff, salt water damage also causes hair to split at the ends and leads to breakage. These effects are even worse on dyed or processed hair. If your hair is colored, seawater damage not only gives it a rough texture but alters its color as well. So remember to take extra care of your dyed hair.

Without proper treatments, after several months of summer, your hair can turn lifeless, snarled, and harsh to the touch.

Why does salt water cause such damages?

Hair shafts swelling with water

Hair is permeable to water, implying that too much swimming can enhance water penetration into hair. If the hair cuticle is already damaged or over porous, repeated wetting may cause a negative impact on the hair shaft condition.

When being immersed in the sea, your hair shafts swell with water, given that the protecting effect of the cuticle is already inhibited by prior impairment. Its repeated expansion and contraction gradually weaken the hair. In addition, swimming could also hurt hair cuticles by friction with the water.

The osmosis effect

The process of moving water across a semipermeable membrane (a type of barrier that lets certain particles pass through while blocking others) to balance the solute concentrations between two areas is called osmosis.

When your hair submerges in seawater, there is a difference in the salt concentrations between the water within your hair and the salt water surrounding it. Thus, a reaction happens where water moves from an area of lower salt concentration (your hair) to an area of higher salt concentration (seawater).

In turn, this procedure removes moisture from the interior of your hair strand, leaving it dry and brittle. Furthermore, in the condition of lacking moisture, hair is more prone to flyaways, or in other words, frizzing.

The salt water osmosis process
Figure 2: The osmosis process (Credit: George Retseck)

Increasing hydrogen bonds and salt crystals

When you swim on the beach, the keratin protein becomes dehydrated. Such dehydrated environment enables molecules in seawater to enter the hair fiber, breaking up the hair’s preset hydrogen bonds and forming new ones.

Therefore, you will need more time to blow-dry your hair and any styling work is much more difficult after a visit to the beach.  

After swimming, the salt in seawater could leave behind hard crystals on your hair which further develop mechanical abrasion to the cuticle. You can notice the rougher hair surface and an unpleasant hair texture as a result of these crystals. Tangling increases as well when adjacent hairs are more prone to get caught together.

But that’s enough pessimism, let's talk about several benefits you could gain from swimming in the sea.

Anti-fungal shampoo

Salt water is an effective natural shampoo. Occasional wash in salt water can help you to get rid of excess heavy oils, thus preventing greasy hair. The result: fresh, clean scalp and hair. It is also known to add volume and eliminate dandruff from your hair.

Eco-friendly exfoliator

You get a free, natural exfoliation for your scalp through swimming in the sea. The mineral-rich saltwater crystals may function as an excellent exfoliant for your scalp, removing product buildup from hair roots and stimulating blood flow.

Natural nutrients and minerals

Seawater is rich in nutrients that your body needs. Magnesium, for example, is known to help strengthen your neural system and relax your muscles. Magnesium's calming effect is beneficial and has been linked to increased hair growth.

Beach top down picture with sand, road, sea salt water

How to protect your hair from salt water damage?

Well, we have discussed the pros and cons above, but obviously, beach-goers won’t be fond of the idea of sacrificing your unique experience in summer.

Don’t worry, we do have some tips you can follow, so you could have both your fun time and luscious locks.

  • Get your hair soaked up with fresh water before paddling out. Like a sponge, your hair will fully absorb moisture from freshwater, leaving less room for seawater. As a result, less damage from the saltiness of water!
  • Rinse the hair well immediately after exposure to the salt water to prevent the salt water from evaporating and leaving damaging salt crystals behind. Also, other nasty stuff such as sand, dirt, debris, and chemicals that are stuck in your hair can be removed.
  • Try using shampoo and conditioner that is super hydrating to reinvigorate your hair. You could also thoroughly moisturise your hair with a leave-in conditioner or natural oils.
  • Consider swim caps if possible. They are a great way to keep your hair away from the saltiness at the beach.

    Bonus sun tip:

    To help protect your scalp from UV radiation, use a protective hair cream with SPF to your hair. Another simple yet efficient method is to soak a Q-tip in broad-spectrum sunscreen and apply it directly on the section line.

    This should be done before heading to the beach to provide time for it to soak and offer total covering and protection.

    How can you treat hair damage from salt water?

    The good news is that you could leverage Scandinavian Biolabs' products for both hair growth and summer nourishment. Prime from scalp to strand with our 3-step Hair Growth Routine and experience:

    • Reinvigorating benefits of the unique formula of Bio-Pilixin®.
    • Conditioning dehydrated hair with high-performing naturally derived ingredients.
    • 150-Day Money Back Guarantee for all 3-step Hair Growth Routine customers who experience no result.
    Scandinavian Biolabs Hair Growth Routine For Men

    Is salt water bad for your hair?

    All in all, avoid submerging your hair in salt water for too long, moisturise it generously before and after taking the swim, and your hair will be safe throughout summer.

    Like everything else, it's good in moderation. While there are certain benefits to being exposed to salt water, there are specific steps mentioned above you can take to keep your hair from becoming dehydrated and brittle.

    Cosmetic businesses provide us beachx waves in a bottle during the winter, but now that summer vacation is here, we can enjoy the real deal on the beach. We look forward to you getting that picture-perfect mane ready for the beach.

    References

    https://biologydictionary.net/osmosis/

    https://salinity.oceansciences.org/science-salinity.htm

    Robbins CR, Chemical and Physical Behaviour of Human Hair (5th ed), 2012. DOI: 10.1007/978-3-642-25611-0.

    Chester, Jickells, Roy, Tim (2012). Marine Geochemistry. Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 978-1-118-34907-6.

    Tur E (ed): Environmental Factors in Skin Diseases. Curr Probl Dermatol. Basel, Karger, 2007, vol 35, pp 103–117.