It's not just an old wives' tale -- too much time in the pool really can change the color of your locks, especially if they're very light, Jessica Wu, M.D., author of Feed Your Face tells The Huffington Post.
But it's not due to the chlorine. Instead, it's likely because of copper lurking in pools where the chemical balance isn't quite right, according to WebMD. "The chlorine molecules get trapped in the hair and oxidize the metals found in trace amounts in the water," Jessica J. Krant, M.D., board-certified dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, writes to HuffPost in an email. "It's the oxidized copper that is actually the cause of the green color."
Chlorine can still damage hair, though. "The outer layers of the cuticle of the hair -- which are like shingles on a roof -- start to lift up," says Wu. "When the outer layers lift up, then [chlorinated] water can get into the center of the hair and make your hair more brittle." Swimmers may find their hair breaks more easily in the summer, especially if it's dyed or straightened, she says.
Luckily, there are a few simple ways to prevent the damage. The easiest can be done anywhere -- just rinse your hair under tap water before taking the plunge. "Plain water binds to the hair, making it harder for chlorine to get to it," says Wu. A leave-in conditioner will have a similar effect, and can be a good pre-pool option as well. A weekly hair mask can help repair the damage and seal the cuticle, she says.
The American Academy of Dermatology also recommends wearing a swim cap and washing with shampoo and conditioner specifically formulated for swimmers to replace lost moisture.
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We've all had those summer days when a daily shower just doesn't seem like enough. And yet we've also heard about how you don't need to -- and maybe shouldn't -- wash your hair all that often.
But during the summer, all bets are off. "I tell people you should wash more frequently in the summer," says Wu, and not just because of all the chlorine and salt water. "Those of us with long hair, it touches our back, and the sunscreen on our back and shoulders can come off onto the hair making it dirtier, faster." If you're noticing an oilier-than-usual scalp, feel free to lather up.
The same UV rays that damage your skin without proper protection can hurt your hair, too, says Wu. The sun breaks down the bonds that make the keratin of the hair strong, she explains, leading to weaker strands and fading color. Just like covering up your skin can help prevent sun damage, wearing a hat can help save your hair.
A number of hair products that boast UV protection may also work, as long as you're thorough in your application, she says. "Work it through like you're working in a conditioner so as many strands as possible are coated."
While you're protecting your hair from the sun, don't forget about your scalp. During skin exams, Wu notices "very striking" differences between the skin on patients' hair parts and the skin on the rest of their scalps. If you often wear your hair in the same position, be sure to use sunscreen on the part, she says. And if you pull your hair back in the summer, apply sunscreen all the way up to your hairline -- you may miss vulnerable skin that you're not usually exposing.
"Using shampoos and products with antioxidant ingredients such as soy, green tea or vitamin C can sometimes be helpful" in protecting "that part of you that's closest to the sun," writes Krant, who is also the founder of Art of Dermatology in New York City. And if you do happen to do a little damage, cover up as soon as possible to avoid further sun, then use cool water in the shower and normal sunburn soothers like aloe, she says.
Anyone with any wave or curl to her hair has spent her fair share of time fighting frizz. In the summer, thanks to the high temps and oppressive humidity, flyaway strands increase in size. "The generally smooth cuticle covering the shaft of healthy hair gets disrupted when the hair shaft absorbs moisture from the air, breaking some of the chemical bonds that keep the hair straight and roughing up the cuticle, taking away shine and smoothness," writes Krant.
If you're all too familiar, stay away from heavy products, says Wu, and look instead for an anti-frizz serum or spray. Krant recommends products with the moisturizer dimethicone -- silicone-based products can also help smooth down the cuticle, according to Ladies Home Journal.
UV rays aren't the only thing that can break summer strands. High temperatures can take their toll on the bonds that make hair strong as well, says Wu. While the temps won't be quite as high as the heat of your blow dryer, writes Krant, the heat can still suck the moisture out of your locks and lead to breakage. To ease the brittleness, Wu suggests a heavier treatment like Moroccan oil.
Keep in mind, however, that according to Krant, once hair is outside the scalp, what's done is done. "True damage can never really be reversed, only cosmetically improved until that part of the hair grows out and can be cut off," she writes. Products can "temporarily 'glue'" split ends back together, but "the best bet may be a little trim to freshen up," she writes.