Beyond the Ponytail

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My relationship with my hair is much like my turbulent affair with exercise. Sometimes I love it, sometimes I hate it, and sometimes I just want to get it out of the way so I can do something else.

Taking care of your hair can be one more hassle if exercise is a part of your daily routine. Hair gets sweaty and messy during a workout. Even if your post-workout plans involve nothing more than your couch and Netflix, your hair will need some attention to keep it healthy. “Take care of your hair just like you take care of the rest of your body,” says Robert Eldred, a hair stylist for more than 30 years and owner of Salon U in Longview, Washington. “If your hair doesn’t look healthy, you won’t look healthy.”

So how do you exercise, take care of your hair, and still have time to do everything else you need to do? Try these hassle-free tips for healthy hair.


  • Don’t wash your hair every time you work out: “Your hair doesn’t get dirty when you exercise; it’s your scalp that gets dirty,” Eldred says. He recommends spritzing dry shampoo on your roots to absorb excess oil in between shampoos. This tip can be especially convenient at night—just apply to your roots and go to bed. In the morning you can brush out the dry shampoo or leave it in for a little extra volume.
  • Don’t use shampoo every time you wash your hair: You know those half-empty bottles of conditioner cluttering up your shower? Take a tip from Lorraine Massey's Curly Girl: The Handbook and put them to work: conditioner, just like shampoo, will remove dirt and oil from your hair—but washing with conditioner is much gentler on your follicles. The end result is healthier hair in less time than it takes to shampoo. Simply get your hair wet, apply some conditioner, and rinse. You can also find a range of conditioning washes or cleansing conditioners at your drugstore if you prefer to purchase a separate product.
  • Make post-workout hair work for you: A little sweat in your hair can actually make it easier to style: trendy updos or french braids are easier to create when your hair is not squeaky-clean.

During Your Workout

  • Moisturize and nourish your hair, especially in warm weather: Simply apply a light layer of conditioner to your hair while it’s dry. It’s best to do this before going outside. “The heat from the sun will help the conditioner soak into your hair, just like a heat mask would,” Eldred says. The conditioner will also prevent further damage from the sun—a good tip for when you’re sitting by the pool instead of swimming in it.
  • Protect your hair from the sun: Look for hair-styling products with UV protection to prevent that fried, dry look that comes from a lot of sun exposure. Or better yet, wear a hat. The Skin Cancer Foundation suggests wearing a wide-brimmed hat to protect not only your hair, but also your scalp, eyes, face, and neck. For the most protection, look for an opaque hat (one you can’t see through) with a three-inch brim. This stylish option will keep the sun out and cover up the hot mess underneath.
  • And protect it from chlorine: It goes without saying that chlorinated pool water and hair do not mix. Make sure to protect your locks with a properly fitting swim cap if swimming is your go-to exercise. No swimming cap? Saturating your hair with water before getting into the pool can help protect it. Chlorine-removing shampoos and sprays may help daily swimmers avoid the dreaded green-hair syndrome.
  • Avoid the ponytail bump: We’ve all gone the ponytail route. It’s a classic look that’s equally at home at work or at the gym. However, you may not want your workout ponytail to crease your hair so badly that you have to keep your ponytail in for the rest of the day. To keep your hair out of your face and preserve the style you started your day with, use a ribbon hair tie. Ribbon ties are gentler on your hair than elastic bands. In addition, if you’re wearing a ponytail, position it low and don’t wrap your hair tie too tightly.
  • Experiment with headbands or wraps: These hair accessories come in a wide variety of colors, patterns, and styles. If you haven’t worn a headband since the ’80s, check out some modern options at your local beauty supply shop or drugstore. From preppy to hippie, there’s an option for everyone. And positioned correctly, they can cover greasy roots after your workout.
  • Style your hair while you work out: One avid runner I know twists her hair up into a bun before heading out on a run. Afterward she simply lets the bun dry or gives it a couple of blasts with a hair dryer. The humidity and salt in your hair will give you a “beachy waves” style. A popular women’s magazine recently dedicated a full page to instructions for achieving this kind of “second-day hair” style, requiring several styling products and a diffuser. You can achieve the same tousled look for free, just by working up a sweat.

Sandra Smit, MPH, CHES, is a worksite wellness professional and health educator living in Portland, OR.


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