Swimming in the ocean provides a number of benefits to your physical and mental wellbeing. However for hair this is a double edged sword, as this highly depends on your hair type and current condition of your strands. Cosmetic manufacturers sell us beach-y waves – in a bottled form during wintertime, but with summer holidays upon us – we can get the real deal out on the actual beach. The impact of salt in sea water is not as black and white. While there are some benefits from sea water exposure, in order to protect your hair from dryness and brittleness, there are a few precautions you can take.
How the beachy waves are created
Seawater, aside from the actual water, contains Chloride, Sodium, Magnesium, Sulfate, Calcium and other constituents. While our hair is hair is comprised of keratin protein strands crosslinked (bound together into a three-dimensional network) via formation of covalent bonds between adjacent cysteine residues. Salt – sodium chloride and magnesium sulphate both present in seawater creates extra crosslinks within your hair creating the “waves” in the beach waves.
Con: Dehydration of hair
The salt is hygroscopic, therefore attracting more water to your hair forming more salt crystals, but this process wicks away the moisture from the inside of your hair strands – making it dry and brittle, as the reducing the crosslinks between cysteine bonds.
Con: Extreme dryness for for chemically treated hair
If you are using dye, bleach or if your hair structure has been chemically altered – seawater can worsen its condition. This is because your hair strands have already been stripped by the nutrients and crosslinks within your hair strands are artificially changed. The hygroscopic properties of salt water further wicks away much needed moisture from your hair
Pro: Extra body and fullness of hair
On the plus side, salt water crystals add the “body” to your hair but, beware as this makes them dry and lifting up the hair cuticle makes it susceptible to moisture loss.
Pro: Nutrients absorbed by your scalp
Sea water contains the nutrients that your body needs: for example magnesium has been known to strengthen your neurological systems and has calming effect. Magnesium is also absorbed well through your skin, making an ocean dip not only enjoyable but also – healthy.
Pro: Exfoliation and blood flow stimulant
The salt water crystals can serve as an excellent exfoliator for your scalp to remove product build up as well as to stimulate blood flow if you are to massage your scalp with the salt scrub. There are numerous benefits in stimulating blood flow in scalp.
Pro: Anti-fungal properties
The salt can help with the dandruff originated from a fungus as salt water has anti-fungal properties.
Pro: Natural shampoo and grease remover
If you have a greasy scalp, then sea water can help you to strip heavy oils and extra sebum. Sea water absorbs excess oils present on your tresses making them smooth.
The answer is therefore, two fold. To prevent your hair from drying as a result of exposure to the sea and ocean water – consider using a leave-in conditioner prior to walking onto the beach. This will coat your hair strands and prevent the salt wicking away the moisture from it. Alternatively, you can use grape seed oil to create the same effect, without the chemicals, including silicones, that your leave-in conditioner may contain.
What can you do?
As a post-beach DIY treatment you can massage your scalp with your fingers to use small salt crystals as natural exfoliator to your scalp, following up with a homemade honey and buttermilk mask, or a egg + avocado + olive oil mask.
Composition of Sea Water, http://images.peabody.yale.edu/publications/jmr/jmr03-02-04.pdf
Thirst, The Scientific American, https://www.jstor.org/stable/24943830?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents