Because knots are the *least* of your worries right now.
Every fall, winter, spring—okay, really any time of the year except summer—we look forward to summer. It’s a time to relax a little bit and take a little bit of well-deserved vacation (hello, pools, oceans, sunshine!).
But for your hair? "Summer environmental stresses can lead to hair cuticle damage that results in inflammation, protein loss, and oxidative stress on the hair fiber,” explains Shani Francis, MD, medical director of Ashira Dermatology and clinical assistant professor at the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine.
In short: June, July, and August can be seriously stressful for your strands. If you didn’t wear a swim cap all summer or coat your hair in SPF (we know you didn’t), there are fortunately ways to curb damage.
Heal your hair with this guide that tackle’s summer’s biggest threats.
1 Wind damage
Long boat rides might leave your hair looking like a rat’s nest. The reason? Big gusts can disrupt your hair fiber cuticles (think: a tornado on roof shingles), contributing to protein loss, says Dr. Francis. This fall, switch to a wide-toothed comb, suggests Amy McMichael, MD, chair of dermatology at Wake Forest Baptist Health in Winston-Salem, NC. “Brushing overworked hair too aggressively or too frequently can cause worse dryness and breakage.”
Invest in a protein-based conditioner treatment with ceramides, too, which help seal the cracks in the cuticle. We like L'Oréal Paris Elvive Total Repair 5 Repairing Shampoo.
2 The sun
You know to lather up in SPF, but we’re guessing your hair wasn't as protected as your skin all summer. The problem? "The sun dries hair, can lift color, damages over-processed hair, and depletes natural oils from the hair shaft,” says Brenna Clauson, a stylist at Green Tangerine Spa & Salon in Boston, Mass. In short, while you were sunbathing, UV rays were depleting your hair’s outer protective layer of oil and ultimately destroying lipids and proteins in your hair. Wearing a hat or coating your hair with coconut oil can help seal the cuticle from damage and filter UV before it reaches the fiber, says Francis (#NowYouKnow).
To undo the damage, pick up a super moisturizing shampoo and conditioner. Look for soothing ingredients like argan, coconut, or jojoba oils, says Dr. McMichael. Just use small amounts as they can sometimes be irritating to the scalp. We like Kiehl’s Smoothing Oil-Infused Shampoo ($18; nordstrom.com) and MoroccanOil Hydrating Shampoo ($23; nordstrom.com). Then, use a hydrating conditioning mask once a week, says Clauson. Our pick: Rahua Omega 9 Hair Mask.
3 Salt water
You know that crunchy, dried-out feeling your skin gets after a long, sweaty run or a dip in the ocean? Well, salt has a similar effect on your strands, damaging them by drying the hair shafts, says Dr. McMichael. "Once this happens, there is increased fragility and breakage with decrease shine and ability to style the hair."
Next summer, use a product like Oribe Run-Through Detangling Primer ($37; amazon.com) before hopping in the water to maintain moisture and help salt slip from the hair shaft, says Clauson. Now? Shampoos and conditioners with histidine can help chelate damaging minerals like copper in the hair shaft, says Dr. McMichael. (We like Herbal Essence bio:renew; $6 on target.com.)
Also: Deep, protein-based conditioners like Nexxus Emergencee Treatment for Damaged Hair (pictured) and acidic shampoos like Sojourn Shampoo Moisture ($28; amazon.com) with a pH between 4 and 5.5 can help acidify the hair cuticle to help lay those roof shingles down again, notes Dr. Francis. Because it’s tough to find out the acidity of shampoo (and many are higher than 5.5), he also suggests adding a cap-full of apple cider vinegar to your favorite shampoo to bring the pH down.
Didn’t wash off, stat, after swimming in the pool? You might have some buildup going on. “Chlorine damages hair directly by removing oils from the hair and also effects the hair by increasing copper levels, which causes protein damage and further oxidative damage to the hair shafts,” explains Dr. McMichael.
Moisturizing shampoos (we like Oribe The Cleanse Clarifying Shampoo; $44, amazon.com) and conditioners (try Pantene Charcoal Conditioner, pictured) with ingredients like histidine can neutralize copper.
Moisturizer can create a bit of a Goldilocks situation, though: "If there are too many moisturizers, the hair can be weighed down," says Dr. McMichael. "But others may need maximum moisturization with leave-in conditioners and coating agents for the hair shaft." Figuring out how much moisture you need can be a trial and error process, she notes. Start by using a moisturizing product for the type of hair you have and go from there.