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Is Salt Water Good For Your Hair?

As summer is approaching and warmer days are ahead, you may decide to take a trip to the beach, and while a swim in the ocean can be relaxing, you might be worried about the effects of submerging your hair in seawater. 

Of course, some hair products on the market directly contain salt water, however, these are created for the sole purpose of styling your hair, and so they do not answer the question: is salt water good for your hair?

This article will discuss whether salt water is actually good for your hair, the benefits of it, as well as the damage it can cause to your hair, and how to protect your locks from the effects of saltwater.

Table of Contents

Is saltwater good for your hair?

When people say ‘salt water’, they can either mean water containing salt or seawater. The difference between the two is that salt water is simply water with salt in it, while seawater contains other minerals as well as salt.

As you can see below, the two most prominent minerals in seawater are chlorine and sodium; these combine to form sodium chloride (salt), however, whether separate or together, these two minerals strip the hair of its natural oils and can cause hair breakages.

Breakdown of minerals in ocean water
Minerals in ocean water Credit: CK-12

How can saltwater damage your hair?

There are a few ways that salt water can cause damage to your hair, however, it is important to note that this damage is through overexposure to salt water. 

Don’t worry, a dip or swim in the ocean isn’t going to ruin your hair! 

Damage to the cuticle

Each hair strand is protected by something called a cuticle; through a microscope, this appears as overlapping scales around the hair strand. 

a hair cuticle close up
The hair cuticle [1]

The shape and position of the cuticle are responsible for hair texture and friction, and when outside forces interact with the cuticle, this can cause it to manipulate the hair strand. This is why the interaction of salt water or seawater with your hair produces that wavy or ‘beachy’ effect [2].

Unfortunately, saltwater doesn’t just give your hair that ‘mermaidy’ look as, when the cuticle suffers too much interference from the salt, it can actively lift the cuticle from the hair strand, wearing it down and causing breakage to the hair.

This is called ‘weathering’ of the cuticle, or ‘cuticle crack’, and is commonly seen when hair is affected by environmental factors [2].

Removing moisture

When your hair is submerged in saltwater or seawater, the salt concentration is different between the water in your hair and the water that it is submerged in. This is when a reaction called osmosis happens, which is when water is moved across a semipermeable membrane to balance solute concentrations. 

Is Salt Water Good For Your Hair?, Wimpole Clinic

In this situation, the water in the area of low salt concentration (your hair) moves to the area of high salt concentration (the salt water or seawater).

This means that the water which was creating moisture within your hair has now been drawn out by the seawater. A lack of moisture can create brittle hair as well as frizz.

Colour fading

Saltwater can also cause those with dyed hair to experience dry hair and colour fading quicker. This is because the chemicals in hair dye have already weakened the cuticle, so it is easier for the saltwater to have an effect on the hair. 

This is why it is important to take extra care of your dyed hair, especially if you are submerging it in salt water.

Scalp irritation

If your hair is stripped of moisture and its natural oils, this can also cause a dry scalp. A dry, flaky scalp can be irritating and tempting to scratch at, but you should try to keep your hair out of saltwater and moisturise your hair and scalp.

Is salt hair spray good for your hair?

There are various saltwater hairstyling sprays on the market, targeted for those who are looking for that ‘beachy wave’ effect, but the question is, are these sprays good for your hair?

First, we need to look at what these sprays consist of, as it is not just salt water. 

Many of these saltwater hairstyling sprays contain moisturising elements, such as Glycerin, so that hair does not dry out during use of the spray, and some even contain elements that protect the cuticle against the damaging effects of salt and maintain hair health, though not all include this.

Even if you do have a saltwater hairstyling spray that includes these ingredients, you shouldn’t overuse it, as some chemicals in these sprays can affect your hair’s health.

What about a saline solution?

When it comes to saline solution, which is what you are usually given to clean the transplanted area after a hair transplant, some people may think this is the same as salt water. A saline solution designed for aftercare contains around 0.9% salt content and has the direct purpose of preventing infection on the scalp. 

Saline solution is not the same as salt water, and will not harm your hair.

Is Salt Water Good For Your Hair?, Wimpole Clinic

Benefits of saltwater for your hair

Though we have spent quite a bit of time discussing the consequences of salt water when it comes to hair, there are actually some benefits to salt water exposure.

Adds texture and volume

This is a common one. Saltwater can add texture and volume to your hair, giving you natural-looking wavy hair.

If you’re looking to style your hair using salt water, you should not use salt water that you have concocted yourself, for example, simply adding salt to the water and spraying it on your hair, and you shouldn’t rely on a swim in the sea either. As we’ve established, this type of saltwater has no moisturising properties.

You should buy a hairstyling salt water spray from a trusted, reputable brand as this will include a moisturising agent to keep your hair healthy and avoid drying it out.

Anti-dandruff and grease

Saltwater can act as a natural shampoo. The very occasional wash in salty water can rid your hair of excess oils and dandruff, giving it a washed look and feel. 

Scalp exfoliator

As seawater is bursting with minerals, the crystals can exfoliate your scalp as you swim, stimulating blood flow and reducing any follicle buildup.

How to protect your hair from saltwater damage?

To protect your hair from the damaging effects that salt water can have, it is a good idea to utilise these tips.

  • Wet your hair before swimming in seawater– allowing your hair to absorb fresh water beforehand will leave less room for seawater to penetrate the strands

  • Rinse your hair after submerging in saltwater– this will prevent the salt water from evaporating into your hair strands, whilst also ensuring that no salt crystals are left behind

  • Moisturise your hair– you can do this by using a moisturising shampoo and conditioner. You could also try a leave-in conditioner

  • Consider using a swim cap– this is a great way to keep your hair away from the salty water or avoid overexposure

  • Use salt water spray in moderation– even the styling salt water spray should be used in moderation, and you should follow up with hydrating treatments where possible

Need hair advice?

If you’re looking for haircare advice, advice on hair transplant aftercare, or you have a question about hair restoration, our friendly team is here to help.

Our expert trichology team are also on-hand to answer any questions or concerns and are fully equipped for diagnosing underlying conditions.

Book your free consultation today.

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