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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.

The scientific evidence relating to the effect of saltwater on hair is sparse, however, it is clear that saltwater does have an effect on the hair as 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?

Oftentimes, seawater and the sun come hand in hand, and this is when damage to the hair can be easily done; the drying effect of the saltwater and the powerful UV rays of the sun, along with hot, dry air, can cause damage to the hair [1].

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?

There is a lack of scientific evidence confirming whether saltwater is beneficial for the hair, or whether it can cause hair damage.

Looking at the effects of saltwater on hair, it can pose both positive and negative effects, and as you will see throughout this article, the outcome of saltwater on the hair all depends on how it is used or interacted with.

When looking at the benefits of saltwater on the hair, it can create texture and volume, especially for those looking for those ‘beachy waves’, but when it comes to the damaging effects, saltwater can strip hair of its natural oils, create brittleness and even cause breakages.

When using any kind of saltwater, or going for a swim in the sea, it is important that exposure to the hair is limited and followed up with a good wash, and hydrating treatments.

What about seawater?

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 you can see below, the two most prominent minerals in seawater are chlorine and sodium. 

You might be imagining the strong-smelling chlorine present in swimming pools, but the chlorine content in seawater is different from the one in swimming pools. The chlorine in seawater is in the form of a chloride ion (Cl-), a component of table salt, and a non-harmful element; the chlorine content in swimming pools is a dissolved chlorine gas (Cl2) which is an aggressive chemical – you won’t find this in nature.

Chemical composition of ocean water

The effect of these minerals on the hair is unsupported by scientific evidence, however, it is important to note that for chlorine (Cl2) to have a negative effect on your hair, you would need to consistently use a swimming pool without washing your hair afterward. 

As for the effect of the salt in seawater, salt crystals can form in the hair when left unwashed and can cause damage such as brittleness.

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. 

Overexposure could be defined as consistently swimming in seawater without thoroughly washing your hair or using hydrating treatments afterward; it can also be defined as using too much salt hairstyling spray or using it too often, for example, multiple times a week.

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

UV light and heat

If you’re exposed to seawater, there is a good chance that your hair is also exposed to the harsh UV rays and the heat of the sun. 

The ‘weathering’ of hair can be caused by external forces, and the UV rays of the sun are one of these forces known to cause damage; this UV damage can be termed as hair aging by photo aggravation [2].

This hair aging can cause loss of hair colour, a rough texture, limited shine, brittleness, dryness, and reduced strength.

The heat from the sun also affects hair properties such as colour, luster, and strength [3]. 

When all of these damaging elements meet the effects of seawater on the hair, there is more chance of hair damage.

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.

Overlapping scale structures on the hair cuticle.
The hair cuticle, [4]

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 [5].

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 [5].

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 this can make your dry scalp prone to hair loss. So 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 at 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 the salt content in the spray can still affect the hair, causing dry and brittle hair.

If you are going to use salt hair spray, you should:

  • Use it in moderation- using it every day can strip your hair of its natural oils, causing dry hair 
  • Use in conjunction with hydrating products
  • Try to avoid the ends of the hair too much, as these can dry out quicker
  • Avoid frequent use of heat on the hair when also using salt spray to avoid hair damage and breakage

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.

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.

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 it 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 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 is also on-hand to answer any questions or concerns and is fully equipped for diagnosing underlying conditions.

Book your free consultation today.

Is Salt Water Good For Your Hair?, Wimpole Clinic

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