Words: Daniela Morosini
From natural highlights to that salty, surf’s up beachy texture, the eternal allure of achieving summer holiday hair can be harder to resist than Gucci’s vintage-inspired logo T-shirt. And yet, in our annual rush for sun-kissed locks, the majority of us are guilty of becoming lax with our haircare regime, as well as ignoring the sun protection we so diligently apply to the rest of our bodies.
While your hair won’t show instant signs of sun overexposure like your skin does (hello, painful lobster burn), that doesn’t mean it’s not suffering. So there’s no better time for haircare companies to pillage skincare for inspiration, launching pioneering products that borrow innovative ingredients and high-tech formulas from cleansers, exfoliators, sun protection and anti-ageing moisturisers.
“Sunlight degrades the fibres of our hair,” explains trichologist Iain Sallis. “Human hair is made from approximately 18 different amino acids, and some of these are highly sensitive to UV light. The more light it’s exposed to, the weaker and duller it becomes.”
And it’s not just harsh sunlight. As any seasoned swimmer will tell you, taking a dip in chlorinated water can leave your hair brittle and tangled at the best of times, and positively Kermit green at worst.
And while salt and sand might give you cool-girl texture for a day, it’ll turn into a matted mess come evening, and something of a bird’s nest by the beginning of September. The building blocks of your hair mean that when the mercury rises, it needs an altogether different kind of TLC in order to keep it healthy for summer and beyond.
“Your hair is hygroscopic, which means its moisture content alters depending on the environment it’s in,” adds Sallis. “With increased heat and humidity, you’ll be working with a very different hair texture.”
From sea spray overload to badly scorched scalps, there’s a skincare inspired product to add to your warm weather haircare arsenal…
While many of us covet beachy texture, sea spray isn’t the kindest to your hair. The dehydrating effects of salt – both from the ocean and from chlorine salts in the pool – can leave it dry and your scalp congested.
Originally developed to help balance the effects of hard water on skin, micellar technology has now found a new home in haircare. Pantene Pro-V Micellar Cleanse & Nourish Shampoo (£2.99, above left) uses the same mechanism found in mascara dissolving micellar water to gently cleanse parched strands.
Micelles are negatively charged, and so attract positively charged dirt and oil, pulling them away from the hair like a magnet. Furthermore, the large particles work on the surface without disrupting the fibre of the hair – it’s the haircare equivalent of dry cleaning your cashmere sweater rather than throwing it in a boil wash.
Alternatively, try Christophe Robin’s Cleansing Volumising Paste (£42.50, above right). Don’t be fooled by the name – it is a shampoo, and one with a satisfying amount of foam at that. Using rassoul clay, it works like blotting paper to mop up salt and chlorine while preserving the protective hair cuticle.
And as a preventative measure, wet your hair before you swan dive into the water. Your hair will absorb less chlorine or salt if it’s already wet and this is especially true if you have thick hair.
“Thicker hair can retain more water than fine hair, so super salty water can stay in there for a long time and do more damage,” notes Sallis.
The secret to healthy hair begins with a healthy scalp. It’s true all year round, but none more so than in the summer thanks to sun-exposed partings and increased sweat production. Like the proverbial house built on the sand, strong hair can’t spring from a scalp that’s weakened and damaged.
Deep, effective cleansing of your scalp will help encourage cell turnover and, in turn, happier and more rejuvenated hair. But lathering up in the shower and hoping for the best simply won’t cut it – you need to bring in some specialist kit. In the same way you’d tackle a dull complexion, there’s no better way to remove debris from your scalp and return to a clean slate than through exfoliation and massage.
Consider Aveda’s Pramasana Exfoliating Scalp Brush (£16.50, above right). The specially looped nylon bristles loosen impurities and stimulate micro-circulation without tangling the hair. Just a few minutes on dry hair before washing should do the trick.
Or, try Redken’s Diamond Oil Glow Dry Gloss Scrub (£17, above left). Using finely milled argan shells, this pre-shower scrub gently sloughs away sand, salt and excess sebum from the scalp as well as product build-up from the lengths. Not only does it make hair smoother and more manageable (it’s the most effective hair detangler we’ve tried), but like polishing your finest silverware, it buffs each hair shaft revealing a surface that is shinier than ever.
When it comes to sun protection, as with your skin, covering up is key. “It’s not necessarily the heat that causes damage – your hair can withstand up to 180 degrees before the keratin is damaged – it’s the UV rays,” explains Sallis.
However, a Sia-esque hat/wig ensemble is only one (if vaguely impractical) line of defence.
“The darker your hair is naturally, the better its inbuilt protection against sunlight,” he adds. “That said, the scalp is incredibly prone to sun damage, so it still needs sunscreen. If you have natural Afro hair, its unique properties of no parting or crown, deep pigmentation and helix shape will make it harder for rays to penetrate, but if you wear your hair in braids, or any style that exposes the scalp, protection is key.”
But it’s not just burning to worry about – your balayage is at risk, too. “The molecules in your hair break down under the sun’s light, which means your colour will fade faster,” warns Brooke Bohan, colour director at FOUR London.
“The stronger the sun, the faster the fade. Look for products with UV filters, vitamin E and buriti oil which is full of beta-carotene, a natural sunscreen of sorts.”
Try Ultrasun’s Daily UV Protector (£24, above left), which combines an innovative, skincare-inspired antioxidant complex to fight free radicals as well as UV filters to protect against damage and fading.
For poolside protection opt for Philip Kingsley’s Swimcap (£15, above right), a nourishing barrier cream formulated for Olympic swimmers that shields against chlorine, salt water and UV rays.
Two weeks of snorkelling in the Caribbean Sea might result in toned legs, but it’ll leave your hair brittle.
As Sallis explains, “For the same reason that you’d die of dehydration drinking just sea water, it’ll also really dry out your hair. Salt water takes out more moisture than it lets in.”
The risks of dehydration are even higher for Afro hair, as Charlotte Mensah, who’s twice been crowned British Afro Hairdresser of The Year, points out.
“Natural and super curly hair types are so much more susceptible to dryness and split ends in the sun or after swimming. If you have Afro hair, make sure to wet it with tap water and apply a thick barrier such as shea butter before swimming or hitting the beach.
“If your curls are looser, do the same but with a lighter barrier, such as my Manketti Oil (£42, above left). If you have braids or locs, mix some Manketti Oil with tap water which you can spray into your hair as a leave-in conditioner.”
If you have Caucasian or Asian hair, a deeply hydrating mask like Rossano Ferretti’s Vita Rejuvenating Hair Mask (£62, above right) should do the trick. Taking its cue from anti-ageing skincare, the post-shampoo mask uses essential fatty acids and proteins to rebuild the inner shaft of the hair and boost depleted moisture levels. After a day on the beach, apply around three inches from the scalp right down to the tip and comb through. Leave on for 10 minutes before rinsing thoroughly.
Images: Alessia Armenise / iStock