• Health & Fitness

How to look after your hair when ocean swimming

Learn the pros and cons that ocean swimming has on your hair and 7 ways you can protect and look after your hair while ocean swimming.

Swimming in the saltwater has many benefits for your body and soul but one of the downsides to ocean swimming is that it can leave your hair quite dry and thirsty.

While you might get the perfect voluminous curls or mermaid hair after your morning ocean swim, you are often left with brushing through dry, knotty hair and sand flying everywhere later in the day when the post-swim honeymoon period is over. 

In this deep dive, we look into the pros and cons of saltwater in our hair and how you can protect your hair and still enjoy the ocean every day. 

Why does your hair get dry after swimming?

Let’s start with your hair cuticle, which is the outermost layer of a hair strand. It’s what protects your hair from damage and imparts shine. If looked at under the microscope you would see several scales sealed together to create a nice smooth protective layer over each hair strand.

When you go swimming in the ocean or a chlorinated pool the acid levels of the ocean or chemicals in a pool create damage to that smooth protective layer.

Then add in the harsh UV rays we get from that glorious sun, and combined they can leave your hair looking and feeling dry. 

Pros and cons of ocean swimming for your hair

As with anything, there are plenty of pros and cons so you’re going to have to weigh them up and decide what you feel is most beneficial for you. 


  • Saltwater can work as a natural exfoliator in turn helping thicken your hair
  • Opens up blocked pores and removes build-up from the scalp
  • Saltwater is thick in nutrients and vitamins which can be absorbed in the skin and scalp – these minerals such as magnesium, potassium and selenium support hair growth
  • Saltwater also gives the hair a deep clean removing any build-up such as greasiness, oils or products on the hair strands
  • Finally, that dry effect we get from being in the ocean is the same reason we get voluminous curls, mermaid style waves and frizz-free hair when we get out of the water once the salt in the water has crystalised.


  • Just like your skin gets dry after swimming in the saltwater, your hair also gets dehydrated. Seawater has a high salt concentration, these salt crystals wick away the moisture in your hair leaving it dehydrated and fragile 
  • Saltwater can also affect your hair if it is coloured or bleached. The saltwater can cause coloured hair to fade or change colour causing split ends and breakage (Expert tip: Leave at least two days after your visit to your hairdresser for a colour before you go for an ocean swim). 

How to look after your hair while ocean swimming

No one wants to give up their love of being in the ocean and swimming each morning just because it might leave their hair dry and knotty.

We’ve compiled a list of top tips from the experts on how to get the best out of the saltwater for your hair while enjoying your regular ocean swim. 

1. Rinse your hair with clean water before and after swimming

Your hair is like a sponge, it does a great job of absorbing anything that touches it. 

When your hair is dry it’ll harshly absorb any liquid that touches it, which means when you go ocean swimming it will suck up as much saltwater as it can.

I’m sure you’re thinking, how do I make my hair less absorbent? Well, that is easy, before you go for an ocean swim rinse your hair in freshwater for a couple of minutes. It’s as easy as jumping in a beach shower on your walk down to the water’s edge. 

By doing this your hair will become less absorbent in the saltwater, leaving your hair less knotty and dry after your ocean swim.

2. Use natural oils to add a protective layer before and after swimming

Being in any water whether that be salt water, fresh water or chlorinated water can strip the natural oils that protect your hair. 

It helps keep those natural oils nourishing your hair while lovingly enjoying the water. Apply natural products such as olive or coconut oil to your hair to add an extra layer of protection and keep your hair hydrated. 

Coconut oil is rich in fatty acids and can help moisturise your hair and scalp whereas olive oil is full of antioxidants and vitamins A and vitamins E which help to protect keratin (a protein naturally found in our hair that provides a protective shield around the hair follicle).

3. Never leave saltwater or pool water in your hair

Saltwater and chlorinated water can cause damage to your hair even once you’re out of the water. 

If you don’t wash your hair with fresh water after you finish your swim, the saltwater or chlorinated water can sit in your hair for the rest of the day and make your hair dry out and cracked. 

When you finish your swim, ensure you wash your hair thoroughly with fresh water even if you’re not shampooing or conditioning it that day. This will wash all the saltwater out of your hair and prevent it from drying out. 

4. Find a shampoo and conditioner made for swimmers

There are plenty of shampoo and conditioners out on the market these days that are tailored to swimmers.

Find a shampoo and conditioner that your hair likes and responds well to. You want a clarifying shampoo that will get rid of any extra salt or chlorine from your hair and a conditioner that is hydrating and will rehydrate your hair after being in the water. 

5. Ensure you have a good quality swimming cap to protect your hair when swimming

Putting oils, treatments and conditioners in your hair before you swim is great and will offer temporary protection but after being in the water for a while they will wash away.

Having a good swimming cap will provide a physical barrier to help protect your hair from salt water or chlorine water. In fact, sometimes a well-fitted swim cap will keep your hair dry throughout your entire swim!

6. Lather your hair with leave-in conditioner after swimming

Lathering your hair with a leave-in conditioner will help repel and defend your hair against the saltwater.

The conditioner will keep your hair soft and you will find fewer knots and tangles after you have finished swimming.

Leave in conditioner not only helps to detangle your hair pre and post ocean swim but it also helps with eliminating frizz, calming flyaways, smoothing bedhead, and reviving curls – all things we love too!

7. Pick a suitable hairstyle

No, we’re not suggesting getting a haircut but simply trying a hairstyle such as having it braided or putting it into a bun or ponytail so that it fits nice and snug under the protection of a swimming cap.

Using one of these protective hairstyles will help eliminate knots and tangles in your hair after your swim.

If you’re wanting to braid your hair, ensure you do it when your hair is dry because braiding your hair when it’s wet can sometimes cause more damage since your hair is fragile when wet.

  • Written by Ocean Swims on 14 March 2022
  • (Updated on 3 August 2023)

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