How To Protect Your Hair From Sweat While Working Out

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November 3, 2020 - Updated September 12, 2023

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If you work out regularly, you know all about the many benefits of exercise. But establishing a consistent workout routine can also lead to an annoying downside: sweaty hair. Not to mention factoring in the extra time and effort required to wash or restyle your hair after your workout. Let’s be honest, we’ve ALL had days where we’ve rescheduled our workouts to better suit our hair washing schedule! 

If your workouts leave your hair sweaty, you might be wondering - how often should I wash my hair? Can all this sweat damage the health of my hair? And what can I do to look after my hair before, during and after my workouts?

The effects of sweat on your hair hold many women back from regular exercise — but there are a number of ways you can work out regularly while maintaining healthy locks. 

Is sweat bad for your hair?

When you work out, you’re inevitably going to get a build-up of sweat on your scalp (and the rest of your body). Sweat itself is not inherently damaging to your hair but what you do before, during and after your workout will impact your hair health.  

Damage can occur if you leave the sweat in your hair to dry after your workout. Sweat can dry on your scalp and potentially clog your hair follicles, as it can mix with bacteria and irritate or damage your scalp.

Happen to dye your hair? The high salt content can also impact your hair colour. Wet hair is also more prone to breakage, which means how you wear your hair while working out or how you style it post-workout can impact its health.

But the good news is there are a number of ways you can help to keep your hair in good shape while working out regularly.

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When sweaty hair becomes a barrier to exercise

For many women, how exercise and sweat affect your hair can lead to avoiding workouts.

Damage to your hairstyle 

If you straighten your hair frequently or use chemical straightening products, sweat might put you off your next workout. Getting your hair wet, including through sweat, can affect your hairstyle and make working out feel like a chore.

It’s also important to recognise how sweat can affect women in different ways, depending on their hair types. For many Black women, a quick wash and go just isn't an option. Black hairstyles can be time-consuming and costly to maintain and certain styles such as complex braids and extensions can also add extra weight to your scalp.

It's not surprising that choosing between a workout and a good hair day is a common dilemma for many Black women, with a 2019 qualitative study finding concerns around hair care and maintenance can be a significant barrier to exercising regularly for Black women.

Not having time to style your hair 

If sweat wreaks havoc on your hair and makes it frizzy or ruins your styling, not having the time to restyle it can often be a big deterrent to exercising.

If you have textured or curly hair, your considerations when it comes to haircare and exercise might be more complex. A 2013 survey from Wake Forest University School of Medicine in the US found 40% of Black women avoid exercise due to hair-related issues. 

Black women further experience “hair bias” — whereby one in five Black women feel pressure to keep their hair straight for work, according to a 2016 study by the Perception Institute in the US. This bias can even manifest as race-based hair discrimination, with the LDF advocating for The CROWN Act, a law which stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair” and the prohibition of hair discrimination.

The discriminatory challenges women might face due to their hair can mean that skipping a workout is a better option than the cost and time involved in maintaining straight hairstyles that are affected by sweat.

Washing your hair more often

Washing your hair often can not only be an inconvenience, but frequent hair washing can also contribute to dryness.  

If you work out every day you may be tempted to wash your hair after each workout, but excessive washing can cause damage — an unwanted side effect of otherwise beneficial regular workouts.

Find out more about how often you should be washing your hair.

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Before or mid-workout: Dos and don'ts

Inevitably, no matter what hair type you have, sweat is going to impact your hair health and style. But there are a number of ways you can protect your hair while also enjoying a sweaty workout.

Use dry shampoo — but always before your workout

Many women use dry shampoo after they exercise to mitigate greasiness and sweat. But if your workout was particularly sweaty, dry shampoo can actually make matters worse by sticking to the damp pieces of hair and making it cakey.  

That’s why it’s best to apply dry shampoo to your roots before your session when it’s still dry — this is a preventative measure that can help reduce the amount of sweat, while also preventing your hair from appearing greasy afterwards.

Spray it with treatment 

For women with curly or textured hair, spraying your hair and scalp with hair oils such as argan oil can help reduce post-workout frizz and reduce dryness.

Many Black women use treatments to moisturise their hair and prevent the salt in sweat from drying it out. You can also use a leave-in conditioning treatment or gel after your workout to restore moisture and help set your curls.

Use a towel, hair wrap or silk head scarf while working out

A hair wrap or workout headband can help minimise sweat build-up in your scalp and absorb sweat as you exercise. They also have the added benefit of keeping your hair off your face as you work out. Otherwise, keep a sweat towel handy to dry your face and hair.

Hair wraps are particularly helpful if you have curly or textured hair — they help keep your hairstyle in shape and reduce frizziness. Just be sure not to wrap or tie it too tightly on your head.

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Wear your hair in different ways

Another way to protect your hair is to change your hairstyle each time you work out. Try styling your hair in plaits or braids, a high or low pony, or using a headband, hair wrap or cap to keep hair off your face. This can help protect your hair from damage from getting wet and being worn in the same spot every day, and styles like braids can give your scalp more access to oxygen. Experiment with different styles and find what works best for you!

For women with textured or curly hair, wearing a protective hairstyle such as box braids or cornrows can help protect your hair, and even a gruelling workout won’t damage your hairstyle. You can also try wearing your hair in a pineapple ponytail style — which will keep your hair off your face and won’t ruin your curl pattern.

If you don’t have time to wash your hair and it’s looking greasy, a bun, ponytail or braids are all great options until your next wash.

Use the right hair ties

Sweat isn’t the only culprit when it comes to hair damage. If you’re working out and want to tie your hair back, be sure to use a hair tie that doesn’t have a metal fastening as these can cause snags and breakage. Opt for a snag-free elastic like a scrunchie, a spiral hair coil, or choose a hair tie that doesn’t have metal.

Schedule your workout around your hair

If taking the time to style your hair is important to you, another effective (but sometimes a little tricky) way to protect your hair is to schedule your workouts around your hair.  

This might mean scheduling your workouts for the evening (rather than in the morning before work) or leaving plenty of time after your workout to style your hair before your day begins. If you work from home some days, you could even leave your sweaty workouts for those days!

Use a UVA/UVB protecting treatment if exercising outside

Did you know the sun can also have an impact on hair health? While the focus with sun protection is often on the skin, it’s important to remember your hair also needs protection too.

If you work out outside, be sure to apply sun protection before you start your session. A cap can protect both your hair, scalp and face from the sun, too.

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Post-workout: Dos and don'ts

There are a couple of things you should and shouldn’t do after working out to help protect your hair health and style in the long run.

Do brush your hair after a workout 

Brushing your hair after working out while it's still sweaty can help prevent the sweat from remaining clogged at your roots and scalp. This can distribute the oils more evenly from roots to ends and allow your scalp to breathe. Just remember to be gentle as wet hair can break easier.

Don’t wash your hair every time

While washing sweat out of your hair is not a bad idea, if you’re working out every day it’s best to avoid a daily hair wash. Try brushing your hair out after and applying dry shampoo before your workout instead. If you find your scalp is still super sweaty, try opting for a quick rinse of just your roots instead of a full wash.

If you do choose to wash your hair after a workout, make sure to dry it completely before tying it up — tying up wet hair can also cause breakages.

Don’t use the gym shampoo 

When washing your hair after the gym, make sure you use a good quality shampoo instead of the shampoo provided by your gym. There’s a reason hairdressers recommend salon-quality products - the quality of your shampoo and conditioner has an impact on your hair health.

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Haircare and your overall health

It’s still important to do what is going to be most comfortable for YOU when you work out. Braids or a high pony can be amazing options for some people, but leave others with a headache, sore scalp or breakages. You might need a little bit of experimentation to find what works best.

Remember, looking after your health and your hair is also not just about what you do while you're training. 

Ensuring you eat a balanced diet, stay hydrated, prioritise sleep, look after your mental health and make time for rest are all equally important when it comes to being healthy, and looking after your hair and skin. 

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A more empowered you starts with Sweat, and our editorial team is here to bring you the latest fitness tips, trainer recommendations, wellbeing news, nutritional advice, nourishing recipes and free workouts.

* Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. The above information should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet, sleep methods, daily activity, or fitness routine. Sweat assumes no responsibility for any personal injury or damage sustained by any recommendations, opinions, or advice given in this article.


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