What Happens When You Don’t Wash Your Hair After a Workout

What Happens When You Don’t Wash Your Hair After a Workout
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Ever come out of a particularly sweaty workout and debate whether or not you should wash your hair when you get home? Would it really be so bad to just let things air out for another day or two before shampooing again?

We weren’t completely sure if or how this might affect our overall scalp health, so we decided to do some investigating via our panel of hair experts.

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Meet the Experts

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  • Dr. Fatima Fahs is a board-certified dermatologist, practicing in Michigan. She graduated with honors as a MedStart scholar from Wayne State University with a Bachelor of Science in biology and a minor in art. She went on to attend Oakland University William Beaumont School on a full-ride scholarship, earning her medical doctorate. Dr. Fahs completed her medicine internship at Beaumont Hospital and her dermatology residency at Wayne State University, serving as Chief Resident in her final year.
  • Andrew Fitzsimons is a celebrity hairstylist based in Los Angeles whose clientele includes Bella Hadid, Madonna, Mariah Carey, Kim Kardashian, Kylie Jenner, Megan Fox, Joan Smalls and Shay Mitchell. He is also the founder of an eponymous haircare brand, Andrew Fitzsimons, sold exclusively at Ulta Beauty.
  • Bridgette Hill became a certified trichologist in 2016 but her journey to becoming “The Scalp Therapist” began over 20 years ago as an editorial stylist and a top colorist for some of the world’s most recognizable heads of hair. Trained and certified as a trichologist with the renowned David Kingsley, founder of the World Trichology Society.
  • Seamus McKernan is a hair stylist and color specialist with over 18 years of experience. He’s based in Chicago at Golden Fleece Salon, where he offers advanced razor cutting, precision cutting, balayage and specialty color. Seamus is also part of Nioxin’s Design Team.

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First, do we really need to wash our hair after every workout?

According to Dr. Fahs, we don’t necessarily need to wash our hair after every workout. “Some things that you should consider are the texture and type of hair you have and the type of workout you’re doing,” she says. “Coarser, curlier hair tends to not need as frequent washing as fine, straight hair does, and low impact exercises that result in minimal sweat like Pilates or strength training doesn’t necessitate a hair wash.”

Fitzsimons agrees and recommends trying to align your workout days with your wash days if you’re a heavy sweater. He adds, “And if you’re someone who works out daily, then I suggest skipping one day and washing every second day.”

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What are some signs that signal that it’s definitely time to wash your hair?

If you’re noticing your scalp is itchy or flaky, this is usually a sign that you need to up the frequency of hair washing. As Fahs explains, “Sweat buildup can lead to build up of dead skin cells, oils, debris on our scalp and hair. Our scalp skin is an extension of our facial skin, so skipping wash days too frequently can lead to bigger consequences such as inflammation around the hair follicle, which can ultimately contribute to hair loss or thinning over time.”

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What are the short- and long-term effects of not washing your hair after sweating?

“Sweat and oil build up in the scalp can contribute to a scalp condition called seborrheic dermatitis, where we see itching and flaking caused by an overgrowth of yeast (Malassezia) on the scalp, explains Fahs. “This yeast isn’t infectious, but too much of it can be a problem. For example, seborrheic dermatitis that starts on the scalp can also trickle down the face and affect the forehead (aka “fungal acne”) and also cause inflammation of the eyebrows and around the nostrils. Long standing, untreated seborrheic dermatitis can be a contributing cause of hair loss and hair breakage.”

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Do you have any tricks that can help manage sweaty strands after a workout?

McKernan recommends flipping your head over and using a blow-dryer on the cold setting to evaporate the sweat immediately after a workout. “The salt in your sweat acts almost like a texturizing salt spray, and by flipping your head over to blow-dry your hair, it will help increase volume,” he says. “Next, touch up the hair in front of your ears to help make your hair look extra fresh. Lastly, spray your roots with dry shampoo to help negate any excess oil that’s lingering.”

As for specific sweat-friendly styles, Fitzsimons like braids. “They’re a great for protecting your hair, while also giving your scalp some air when you exercise because of the way they’re parted. You can even add a treatment or serum to the ends for extra nourishment.”

For accessories, Hill is a proponent of using silk scarves as bandanas during your workout. “The scarf will help absorb perspiration from your hairline, while locking in moisture and keeping the hair fiber cuticle flat.” This helps retain smoothness on your strands and minimizes the need to use any heating tools to dry or style your hair after a workout.

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Is there anything you absolutely shouldn’t do to sweaty hair?

“I’ve seen women pull their wet hair into a bun right after working out, but the repetitive tension from elastic ponytails and clips can contribute to hair breakage over time. This is what we call mechanical breakage, which is damage caused because of some type of physical manipulation to the hair,” cautions Hill.

If you must pull your hair back after a workout, let it dry out first (or expedite things with a blow dryer on the cool setting) and use a silk scrunchie to secure it into a loose pony or bun.

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