Black Hair and Swimming: a Guide to Healthy Locks

Good hair care keeps your tresses healthy during swim season.
Stockbyte/Getty Images

Unfortunately, the history of black people and a healthy appreciation of swimming aren't closely associated with one another. Besides laws which prohibited black folk from enjoying community pools during the worst era of segregation, there was another issue that had nothing to do with legalities: hair. Men and boys could hop into a lake or the ocean with few worries, but women and girls often straightened their hair with hot combs and Marcel irons.

After the tedious work of straightening natural hair, who wanted to mess everything up by swimming?

Even advancements like relaxers didn't seem to help much. If you spent hours styling your hair or waited all day at a salon and paid someone to style it for you, ruining your 'do with a dip in the pool doesn't make a lot of sense.

Today, however, with the natural movement only growing larger, many women are shaking off their fear of water. There's no more running out of the rain and avoiding the pool at a pool party. You don't have to be natural to enjoy swimming, though, as this guide will show you. Yes, there will be more upkeep and maintenance if you swim regularly, but with some care and planning, everyone should be able to swim worry-free. Whether you take a dip every day or only on occasion during the summer, following a routine designed for swimmers will keep your locks healthy.

How to Keep Black Hair Healthy When Swimming

As with creating any hair regimen, identify the components you'll need.

These four factors are a must:

  • Shampooing/cleansingrot
  • Conditioning
  • Deep conditioning
  • Clarifying

Optionally, protein will be necessary if you have any chemical processes, including color.

Before You Swim

Swimming caps have come a long way, thank goodness! The old caps weren't exactly the most attractive accessory; plus, they usually didn't even do the job of keeping the hair dry.

Today's swim caps are much more varied and stylish. As for fit, it can still be hit-or-miss, and you can't always try on a cap to see if it's snug and secure before buying. Whether you wear a cap or not is entirely up to you; if it doesn't keep all water out, there's not much point in donning one.

If you choose to swim bare-headed, wet your hair completely before getting into the pool or ocean. Don't apply conditioner, only fresh tap water. This prevents your tresses from soaking up as much chlorine, other chemicals, and salt as they would if you dunked them completely dry.


When you're done swimming for the day, rinse your hair completely with clean water. You have to remove any salt or chemicals as soon as possible. If you swim often, shampooing after each swim won't be the best option; you don't want to dry your hair with excessive cleansing, so conditioner washing is a safe alternative. Focus on cleansing the scalp and make sure your locks are completely rinsed with clean water.

Conditioning/Deep Conditioning

Sun and chemicals are very drying to your mane, so conditioning after every swim is important. Depending on how often you swim, you may need to ramp up deep conditioning to as often as once or twice a week.

Look for conditioners that are typically recommended for black hair textures, i.e. moisturizing and designed for dry/damaged manes. Include leave-in conditioners after each cleansing/co-wash session for additional moisture, whether you prefer a liquid leave-in that keeps your tresses lightweight and bouncy or a creamier formula that coats your strands extremely well.


Even women who don't use clarifying shampoos any other time should use one during swimming season. You don't need to use these often, even if you swim frequently. Once a month is still the suggested time frame. These specialized cleansers remove buildup from products and chemicals that coat your hair while in a chlorinated pool.

Optional: Protein

If your hair is colored and/or relaxed, protein treatments are a must. It's best to maintain a routine so that emergency treatments aren't required.

Using products like ApHogee Keratin 2-Minute Reconstructor (buy on Amazon) or CHI Keratin Mist (buy on Amazon) a couple of times per month keeps your tresses strong. Even if your locks are all natural, applying occasional protein will help to maintain your hair's strength.

A Note on Styling

This applies to ladies with longer hair, so if your hair is short, consider yourself lucky in the maintenance department. Long, natural hair can easily become tangled when wet, so before hitting the water, twist or braid your tresses in several sections. It's not necessary, but it will make detangling an easier task when it's time to cleanse your mane after a day of fun in the sun.