As we step firmly into the summer months and begin to book out our calendars with staycation and holiday-worthy hair appointments, it can be easy to take a more relaxed approach when it comes to taking care of the health of our kinks and our curls.
However, as the weather heats up and we begin switching from chic cropped wigs and perfectly coiled twisted outs, for summer-proof knotless braids and styles, it’s important to remember to also protect our fro’s and scalps from some of summer’s less curl-friendly elements.
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Here are all the elements that can affect afro hair in the summer – from UV damage to dips in the pool – and some top tips from celebrity hairstylist Zateesha Barbour and award-winning trichologist Ebuni Ajiduah, for making sure your afro thrives throughout this summer.
UV damage and over-exposure to the sun
After just over a year in lockdown lavishing our locks with nourishing masks and trialling out DIY styles at home, the return back to some semblance of normality and sunny days can leave less time for afro TLC. In preparation for sunny days, filled with friends and long overdue laughter, it’s important to be mindful of the affects that summer fun has on your natural hair even whilst donning protective styles.
Dryness is common concern for many people with afro hair due in part to misinformation about hair porosity and needs, however as the sun begins to shine in all its glory, dryness can become less manageable and lead to breakage. According to Ajiduah: “UV rays from the sun can cause damage to the hair, due to the fact that sun exposure both lighten the colour and affects the proteins of the hair”.
Although research into the benefits and reduction of breakage when using products with UV protection on afro hair is still developing, Ajiduah advises that during the summer months, afro haired people – specifically when wearing styles like cornrows and braids, “to use a spf spray or wear hats/head coverings when in prolonged exposure.”
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Lightening of afro hair and scalp exposure to the sun is not the only form of damage to look out for during the summer explains, celebrity hairstylist Zateesha Barbour: “Like with all hair types, time spent in the sun can lighten afro hair, however this is especially true for chemically treated afro hair, whether that be coloured or straightened, any damage from the sun can also be exasperated by using heat tools.”
Barbour explains that “summer is a great time to opt for low/no heat when drying your natural hair but if your curls/coils are inadequately moisturised, even without added heat; the sun can leave you with dryness. So be mindful to keep on top of your deep conditioning routine and colour protecting products that also provide UV protection, to avoid colour fade”.
Chlorine and seawater
Despite what water sports world governing body, Fina’s decision to ban Soul Cap from the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, suggests volume-blessed black women and people do in fact love -and can- swim. Quick dips in salty waves and chlorine treated pools may be welcome breaks from humid heat, but navigating post swim haircare can sometimes feel like an unwelcome chore.
Trichologist Ebuni Ajiduah explains that along with the “drying effect on the hair and skin, chlorine exposure in the summer can also cause things like scalp irritation and in coloured hair, the copper in the water can affect the quality of the colour and alter it.” For best protection for your scalp and summer fro, Ajiduah suggests wearing your hair in “simple style like twists or plaits in order to prevent shrinkage, that easily allows for the hair to be washed or rinsed post swim to remove sea water and chemicals. The Soul Cap is a brilliant option for maximum protection – just be sure to use a small amount of leave in conditioner or oil to lightly coat the hair before putting it on”
For the days where a swimming cap doesn’t make the summer essentials list, hairstylist Zateesha Barbour recommends “pre-pooing” with shea butter or oil products in order to create a protective barrier. She goes on to explain, that “applying heat to the hair without washing out chlorine can actually result in excessive dryness and breakage.” A Cool dip in the seas however, she continues, “isn’t always a bad thing”; depending on your natural moisture levels in “healthy natural hair, sea water can add more texture and pattern in your hair – however people with sensitivities, should avoid full submersions in the sea.”
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Increased humidity and sweat
Hot and humid days may be a welcome change from grey skies and rain, however for kinky, coily and curled haired people it can also become an endless battle with shrinkage and unwanted fizz. However according to Barbour, sweat and moisture filled air does not have to become your summer foe if you’re mindful of the overall health and hydration of your afro hair. “I always say hair only absorbs atmospheric moisture when it does not have enough of its own” explains the celebrity stylist, “so making sure your hair has enough moisture is vital for a frizz free foundation before natural styling”. If the rise in temperature has made you long for silky straight strands, then Barbour suggests booking in a “keratin smoothing treatments. They are perfect for anyone who wants to wear their hair straight/smooth without worry of frizz.”
The good news is that humidity doesn’t cause any long term damage, however summer sweat has a little less of a straightforward effect on afro hair. “I jokingly tell my clients to stop working out during the summer – but of course that’s unrealistic, so in order to manage flaking, imbalances in moisture and bacterial issues, I normally suggest scalp balancing shampoos alongside regular treatments every fortnight to replenish moisture which can be done at home or in the salon,” explains Barbour. For braids/weaves, the hairstylist recommends using “no shampoo foams that can be used to cleanse the scalp and neutralise odours.”
For the ultimate post sweat shampoo trichologist Ebuni Ajiduah advises that you try to “remove as much moisture from the scalp using a microfibre towel or cloth after a sweaty period and start washing your hair more frequently than every 2 weeks, in order to counteract possible scalp issues”
Despite the breadth of knowledge at out fingertips and through numerous auntie fuelled hair phone trees, the best point of call to get specific advise for your afro hair concerns during the summer is from a professional trichologist or hairstylist who can help you to stave of dryness and chlorinated damage to your kinks.
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