9 Tips for Working Out With Natural Hair

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For some, adding a workout to their daily routine is a piece of cake. But, if you’re like me (curly hair and all), it’s a battle to choose between exercising and maintaining my frizz-free locks. And I’m not alone. A 2014 study shows that 45 percent of Black women avoid exercising so they won’t mess up their natural hair. Yup, our worst enemy at the gym is sweat, and many of us (me included) choose to avoid it. However, there are tips and tricks to working out with natural hair so you don’t have to pick between the two any longer. Here’s what I’ve found.

1. Prep your hair before your workout

Before any workout, prep your hair to reduce the chance of dryness, frizz or breakage. Keep your natural hair damp and moisturized by focusing on your sweatiest points (aka edges, ends, etc). “The edges are the most fragile part of our hair and can be subject to damage and thinning from tight ponytails and pulling from protective styles,” said Jillian Manor, senior brand manager at Sunday II Sunday. “The Sunday II Sunday Edge Flourish is great for treating those delicate areas of your hair and scalp as part of your recovery.” Whether it’s your moisturizer, cream or oil, keep your natural hair prepared for any exercise routine. (And FYI, you can even get ahead of the game by doing this step the night before.)

2. Choose the right hairstyle

You can prevent the effects of sweat by trying out a workout hairstyle. The key is to keep your hair away from sweaty areas like your face and neck. If you’re doing a low-impact workout (and/or have wavy or curly hair), consider the pineapple look, a high messy bun or slicked-back style. If you’re doing an intense workout (and/or have thick, coily or long hair), consider a protective style like twists, cornrows or knotless braids. And if you’re rocking a silk-press or perm, do a high pony to keep any sweat at bay.

3. Use silk-based accessories

Any silk-based product is a heaven-sent for natural hair. A silk headband or scarf, in particular, can protect hair from any breakage or frizz while working out. Don’t wrap it too tightly, but do secure it enough around your head to create a barrier between your edges (or ends) and sweat. Also, add silk scrunchies to your collection to make any gym hairstyle comfortable and reduce tension in your hair.

Shop the accessories: Xtrend Edge Scarves ($7); Grace Eleyae Silk Turban Headband ($35); Hello Updo 3-pack Scrunchies ($38);

4. Swap your shampoo for a co-wash

“When most people start working out, they notice additional dryness in their scalp and hair,” Manor explained. “The salt content in sweat can dry out hair strands and add unwanted frizz to a wash and go, as well as create scalp dryness, which is why it’s important to remove sweat from the hair and scalp post-workout.” The solution? Swap your go-to shampoo for a co-wash instead. It’s a lightweight cleanser that still gets the job done while keeping your hair hydrated, versus shampoo, which can strip away your natural oils and make your strands drier. You’ll want to refrain from washing your hair every day—instead, stick to co-washing once or twice a week (basically in between your workouts). And considering adding a scalp massager to exfoliate your scalp and really remove any buildup.

Shop the cowash: Eden BodyWorks ($6); As I Am ($8); Aveda ($26)

5. Add a deep conditioner to your week

After a week of sweating it out, your hair needs some TLC. Once or twice a week use a deep conditioner to bring back some moisture and strengthen your strands. A co-wash is one thing, but a deep conditioner can really replenish dull, brittle hair.

Shop the deep conditioners: Mielle Babassu & Mint Deep Conditioner ($14);  TGIN Honey Miracle Hair Mask Deep Conditioner ($18); Briogeo Don’t Despair Repair Deep Conditioning Mask ($36)

6. Use a refresher

Whether you’re running or doing yoga, any physical activity is bound to make you sweat and dry out your hair. It’s crucial to refresh your scalp and hair after every session. “When sweat gets into your hair strands it raises the cuticle which causes frizz and that dry, brittle feeling in the hair. While your recovery days from your workout may include stretching or protein shakes, your hair needs recovery too,” said Manor. A refresher doesn’t only manage sweat intake but keeps your natural hair fresh before your next wash. Try creating your own (a mix of water, leave-in and an essential oil of choice) or invest in clarifying products (aka a leave-in, moisturizer or combo of the two). Manor recommends the Sunday II Sunday Root Refresher (with key ingredients like apple cider vinegar) to remove sweat and fight odor. Just a spritz all over, especially in the places you sweat the most and go on with the rest of your day.

Shop the refreshers: Carol’s Daughters ($12); Alikay Naturals ($13); Sunday II Sunday ($31)

7. Consider your climate

Natural hair gals know that warm climates (aka humidity central) are never on our side. Hot temperatures equal sweat, frizz and dry strands. If you can, try finding a cooler area to work out, or stick to working out at night when it’s cooler. You can also turn on a fan or air conditioning to try and keep your natural hair cool. However, if the heat is simply unavoidable, grab your blow dryer after you exercise and dry your hair on the coolest setting.

8. Stick to a schedule

A routine is a great way to maintain your natural hair, so align wash days with workout days. It’s all about looking at how many days, what time and how intense is your workout. These factors can determine how often you should wash your hair. A helpful tip is scheduling your wash days (especially the deep conditioning days) close or on the day of your most cardio-driven exercises. You’ll find when you stick to a schedule, your hair will benefit from staying moisturized and frizz-free all week long.

9. Stop choosing between the two

At the end of the day, it’s OK to sweat. Don’t let it stop you from working out. There are many benefits to exercising aside from staying healthy. Yes, it’s possible to do your favorite Zumba class and conserve your natural hair look. “We take care of our hair in so many other circumstances. We have wash days and protective style routines, and our workouts should be no different. Exercise is a form of self-care and maintaining your hair is too,” expressed Manor. It’s all about finding a balance and building a routine that works for you.

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Associate Editor, Ultimate Fangirl, Aspiring Beauty Guru

Chelsea Candelario is an Associate Editor at PureWow. She has been covering beauty, culture, fashion and entertainment for over a decade. You'll find her searching the internet...