How to Protect Your Hair at the Beach This Summer

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How to Protect Your Hair at the Beach This Summer
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Photo: Getty Images/Allison Kahler

The beach isn’t a place for work. It’s all about leisure, lying out in the sun, and forgetting that you have responsibilities to attend to, even if for just a few hours. However, that sense of relaxation can be completely destroyed the moment you realize your hair is a fried and dry mess afterward.

For as long as we can remember, the only “beach hair” we saw in magazines was long, blonde, and wavy. The idea was more about a look and less about protection. Thankfully, we’re moving past rigid beauty standards and have begun using the term as code for healthy summer strands. Ahead, three experts break down everything you need to know about protecting your hair from the sun rays this summer.

MORE: The SPF-Infused Setting Sprays and Powder That Pinch-Hit When You Forget Sunscreen

Understanding Sun Damage

Before styling your hair with a sea salt spray or texturizer, it’s important to know why it also needs the same level of sun protection as your skin. Quick science lesson: A single hair strand is made up of three layers. The protective outermost layer is the cuticle. The thicker, central layer that contains the hair’s pigment and protein is the cortex, and the fragile innermost layer is the medulla.

According to Taliah Waajid, founder of Taliah Waajid Hair Care, some level of sun damage has likely already occurred because of how that top layer is disturbed by daily manipulation. And once that top layer is opened up, the other two are fully exposed and vulnerable because the stuff they’re made of just isn’t as strong.

“Since the cuticle is made up of overlapping shingles, a lack of sun protection combined with wear and tear on the hair (such as normal combing, styling, and manipulation) can cause the shingles to stand up,” she says, “thus exposing the cortex to UV rays, which can dull and dehydrate the hair.”

How to Protect Hair at the Beach

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What typically results is discoloration, brittleness, and an overall change in the feel and texture of the hair. And if you don’t prep your hair with even more protection before exposing it to direct sunlight, you’re setting your strands up for irreversible damage. Beyond that, if you’re spending a lot of time in the water, its naturally high salt content is also extremely drying .

“Even though it can give you a great ‘beachy hair’ look with a lot of texture and wave, it exposes hair to potential damage and breakage when brushing,” says celebrity hairstylist Birgitte Philippides. “It can make the hair very raw and exposed to the elements.” Dunking your hair in ocean water shouldn’t be confused, however, with a saltwater spray, which when applied sparingly, can actually benefit the hair (more on this later).

MORE: Everything You Should Know About the Beauty Benefits of Castor Oil

Pre- and Post-Treatment

So now that we’ve established “beachy hair” is really just code for “sun-protected hair,” let’s talk about all that needs to be done before, during, and after you hit the sand. First, prepping truly begins with your year-round daily routine.

One of the many cool things our scalp naturally does, according to Jana Blankenship, founder of hair-care brand Captain Blankenship, is produce oil (or “sebum”) that provides a small amount of built-in sun protection. So it’s up to us to protect that process by supplying our hair and scalp with day-to-day moisture. How you decide to exactly do that will depend on your texture and lifestyle. For instance, “if your hair is color-treated or tends toward dryness, it is best to use a protective oil before jumping in the ocean,” she says.

Waajid recommends a leave-in conditioner for those with textured or natural hair or a lighter oil, such as Protective Styles Bamboo and Coconut Milk Growth Oil or Curls, Waves & Natural PhenomonOil-14. If your hair protectant has SPF built-in, even better! Otherwise, you should top your treatment with a sunscreen spray, too.

How to Protect Hair at the Beach

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Once you’re on the beach, it’s OK to let an oil or leave-in sit in your hair, but be wary of sunbathing for an extended period of time. “Just as you would not sit under a dryer all day while conditioning, you should not spend all day in the sun while conditioning,” Waajid says.

If you plan on sitting in one spot for a while, throw on a hat or scarf, too. Philippides says you can also fashion your hair into a bun, braid, or other protective style to prevent tangling and lock in the moisture from whatever product you’re using.

At the end of the day, remove salt spray and/or other products by shampooing and conditioning immediately. And if your hair feels especially dry, throw a deep-conditioning mask in there, too.

MORE: The 10 Best Sea Salt Sprays for So-Pretty Beachy Waves

Sea Salt Sprays

Sea salt sprays and the beach go together like peanut butter and jelly, but are they actually a healthy choice for our hair? The short answer is yes, but in moderation. Generally speaking, when massaged into the scalp, sea salt can promote blood circulation, which wakes up the hair follicle, thus promoting slightly faster growth. It also does a killer job of soaking up excess oil and warding off dandruff.

When formulated into a spray, it’s usually combined with a hydrating ingredient, such as aloe or an essential oil, so it can provide texture without drying the hair out. Whether it’s applied to damp or dry strands really depends on personal preference, but going overboard will dry out the hair just as beach water would. And if it’s layered with too many other products, it’ll weigh your hair down with build-up.

How to Protect Hair on the Beach

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It’s also not the best option for adding definition to natural hair. “Sea salt spray works best on wavier as opposed to curlier hair. The use of sea salt spray on curlier or textured hair should be limited, due to its high possibility of drying this hair type,” says Waajid. “If used on curlier hair textures, look for a sea salt spray that contains a high percentage of moisturizing or conditioning agents.” If you’re wearing a leave-in to the beach, remember that the sea salt spray should be applied after and rinsed out before you shampoo later on.

And be sure to check out these beachy hair products—both sea salt and otherwise—that’ll bring you one step closer to that effortless, beachside ’do you’ll be working on this summer.

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STYLECASTER | Best Products for Beach Waves | Drybar Mai Tai Spritzer Sea Salt Spray
Drybar Mai Tai Spritzer Sea Salt Spray

Made with natural sea salt, algae, and aloe, this texturizing spray adds texture without depleting your hair's moisture levels.

$25 at Drybar

Photo: Drybar
STYLECASTER | Best Products for Beach Waves | Herbivore Botanicals Sea Mist Coconut + Sea Salt Beach Wave Hair Mist
Herbivore Botanicals Sea Mist Coconut + Sea Salt Beach Wave Hair Mist

Sea salt combined with coconut oil make this an ideal texturizer that can be used on the hair to add volume and on the skin for hydration.

$20 at Herbivore Botanicals

Photo: Herbivore Botanicals
STYLECASTER | Best Products for Beach Waves | Ouidad Wave Create Sea Spray
Ouidad Wave Create Sea Spray

This texturizer is enhanced with natural seawater, seawater crystals, plant-derived humectants, and algae to nourish curls as they form.

$26 at Sephora

Photo: Ouidad
STYLECASTER | Best Products for Beach Waves | Rahua Enchanted Island Salt Spray
Rahua Enchanted Island Salt Spray

Prepare to fall in love with the passion fruit scent of this pink sea salt spray that provides a light hold as it creates texture on flat hair.

$32 at Rahua

Photo: Rahua
STYLECASTER | Best Products for Beach Waves | Bumble and bumble Surf Infusion
Bumble and bumble Surf Infusion

This salt spray is also infused with coconut and mango seed oil and UV inhibitors, so you get sun protection and the beach waves of your dreams.

$29 at Bumble and bumble

Photo: Bumble and bumble
STYLECASTER | Best Products for Beach Waves | Captain Blankenship Golden Waves Sea Salt Shimmer Spray
Captain Blankenship Golden Waves Sea Salt Shimmer Spray

The natural gold mica in this spray adds a slight shimmer to your hair as it's coated in sea salts for texture, and there's a bevy of essential oils for moisture.

$28 at Captain Blankenship

Photo: Captain Blankenship
STYLECASTER | Best Products for Beach Waves | Not Your Mother's Beach Babe Soft Waves Tropical Banana Sea Salt Spray
Not Your Mother's Beach Babe Soft Waves Tropical Banana Sea Salt Spray

Alcohol-free and aloe-infused, this sea salt spray delivers texture with a glossy finish.

$4.84 at Target

Photo: Not Your Mother's
STYLECASTER | Best Products for Beach Waves | The Soil & The Sea Sea Salt Texturizing Spray
The Soil & the Sea Sea Salt Texturizing Spray

Hand-harvested sea salt and Japanese saltwater provide calcium and minerals to strengthen hair, while botanical extracts deliver antioxidants for repairing and preventing sun damage.

$16 at The Soil & The Sea

Photo: The Soil & the Sea
STYLECASTER | Best Products for Beach Waves | tarte Mermaid Waves Salt Spray
Tarte Mermaid Waves Salt Spray

A vegan option loaded with sea salt for getting beach waves and curls without the crunch.

$22 at tarte

Photo: tarte
STYLECASTER | Best Products for Beach Waves | amika Un.Done Volume and Matte Texture Spray
Amika Un.Done Volume and Matte Texture Spray

This salt-free texturizer utilizes rice starch instead to absorb oil, while adding volume.

$25 at Amika

Photo: amika
STYLECASTER | Best Products for Beach Waves | Klorane Sun Protection Protective Oil with Ylang-Ylang Wax
Klorane Sun Protection Protective Oil with Ylang-Ylang Wax

This nourishing oil uses ylang ylang wax to protect the hair strands, keratin to repair damage, and shea butter for nourishment.

$18 at Klorane

Photo: Klorane
STYLECASTER | Best Products for Beach Waves | Ouai Wave Spray
Ouai Wave Spray

The rice protein in this award-winning spray creates the same type of hold as a sea salt spray.

$26 at Ouai

Photo: Ouai
STYLECASTER | Best Products for Beach Waves | Verb Sea Spray
Verb Sea Spray

The smoothing moisturizers complement the texturizing properties of sea salt by keeping the hair strands nourished as they take a new shape.

$16 at Verb

Photo: Verb
STYLECASTER | Best Products for Beach Waves | Aveda Sun Care Protective Hair Veil
Aveda Sun Care Protective Hair Veil

This lightweight water-resistant mist is infused with UVA/UVB filters that protect the hair from sun fatigue and dryness.

$29 at Aveda

Photo: Aveda
STYLECASTER | Best Products for Beach Waves |
Taliah Waajid Protective Styles Intense Moisture Bamboo & Coconut Milk Leave-In Conditioner

Spray this leave-in all over textured strands to detangle and keep hair moisturized as you sit under the sun.

$10.99 at Taliah Waajid

Photo: Taliah Waajid

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  • STYLECASTER | Best Products for Beach Waves | Drybar Mai Tai Spritzer Sea Salt Spray
  • STYLECASTER | Best Products for Beach Waves | Herbivore Botanicals Sea Mist Coconut + Sea Salt Beach Wave Hair Mist
  • STYLECASTER | Best Products for Beach Waves | Ouidad Wave Create Sea Spray
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  • STYLECASTER | Best Products for Beach Waves | Captain Blankenship Golden Waves Sea Salt Shimmer Spray
  • STYLECASTER | Best Products for Beach Waves | Not Your Mother's Beach Babe Soft Waves Tropical Banana Sea Salt Spray
  • STYLECASTER | Best Products for Beach Waves | The Soil & The Sea Sea Salt Texturizing Spray
  • STYLECASTER | Best Products for Beach Waves | tarte Mermaid Waves Salt Spray
  • STYLECASTER | Best Products for Beach Waves | amika Un.Done Volume and Matte Texture Spray
  • STYLECASTER | Best Products for Beach Waves | Klorane Sun Protection Protective Oil with Ylang-Ylang Wax
  • STYLECASTER | Best Products for Beach Waves | Ouai Wave Spray
  • STYLECASTER | Best Products for Beach Waves | Verb Sea Spray
  • STYLECASTER | Best Products for Beach Waves | Aveda Sun Care Protective Hair Veil
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