“Did you get a haircut?” a friend asked me recently.
It was a harmless question, but it still made me feel uneasy. I had in fact had a haircut a few months ago, but I’d seen this friend since. Many times.
The ‘haircut’ of which she spoke was something I too had noticed. My strands were splitting and breaking so frequently that my once chest-length hair was inching towards my shoulders. The ends were straw-like. Despite only ever being subjected to blunt cuts, they were visibly varied in length.
Yes, I realised the blonde balayage I’d had put through my naturally dark brown hair was partly to blame. But that had been over a year ago and I’d had plenty of trims since then.
I also knew the cheaply-made shampoos I frequently used weren’t the best for it. But surely that wasn’t enough to cause fatally damaged hair?
I racked my brains as to what it could be. But when I came up blank and after yet another ‘did you get a haircut?’ question, I decided it was time to consult a professional.
“Salt water,” hair extraordinaire Anthony Nader told me. I was sitting in a salon chair at his Surry Hills studio Raw.
I’d explained the situation as he’d run his comb through my hair sending more breakage to the floor.
“The salt dries it out – especially if you’re swimming a lot in the ocean.”
It made sense. I did go for daily dips down at Bondi. Not only that, but because I loved natural beach waves, when I showered afterwards, I wouldn’t let the running water touch my hair. I’d then rock my salt water waves for the rest of the day.
My locks now combed, I stared in the mirror at them. They looked brittle and unkempt.
“Your hair needs more conditioner,” Nader said. “Your strands are really thirsty for moisture. Every bit of moisture they can take, they’ll just suck it up and rejoice.”
He went on, explaining it wasn’t just the salt water; other factors had contributed to its current dire condition.
Despite what I’d believed, the year-old bleach was actually still playing a big part. Once hair has been coloured, making sure you’re feeding it enough moisture is imperative.
The other factor was the sun. Australia has some of the harshest rays in the world, and this past year we’d seen even more of them with an extended summer lasting nearly five months.
So what to do moving forward? What should a bleached strands beachgoer like myself be doing to protect their hair next time summer rolls around?
First up, the ideal scenario: dampen your hair in outdoor showers, coat it with a cream conditioner the size of a ten cents piece, comb it through, then wrap it up and tuck it into a swim cap. Wetting it first allows the conditioner to absorb better.
Though it did sound effective, realistically, I knew if I were at the beach with friends on the weekend, I wouldn’t be donning a swim cap.
I asked for a less extreme version. It was this: still dampen your hair and put the conditioner in, but instead of using a swim cap, tie it up using a snag-free elastic. If you didn’t have cream conditioner, a spray leave-in one could work too.
Either way, the conditioner would act as a barrier – a shield so the salt water wouldn’t absorb into the hair cuticle as much.
If you didn’t have any conditioner handy, the next best thing would be to rinse the hair in a shower straight after, Nader said.
“You’ve got to rinse that salt out. The salt is what’s going to dry out your hair.”
But even if you did use conditioner and a swim cap every time you went in the sea, some breakage would be inevitable.
To combat this, a baby trim – a dusting of the hair – every six to eight weeks would go a long way towards its health. As counterintuitive as it may seem, doing so would actually help maintain your hair’s length.
Next summer, I’ll be prepared. Though it’s more than likely my damage prevention routine won’t be featuring a swim cap, I do now have more than a few other tricks to try.
Here’s hoping for healthy hair… finally.