When deciding whether to work out, it can sometimes feel like you’re at the mercy of your hair. Sure, if you go to that 7 a.m. kickboxing class, you’ll reap the mood-boosting endorphins that make the rest of your day bearable, but you’ll also probably end up waiting in a 15-minute shower line and blow-drying your hair with someone else’s armpit in your face. Or, worse, walking out with wet, disheveled hair, which is even less appealing in chilly temps. So what’s a person to do?
We asked 13 derms and fitness experts—people who literally have to deal with sweaty hair on a daily basis—to share their tried-and-true pre- and post-workout hacks for stopping scalp sweat in its tracks.
But first: Why is my head so sweaty?
Sweating is a necessary process that cools down the body, so congrats—your body is doing its job! If you’re sweating a ton, research suggests it could actually be sign that you’re in shape. That isn’t to say lower-intensity exercisers and sedentary folks don’t sweat, of course, and there are other factors like gender, body mass, caffeine or alcohol intake, and temperature that impact how much you sweat.
However, if you’re sweating excessively (like all. the. time), talk to your doctor, as it may indicate a medical condition called hyperhidrosis. “Craniofacial hyperhidrosis is a condition where one sweats excessively from the face and scalp,” says board-certified dermatologist Erum Ilyas, M.D., MBE, FAAD. “Some people have primary hyperhidrosis, which means they genetically have a higher concentration of sweat glands. Other people have secondary hyperhidrosis, which means they are excessively sweaty from other causes, such as menopause, stress, fevers, increased temperature, illness, or diabetes.”
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Your Pre-Workout Prevention Plan
1. Pop it up in a braid (or two).
Braids are the quick, natural hairstyle that will stay in place during your workout and look good afterward too. “I often braid my hair before workouts, because if I don’t, my hair looks like it’s been dunked in Vaseline by the end,” says K. Aleisha Fetters, CSCS, strength coach and fitness writer. “Braiding my hair tighter to my scalp is the best way to camouflage the sweat.”Her favorite way to braid? Create a center part and tightly pull your hair into two high ponytails located at the outer left and right edges of your crown. After tying each ponytail with an elastic, braid them and secure the ends with another elastic, then simply twist each braid into a bun and secure with bobby pins.
2. Fight oil with an apple cider vinegar shampoo or spray.
Is there anything ACV can’t do? “Apple cider vinegar balances the pH level on your scalp, which can help control excess oil,” says Debra Jaliman, a New York City dermatologist. “Plus it gets rid of greasiness, itchiness, and irritation. I recommend using a shampoo with apple cider vinegar or making your own ACV water mix in a spray bottle and applying it to your scalp when you get out of the shower. It may help reduce the amount of oil that builds up on your scalp over time.” Wow Skin Science’s ACV shampoo and conditioner combo is especially excellent.
3. If you have a weave, glue it down.
“No one should have to choose between good hair and a good workout,” says Nadica Tara, IFBB bodybuilder. Unfortunately it happens—one study found that 40 percent of black women have skipped a workout due to hair-related issues. Tara, who has a lace front, recalls her first time working out with her weave. “It was one of the most embarrassing days of my life,” she says. “The weave started lifting up during the workout and I was like ?!?”Tara wasn’t going to stop working out, so she found products that keep her weave from making moves of its own. “Before I work out, I lay my frontal two glues: The Hair Diagram’s Bold Hold Extreme Glue and Got2b Water Resistant Spiking Glue,” she says. “After glueing the frontal down, I throw a cute sweatband around the hairline for the workout. After the workout, I use a dryer to dry the hairline on top of the sweatband. Once the sweatband is dry, I remove it and voilà—hairline is intact!”
4. If you have short, kinky, curly hair, leave it be!
Sometimes the best thing to do is nothing. CrossFit L1 trainer Adele Jackson-Gibson says that as someone with short, kinky curls, the best way for her to deal with a sweaty scalp is to just let it be. “Kinkier hair doesn’t like to be fussed with too much when it comes to washing and combing,” she says. “You don’t want to dry out your hair or cause unnecessary breakage.”Her go-to do is twist-outs. “I wear twist-outs that last me a few days, so I just let my scalp air out after workouts,” Jackson-Gibson says. “Leaving my twists in while I work out is great too because my scalp has that much more access to oxygen.” Products like As I Am’s Twist Defining Cream can help keep those twists looking stronger for longer.
5. If you’re a super-sweater, try a scalp antiperspirant.
OK, so this scalp antiperspirant was designed to keep your head sweat under control while applying wig adhesive, but Dempsey Marks, creator of the PreGame Fit fitness program, uses it as antiperspirant for her hair. “Professional Hair Labs Scalp Antiperspirant is really effective at reducing oils and perspiration and is easy to use,” she says. It’s free of harsh chemicals and latex, but you’re not supposed to spray it directly into your hair—instead, spray some on a paper towel and dab into your hairline.
For Post-Workout Primping
1. If you have five minutes, go for a mini-wash.
“If your scalp is über-sensitive, try washing just the roots for a touch-up in between washes or after a sweaty workout,” suggests board-certified dermatologist Shari Hicks-Graham, M.D., founder of LivSo. “The salt from sweat can lead to scalp irritation in some people if it’s not cleaned appropriately.”To save yourself from a full-on wash, try Mirror trainer Julie Sanchez’s method: Tie up the length of your hair in a loose bun or ponytail and cover the majority of it with a shower cap. “Then either in the sink or shower, wet the roots and use a small amount of shampoo to wash around the hairline and rinse it out without getting the part in the elastic wet,” Sanchez says. When you get out of the shower, blow-dry the wet parts. Bada bing, bada boom.
2. Reach for ol’ faithful.
Turns out the road to grease-free hair might already be in your bathroom cabinet—Johnson’s baby powder will work just fine for soaking up that extra moisture.”I recommend putting a small amount in the palm of your hand and rubbing it in between your palms,” Jaliman says. “Run your hands into your scalp and comb through after. But don’t use too much powder or you’ll have visible white residue.” If you’re someone with a sensitive scalp, opt for the hypoallergenic option, which is less likely to irritate your skin.
3. Start carrying this gym-bag staple.
If it’s popular on Amazon, it’s probably pretty good right? Variations of Batiste’s original product take up 29 spots out of the top 100 best-selling dry shampoos. Yoga instructor and natural bikini athlete Giovanna Abraham swears by it. “I have straight, long brown hair,” Abraham says. “After my workouts, I only need five total sprays of Batiste on my hair: I spray the crown, the top of my neck, the sides, and a quick all-over spray.” Added perk: The original scent is a subtle mix of lavender and musk that won’t overpower your nostrils.
4. If you want to ball out, go for the gold.
Oribe’s Gold Lust has that gonna-cost-ya vibe. But if you’re looking to treat yo’ self, Angela Lamb, M.D., director of dermatology and an assistant professor at Mount Sinai Health System in New York City, highly recommends it. “It’s a high-quality, color-free dry shampoo that smells great,” she says. And yeah, on top of it being super effective, it also sort of embodies the scent of eating fresh watermelon in a field of flowers, so… yum.
5. When you’re in a hurry but also want to save the planet…
Not only does Hair Dance create nontoxic, organic products using vegan, cruelty-free, and eco-friendly ingredients, but it also develops products that actually work. “I have long, straight, light-colored hair,” says Heather Peterson, chief yoga officer of CorePower Yoga. “This organic product makes it easy for me to teach or take a couple sweaty workouts without a full wash, so it’s a serious time saver.” The dry shampoo is also paraben-free, phthalate-free, and aerosol-free—and while the price isn’t “free,” but you can buy it for just $11 on Amazon.
6. When you don’t want to mess with your keratin treatment…
When she wants to do her hair without, ya know, actually doing her hair, Anneke Marvin, founder of PowerDot, uses Keratin Complex dry shampoo, which is specifically made for keratin-treated hair. “I like to provide some volume to my superfine hair, which tends to get stringy and flat when dirty or sweaty,” Marvin says. Another perk is that it comes in blonde, brunette, and neutral, so you won’t look like you dumped your head in the chalk bucket.
7. Own the slicked-back look.
Instead of wasting time corralling sweaty hair into a stylish down-do, commit to a slicked-back ponytail. “The time-honored ponytail is a classic: It’s easy, and you can rock it as sporty-chic or business casual,” Marvin says. “I use a drop or two of Unite Smooth & Shine during my hectic mornings, which smooths unruly flyaways so that my pony looks neat but not greasy.”
8. If you DGAF about grease and just want healthy hair, use coconut oil.
Coconut oil isn’t new to the world by any means, but over the past decade or so, it’s gained popularity because it’s oh so versatile. Yoga instructor Molly Rose Hoffman from Lyons Den Power Yoga uses it in her hair. “As a bleach blonde who loves hot yoga, taking good care of my hair has been a task that requires some creativity,” she says. “If I don’t have time to wash and dry my hair, I simply throw some coconut oil in and toss my hair up in a high ponytail. The coconut oil is a great trick because it smells amazing and is a completely natural source of hydration for my locks.”
Gabrielle Kassel is an athleisure-wearing, adaptogen-taking, left-swiping, CrossFitting, New York-based writer with a knack for thinking about wellness as lifestyle. In her free time, she can be found reading self-help books, bench-pressing, or practicing hygge. Follow her on Instagram.