summer skincare and haircare protection
May 19, 2015 7:13 AM   Subscribe

Active women: how do you keep your hair and skin healthy and undamaged from sweat and sun?

For those of you women who exercise a lot, sweat a lot, especially outdoors, how do you take care of your hair and skin?

I’ve gotten into running (and exercise in general), in the past 2 years, and it’s taken a toll on my hair and skin. I need some help! I have a hair appointment with a new stylist coming up, but I’d like to go prepared with some suggestions.

Now that I spend so much time outside and it gets more sun, my hair is becoming much more dry, curly, and reddish (it grows out my head very dark brown, but then gets auburn). I’ve been trying to wash my hair every other day (but rinsing daily), as my roots get extremely greasy but ends remain very dry. I also tie it up often, which I think is causing breakage. I don’t apply much heat to it, blow-drying it 3x a week (no straighteners or curling rods). I’m thinking of getting it cut (bob? chin length maybe?), since I rarely keep my hair down in hot, humid summer days anyway, exercising or not. But then how to keep it from bopping all over the place?

I have dry skin (but sweat like a mofo), have a family history of melanoma, and tan very easily (but do not burn easily). I obviously try and get my outdoor & run time in the early morning or evening, and find shade or clouds, but am quite tan already especially on my arms and shoulders (am ethnically mixed and get golden-y brown rather than red). I also have eczema on my legs, and have had seemingly random-ass allergies/rashes to sunscreens, without nailing down the culprit. I hate sunscreen - I feel like my skin can’t breathe (especially living in a place that's humid as hell in the summer).

I’m desperate for some hair and skin ideas. Are there any lightweight, sun-protective clothing for running and spending a lot of time outside in hot, humid, summer days, for someone who sweats a ton? How do I take care of my hair?

Any general ideas for how to save skin and hair from sun and sweat would be really appreciated!
posted by raztaj to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I'm a mixed-race cyclist who hates sunscreen....and I've accepted that I need to wear sunscreen. It's easy to ignore when you never burn, but with that family history of melanoma, you have to accept that dark skinned people run risks with sun exposure as well, not to mention the aging effects.

Here is a self-link to a bunch of reviews I did for my least-hated line of suncreens. Have you tried chemical suncreens? I know people always recommend physical sunscreens, but if you're sweating a lot and have dark skin you can definitely end up with a greasy white grimy crust everywhere.

CVS will take pretty much anything back, receipt or not, for store credit. Maybe try a bunch of different sunscreens in patch tests until one doesn't trigger your skin allergies?

For eczema (are we twins?), I put lotion on right after the shower, avoid hot showers, avoid anything I know I have an allergy to, and occasionally fill a kiddie pool with colloidal oatmeal and drink a few beers in there in the backyard.
posted by Juliet Banana at 7:41 AM on May 19, 2015 [3 favorites]

If you want to look after your skin and your health (melanoma is scary) sunscreen is not optional. Something like Neutrogena Beach Defense might be worth a shot. If you're only going to be outside for an hour or so, you don't need SPF 70, though. Anything from SPF 30 up will do. I used this sunscreen in SPF 50+ last year and quite liked it. It absorbed well, didn't feel heavy, and - most important of all - didn't let me get burnt.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 7:50 AM on May 19, 2015

Co-wash your hair (this means using conditioner only, never shampoo).
Hypoallergenic EVERYTHING for anything that touches your skin: soap, laundry detergent, deodorant, makeup, etc.
UPF clothing.
I would recommend leaving your hair long. Bob-length hair will hang on your neck and make you HOT, and it leaves you less options for making crazy hair look at least neat, if not stylish (ponytail, bun, etc).
posted by slipthought at 7:50 AM on May 19, 2015 [4 favorites]

I am an enthusiastic cyclist. I'm also super pale with long dark hair.

I keep my hair braided, wear a buff under my helmet, and apply "dry touch" sunscreen in SPF 55 to my face and neck (and something cheaper to my legs). Neutrogena and store brands feel similar to me.

For sunscreen-free arm protection, try searching for sun sleeves, summer sleeves, or arm coolers. Last summer I wore the Pearl Izumi version on a 15 hour, 200 mile day, and they took the edge off the morning chill and protected my arms through the 90F afternoon.

This summer I will look into summer weight jerseys (1, 2), which are marketed for cycling but would be fine for running as well.

I occasionally see cyclists wearing sun knees too.
posted by esoterrica at 8:06 AM on May 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Gotta wear sunscreen; as noted upthread, it's not optional. The good news is that there are a lot of great lightweight sunscreens now. I really like the various Alba Botanical options; since you have dry skin I might recommend this one, which is very very emollient (as you might guess from the name). It's very lightweight, as well. If you search around the Beautypedia site, they'll recommend lots of options and will often note whether they're lightweight or heavy-feeling or what have you.
posted by holborne at 8:12 AM on May 19, 2015

Add weekly conditioning treatments to your regimen, concentrating on your ends (the roots won't need it). You can use deep conditioning masks or work some coconut oil into the ends and let your hair sit for a couple of hours or overnight. Protein conditioners like Joico's K-Pak can help reconstruct the ends a bit and make them behave better. Leave in conditioners can also protect your hair from UV and other damage.

If you're breaking hair by tying it back, try softer ties and braids.
posted by quince at 8:15 AM on May 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Wear sunscreen and cover up as much as you can stand it; even pretty simple surgery for early-stage melanoma kinda sucks. Silicone-free conditioner-only washing of curly hair is generally a good idea. Also, kerchiefs for keeping the hair out of your face and away from the sun can be great, especially if you're biking -- they prevent helmet hair and absorb sweat around the edges. Just fold a square scarf/bandana in two to make a triangle, tie it at the back of your neck, and you've got a hair containment method that won't increase breakage. Might be too retro-looking for being fashionable, but it works great for exercise.
posted by asperity at 8:23 AM on May 19, 2015

I hate sunscreen cream, but that spray stuff isn't too bad. I spray one or two puffs into my hands and then rub/brush it over my face and neck. The kind I use is the generic I get from my health insurance pharmacy ("Good Neighbor Pharmacy" brand), broad-spectrum, SPF 50. It's labeled as "kids' sunscreen," but I figured that just meant it was less likely to be irritating -- and it really hasn't broken me out or bothered me at all, which is a slight miracle.

I don't bother with putting sunscreen anywhere aside from my face/neck because of the "tan easily, don't burn" thing, though that's probably not the best thing to do! (No history of melanoma in the family, though). I tan *slightly* slower on my face and neck than on the parts where I don't put sunscreen, but it's honestly just not that noticeable because I'm still tanning on my face and neck. Sounds like you'd be pretty much the same.

The sunscreen is light enough that I don't feel it once it dries (and it dries in about five seconds), so only thing that really sucks about wearing it is if I sweat and it gets into my eyes. I always wear big honking sunglasses when I run (and virtually any other time I'm outside), but I'm thinking I might have to wear a baseball cap or something to try and keep sweat/sunscreen from burning my eyes. Also, it hasn't been all that sunny yet, but the summer sun beating down on very dark hair can really hurt (and I've even burned on my part/scalp of all places!), so I'm thinking of starting to wear a light-colored baseball cap to protect my head/hair, too.

When I work out, I put my hair in a french braid. It stays in place well and braids seem very gentle on the hair.

To keep hair and skin from getting too dry (I also tend to be dry, and my hair is also curly -- but fine and fairly thin, so YMMV), my "secret" is using LOTS AND LOTS of conditioner and lotion. Seriously, way more than you'd think you'd need.

I wash my hair virtually every day because I sweat way too much and it literally soaks my hair by the end of a workout/run, so if I don't wash it I worry I'll smell terrible. But after a very quick wash with shampoo, I load my hair up with conditioner, basically as much as the hair can handle. (I use OGX brand shampoo and conditioner, the argan oil kind). Then I go through the rest of my shower, letting the conditioner set, and at the very end of the shower I'll do a really quick rinse (maybe two or three seconds) to get off some of the excess. After the shower, I put in curl diffuser (also OGX), and if my hair is still looking unhappy, I'll rub some argan oil on my hands and run them through/over my hair.

I try not to style my hair when it's wet. Definitely nothing too "rough" like putting it into a ponytail or something. That's a recipe for breakage ime.

For my skin outside the shower, I use a face lotion with sunscreen already in it (only SPF 15, but that's better than nothing) (the face lotion is Aveeno Positively Radiant) and bare escentuals/bare minerals eye cream. For my body, I use TONS of cocoa butter lotion. TONS, especially on the hands. Nothing hydrates like cocoa butter, ime.

If you want to color your hair (because you don't like the auburn?) I use Garnier Fructis hair dye and my hair actually is *softer* and seems healthier after I use it than before. The only problem with that brand is that a lot of the colors are actually too light. My natural color is a very dark brown, but the closest to my natural color that I can get in that brand is "soft black" (also called "Black Tea" on some boxes). The lighter colors look too light and my hair also doesn't really take them anyway. Yet again, though, YMMV!
posted by rue72 at 8:36 AM on May 19, 2015

This question I posted last week might be helpful for you for the hair part of the question. Also nthing esoterrica on wearing a Buff. I have long, thick hair and I can tuck away all of my hair in one for long hikes, etc.
posted by futureisunwritten at 8:38 AM on May 19, 2015

1. Leave your hair long so you can put it up! Or get it cut VERY short, like pixie-length. That in-between bob length is maddening in the summer - it hangs on your neck, gets all sticky, flaps around while running, can't be put back but is long enough to need something done to it so it's not out of control. Especially if you have bangs, argh! To prevent as much sun damage to your hair, you can tie a simple bandana around your head, or wear a running hat with a brim - this has the advantage of keeping some of the sun off your face too. These sun bandanas work well too. Those Buff bandana tubes are awesome for containing hair too. They don't untie like bandanas and you can wet them for extra cooling power.

2. Neutrogena Dry Touch Sunscreen - it's awesome and not slimy. I have no idea why all sunscreens are not as unslimy as this. I put it in every bag and every counter and every car so that it's always available.

3. Try Unscented ShiKai Borage Cream for your eczema when you get out of the shower. It absorbs quickly and has worked wonders for me. You can get it online and at Whole Foods.

4. Wash your face every morning and night with a gentle cleanser like Cetaphil. Don't use soap. Put on a gentle moisturizer to help with the dryness. I really like Kiehl's basic moisturizer but lots of people use drugstore brands and there have been some good threads here with non-irritating drugstore moisturizing recommendations.

5. Co-wash your hair -- this means wash it with conditioner. The best kind of co-wash is conditioner that doesn't have any silicone in it. There are various options at different price points: As I Am Coconut Cowash Cleansing Conditioner, TRESemme Naturals Conditioner, and the very popular WEN Cleansing Conditioner. The key is that you put on quite a bit of the conditioner, and really scrub it around. Leave it for a few minutes before rinsing VERY thoroughly. It has enough cleansing power to get rid of grease without stripping your scalp, which leads to over-production of oil, which leads to more grease! You don't want a conditioner with silicone (or its many different permutations) because it leaves a slickness behind that gets built up.
posted by barnone at 8:45 AM on May 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Sunscreen is expensive and usually has weird ingredients, so I wear a lot of long-sleeve button-down shirts. As long as they're made of natural fibers, they'll breathe pretty well. Better than sunscreen, in my opinion. I have even done this in 120 degree desert. It works great.

If you're ok with spending lots of money, there are even shirts designed to be worn instead of sunscreen. Those will presumably offer better protection from the sun than something that isn't designed for the purpose.
posted by aniola at 10:18 AM on May 19, 2015

And wear a hat to keep the sun off your face!
posted by aniola at 10:20 AM on May 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Neutrogena Dry Touch never ever disappears on my face, so I always have weird, white blotchy sections. It is, also, quite "dry" so trying to rub it in feels like my skin will be coming loose from its pinnings. There's now way I will do that under my eyes, for instance. It also makes my skin texture really unpleasant. Costco sells it so it's every where but I don't understand the love people have for it.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:10 AM on May 19, 2015

I use Neutrogena Dry Touch to slather my arms and body, but it's too dry to blend well on my face. Here is my previous askme about SPF30+ daily sunscreen that absolutely won't show up white on ethnic (medium-toned Asian) skin. I tried a few high-end European brands at Nordstrom, but ultimately I'm very happy ordering the recommended Japanese chemical sunscreens off Amazon or eBay. It can take over a month for the package to arrive from Japan, but the prices are reasonably affordable and for a few extra dollars you can usually source a US-based seller. Both Japanese sunscreens I've tried will apply with a slight sheen that truly disappears after about 30 seconds.

I also have eczema but my skin is not prone to chemical allergic reactions, so I can't speak to whether you would be able to tolerate chemical sunscreens. But European and Asian sunscreens in general use different active ingredients than American sunscreens (due to FDA restrictions), so it's worth a try.
posted by serelliya at 1:40 PM on May 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Do not have bob length hair if you plan to exercise a lot and your skin is easily irritated - neck eczema is totally a thing!
posted by sestaaak at 4:33 PM on May 19, 2015

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