“How’s exercising with relaxed hair working out for you?,” asked a friend earlier this year, right after I’d transitioned from natural to relaxed (chemically straightened) hair. Without the slightest clue what she meant (yep, I was that oblivious to how bad things would later get!) I responded with a nonchalant, “I don’t think it’ll be too much admin. It’s definitely something a hair dryer and straightener should be able to fix!”
At the first gruelling gym session post my hair transformation, what had been a bouncy blow wave was a sloppy, sweat-drenched mess at the end. “So, this is what my friend meant?” I immediately thought. Over the following weeks, without proper knowledge of how to nurture my relaxed strands, my scalp became itchy and flaky, my strands limp and my once-solid hairline started receding.
“Maintaining healthy, relaxed hair and working out regularly is tricky and can often feel overwhelming. However, it’s definitely doable,” says professional hairstylist and hair expert Reggie Ntuli, currently based at Marshall Barbers in Bryanston, north of Johannesburg. “Relaxed hair just requires extra TLC. That means washing and treating it more often due to build-up, a combination of sweat and product.” Below are more handy tips from Ntuli, who insists that it all boils down to meticulous care.
Before starting your workout, take some time to prepare your hair. Applying a heat protectant spray or a light oil to the ends of your hair can help prevent damage caused by sweat. “You can also tie your hair up with a silk or satin scarf to reduce friction and absorb moisture while working out,” suggests Ntuli.
Moisture Is Your Bestie
Healthy hair requires a constant balance of moisture and protein. Therefore, relaxed hair requires moisture to minimise breakage. Moisturising your hair is crucial, especially after working out or exposing it to sweat. “Before or after each workout, apply a leave-in conditioner or moisturiser to your hair to replenish the lost moisture and keep it hydrated,” says Ntuli. Also worth remembering is that keeping your body hydrated by drinking an adequate amount of water is crucial not only for your overall health, but also for your hair’s wellbeing. Hydration promotes hair growth and prevents dryness, which is essential for relaxed hair, as it tends to be more susceptible to dryness.
Engaging in high-impact workouts like running or cardio exercises may cause friction and tugging on your hair, leading to breakage. First things first, keep hair away from your face while exercising by tying it into one big ponytail, or tiny multiple ones or plaiting loose cornrows or a bun, says Ntuli. “This simple technique prevents the edges of the hair from getting knotty, which can lead to the hair getting dry and brittle,” he says. Also use hair-friendly accessories, like satin or silk scrunchies, to avoid excessive friction.
It’s essential to wash or co-wash and condition your hair to remove sweat, product build-up and prevent clogged pores – at least once a week. Use a mild shampoo, focusing on your scalp, and follow with a deep conditioner to restore moisture and strengthen your hair, urges Ntuli. Opt for a protein treatment occasionally to maintain hair strength and prevent breakage.
Less Heat Styling, Please!
Heat styling tools, like flat irons and curling wands, can further damage relaxed hair, leading to dryness and breakage. Minimise the use of heat styling and opt for heatless styles or techniques instead, such as twist-outs, braid-outs or roller sets. These styles can give your hair a break from heat while still achieving a polished look.
Regular trims are vital for maintaining healthy relaxed hair. Trimming every 8-12 weeks helps remove split ends, preventing them from travelling up the hair shaft and causing more damage. Trimming also promotes healthy hair growth and improves the overall appearance of your hair.
See A Professional
If all else fails, consider consulting a professional stylist. “We can provide personalised advice based on your hair type, texture and overall fitness routine, giving you the peace of mind of knowing that you’re doing what’s best for your hair,” advises Ntuli.
Remember: Healthy relaxed hair is bouncy with a shine to match. Consistency and attention to detail are key for achieving your hair goals while leading an active lifestyle. Taking thorough care of relaxed hair while pursuing a fitness journey requires a combination of moisturising, protective styling, and making conscious choices to prevent damage.