Hair Care for the Sweaty Scalp

By Blair Lindler

If you’ve worked out with any regularity over a period of time, you’ve had one of those mornings.  You know, the morning where you decide to hit snooze three times too many, but convinced yourself that you could squeeze in a workout before you needed to be at work.  And you succeeded!  You got that workout in (way to go, adherence!)… but that three-snooze-buttons-too-many left you with no time to wash your hair before work.  So up your hair goes into a ponytail or bun (and quite possibly is wrapped in a scarf so that your oily roots aren’t showing?)

Hair care is often one of those items that are put on the back burner for workouts.  We rely on showering and washing it – every.single.time.  But what you may not realize is that you could be making the oily scalp oilier with this habit!

Quick (and Important) Hair Anatomy Lesson… 

All of your hair follicles have sebaceous glands attached to it, which produce oils to keep your hair hydrated and healthy.  (This is different than the sweat we excrete when we work out, which is from the sweat gland.)  The commercial shampoo that you are most likely using works by breaking down the substances which are on the scalp into small droplets that can be rinsed away by water.

But shampoos don’t limit themselves to sweat and dirt…

They also strip the scalp and hair of the natural oils from the sebaceous gland that keeps your hair hydrated and healthy.  (This concept is the basis for the growing popular no-shampoo movement)  This leads to the ends of your hair drying out and causing split ends, and thus lovely frizz.

Is your post-workout, sweaty scalp in need of some help?

When the scalp is without that natural oil, the sebaceous gland kicks into gear and produces oil in greater amounts to compensate for the oil lost.  Hence why the more often you wash your hair, the more active the sebaceous glands are on your scalp.  So your roots look greasy faster while the ends of your hair are frizzy and split.  Yikes!  This is why it’s important for the health of your hair and scalp to have a regular washing routine – shampooing every 2-3 days.

Okay, so now we know why shampooing our hair after every single workout can be bad (and sometimes inconvenient due to time constraints). So here are some ideas on what to do with your sweaty scalp when it isn’t time for a shampoo…

6 Quick & Clean Sweaty Scalp Tips:

  1. Rinse your hair thoroughly- if you do have time for a shower Work some conditioner through your hair (your hair will depend whether it needs to be worked through just the ends or through all of your hair) and let it sit while you finish your other shower duties.  Rinse your hair thoroughly of all conditioner.  Towel dry.  (Blow-drying from this state will up the frizz factor in my experience)
  2. Be gentle- with brushing or combing your hair when it’s wet.  Vigorous hair brushing tends to lead to more hair damage and breakage (aka: split ends and frizz!)
  3. Towel dry- the sweat away from the ends, and take a blow dryer to the roots (and the roots only) if you don’t have time for a shower!  Use a nozzle and angle the heat down the hair strand so that it wicks away the oil and sweat build up from your scalp.  Spend a little bit longer time than you normally would to dry your hair, because we aren’t working with water, but with oils and sweat.
  4. Try a dry shampoo- use this product when you have a buildup of oil on your roots.  (I’m a big fan of the Suave brand – it’s reasonable in price and provides great results).  These products take a bit of getting used to.  Shake the bottle well, then spray the roots with about six inches distance between the bottle and your hair.  If your roots take on a white color, you’ve sprayed too much!  Like so much in life, a little goes a long way with dry shampoo.  Spray the roots along your part, and lightly rub it in.  Continue parting and spraying as necessary (I personally only target my part, the hairs framing the face, and the nape of my neck in case I want to pull my hair up later).  Grab your brush or comb, and brush/comb your hair (this distributes the clay in the dry shampoo and pulls the tiny clumps of dry shampoo that has absorbed the oil away from your roots).  Re-part your hair as you plan on wearing it.  Repeat the dry-shampoo process as necessary.  I love dry shampoo – it’s so convenient!  Best results are when you use dry shampoo after blow drying the roots a bit.
  5. Try using a leave-in conditioner- Yes, your scalp was just covered in that “lovely” natural oil of sweat.  But the ends of your hair are likely feeling frizzy and annoyed at being pulled up in a bun or ponytail.  Spritz some liquid leave-in conditioner (I like the Aussie brand) on the ends of your hair and work evenly throughout.  This or some serum (I love Paul Mitchell’s Super Skinny Serum) will help tame those frizzy ends by keeping your hair properly hydrated!
  6. Consider curls- Obviously this will take a little more time, but if it’s not time to shampoo and you’ve got styling time, pull out a curling iron if you’ve got naturally straight hair.  Dirty hair holds style better than freshly washed hair!  All those oils provide a natural styling cream/hair spray and protect your hair from getting overly damaged.

These are the strategies I’ve found most effective to use with my post-workout, sweaty scalp.  I hope that one (or more) may be helpful to you!