The evolution of the internet and social media have made it easier to maintain a healthy head of hair, thanks to a plethora of tips and tricks shared via YouTube videos, Pinterest boards and more, especially for some of us within the Black community. But things can get a little tricky when it comes to managing time between workouts, self-care, and all the other commitments on the schedule.

You see, while a simple spritz of dry shampoo or a five-minute shower after a gym session might suffice for someone with fine, straight hair, those of us with textured hair need a whole lot more prep time to properly care for our strands post-sweat. Plus, when you spend a significant amount of time and money on treatments and styles, the last thing you want to do is risk jeopardizing your strands in exchange for a few miles.

That’s why skipping a workout or putting off a co-wash day might seem like the easiest way to save time—but that’s a big mistake.

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However, a study published in Frontiers in Public Health in 2018 found that it’s common for Black women to avoid or limit exercise in hopes of protecting or saving their hairstyles because to be honest, completing a full wash routine after every run just isn’t always feasible.

Other research backs this up: A qualitative study and a perspective article found that between 28% and 45% of Black women surveyed avoided exercise because of hair concerns, and 22% felt that their hair impeded maintaining a healthy body weight.

Though, at times, running and haircare may be in conflict, they should both be fun, positive, happy aspects of your full life. Remember, a big part of maintaining a truly healthy life includes self-care, therefore it’s important not to sacrifice on your haircare routine for a workout—or vice versa.

Haircare Versus Fitness Goals

Research and our interviews with both pro and recreational runners reveal the unique hair-related experiences of Black runners and the burden of having to discuss their hairstyles and hair care maintenance activities with their peers.

In fact, many of the pro runners we reached out to for this article declined to participate, stating that they were not comfortable speaking about how to care for or style hair when running or that they didn’t feel like experts on the matter, despite having spent years or even decades training and racing with Black hair.

Still, it is an important issue to address, and though there may not be a one-size-fits-all answer, there are ways to overcome this hurdle without sacrificing your hair or your fitness.

Here, pro runners and Black and natural hair experts share their tips for how to care for and protect Black hair while running and exercising.

two photos of tonya nero running with different hairstyles
Courtesy Tonya Nero

Take Time to Learn What Works Best for You

All hair isn’t created equal; it’s the exact opposite. Just like your training demands you to understand how your specific body responds, understanding your specific hair needs is a vital part of properly caring for it.

A great place to start getting to know your hair is understanding the different characteristics of it, or more specifically your hair type. Two of the main components of your hair that determine the type include curl pattern and density, Lyday Patterson, licensed cosmetologist, and celebrity hairstylist based in Pittsburgh, who goes by the name of LPStyles on Instagram tells Runner’s World.

Curl patterns range from loosely curly to tightly coiled, with density ranging from thick to thin. “When it comes to hair type it’s very important to know because it's made up of many components. Once you know the basics of your hair type, then you’re able to create a hair regimen that is going to work best for you,” he says. This is why so many experts say there’s no one way to care for your hair. For example, some people need to moisturize their hair pre and postworkout while just a postworkout re-moisturizing session can suffice for others.

“Your hair is like your child,” says Tonya Nero, a long-distance runner and record holder from Trinidad and Tobago. “You might not always be able to control your hair, but you must learn what it likes, dislikes, and how to make it flourish in the best way possible.”

For Nero, it’s about learning how to use water in moderation to hydrate the hair without overdoing it and causing frizz and tangles by applying too much.

For some others, it may be as simple as applying a protective serum to reduce frizz postrun, learning a specific updo that keeps curls intact, or rocking an Afro puff. The truth is, there’s no right or wrong way to explore your hair, but it’s the necessary first step to understanding how to properly care for it.

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Try Protective Styles

While wearing your hair down may seem simple, it’s not usually the best decision. “Ponytails, cornrows, and twists are great hairstyles during a workout,” says Sharie Wilson and Tonya Thompson founders of natural hair care brand DreamGirls. “These hairstyles help control the sweat, are easy to maintain, and keep hair out of your face so you can focus on your workout.”

marielle hall running with braids and her hair tied back
Cortney White

Long-distance Olympic runner, Marielle Hall, says her go-to style for running is braids. She says protective styles should not only take care of your hair, but they should also take care of you. “The key to protective styling is getting your hair up and out of your face and protected from rubbing against any fabrics that may cause friction-induced breakage,” she says.

Shawanna White, U.S.-born Black female marathoner, agrees citing braids, cornrows, and twists as her go-to protective styles. Buns are another low-maintenance style that Hall depends on, and locks were also cited by the 2018 study participants as a conductive style for exercising.

shawanna white running with her hair in braids and tied back in a bun
Courtesy Shawanna White

Accessorize the Right Way

No matter how tight or loose your curl pattern, texture, or the length of your hair, sporting a hair accessory while exercising can not only help reduce frizz around the hairline, but it also helps keep your hair protected and flyaways at bay, too.

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Gymwrap
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According to Emmy-nominated celebrity hairstylist Derick Monroe, headbands are an effective accessory to help maintain smooth edges. His must-have option is the moisture-wicking GymWrap by Nicole Ari Parker. If you’re looking to protect all your hair versus just the hairline, try wrapping your hair in a silk or satin scarf.

Patterson agrees saying, “If you have a cotton headband, that can be a detriment to your hair. Because now on top of sweating, it’s also drying your hair out and, in most cases, your edges, which is why a lot of times you’ll see people have severe hair loss on the edges and around the perimeter of their head where a band would lay.”

Instead, both Monroe and Patterson suggest opting for silk and satin materials that don’t cause frizz as much as cotton and help reduce breakage while you move. And if you can’t find a silk or satin headband, Patterson says you can opt for a polyester material to protect your hair during workouts.

Avoid Humidity When Possible

Humidity and rain are two elements that don’t always play nice with natural or relaxed hair. Wilson and Thompson suggest opting for indoor workouts when the weather is rainy or muggy and you really want to preserve your style. If there’s no option for indoor exercise, it’s best to wrap your hair up tightly and cover with a scarf if possible.

Monroe does warn that using scarves over your entire head can create additional heat that has a tendency to cause you to sweat more. If you do go this route, make sure your hair properly dries after your workout to avoid odor and frizz (more on this below).

alexandria williams with a short blonde hairstyle in running clothes
Phoenix Michelle Photography

Find a Routine That Works for You

In a world run by social media, it’s easy to look at someone else’s hair care routine and quickly adopt it. But as we stated before, there’s no such thing as one-size-fits-all haircare. Run influencer and FitHair expert, Alexandria Williams says talking to your stylist about your workouts can help you create a better hair routine for pre- and postrun.

“Planning and creating a routine that works within your natural habits is more manageable than breaking and creating new habits,” Williams says. It also helps you prepare for any styling issues that may arise.

Think of your hair stylist as your primary hair care provider, says Patterson. It’s important to meet with them regularly to develop and maintain a hair care routine tailored to fit your needs. Sort of like what you would do with your primary care physician, he says, but with a focus on maintaining a routine that will work for you pre- and postworkout.

For example, if you know that your hair is typically dry and frizzy after working out, having a tailored routine would ensure you have all your necessary products and techniques down to combat undesirable results.

Remember, don’t get down if this takes some time to figure out. Like all things in life including your run training, no habits are created overnight. Be patient and give yourself time to learn and grow.

Never Skip Moisturizers

Naturally curly and coily hair types lack moisture. This is because the natural oils in the hair don’t travel down the shaft of the hair as quickly or easily as they do on straight hair thanks to all the twists and curls. The tighter your curl, the drier your hair will be.

If you find you hair lacks moisture, especially after runs, then consider adding a replenishing moisturizer to your postrun haircare routine, like White. She says she prefers to refresh her scalp and hair with a coconut oil spray or Suave Cream Detangler Spray to add moisture to help prevent breakage.

You may notice that the colder and windier it is outside, the drier your hair feels and looks after your outdoor run. No matter what your hair type or the weather, you’ll want to apply a moisturizer every single day. This can range from water to curl creams to oils. Just be sure your hydrating products aren’t formulated with mineral oil or alcohols that can dry out the hair even more.

4 Hydrating Hair Products to Consider
Cowash
SheaMoisture Coconut & Hibiscus Co-Wash Conditioning Cleanser
SheaMoisture Coconut & Hibiscus Co-Wash Conditioning Cleanser
Credit: Target
Detangler
Suave Professional Cream Detangler Spray
Suave Professional Cream Detangler Spray
Credit: Target
Hydration
Carol's Daughter Goddess Strength Hair & Scalp Oil
Carol's Daughter Goddess Strength Hair & Scalp Oil
Credit: Target
Deep Treatment
Dreamgirls Revival Deep Treatment
Dreamgirls Revival Deep Treatment

Avoid Over-Cleansing

It’s no secret that Black girls don’t shampoo every day, and there’s good reason for that: Remember how we mentioned that curly and coily hair tends to be drier? Well, shampoo only worsens that issue by stripping the hair of natural oils.

Monroe suggests incorporating co-washing into your haircare routine. A co-wash product still cleanses the hair and scalp but uses conditioning ingredients that won’t strip your hair clean.

For the most part, you don’t have to wash your hair after every run. Depending on your hair and scalp, most women with natural hair can get away with shampooing once or twice a week. There’s no magic number, so it really depends on what your hair needs (back to tip number one). It’s always best to opt for a sulfate-free shampoo, like Design Essentials Almond and Avocado Shampoo and follow with a nourishing conditioner, like the Almond and Avocado one from Design Essentials.

Natural products with natural ingredients work best, Patterson says. Look for products that contain essential and caring oils like lavender, peppermint, lemon grass, and tea tree oil, to name a few, he says.

Oh, and Moisturize Again

Yes, it’s really that important, so we’ll remind you one last time here. Don’t skip the moisturizing step.

tonya nero styling her long hair
Tonya Nero applying Vitamin E oil to her roots after practice.
Courtesy Tonya Nero

Do What Makes You Happy

The process of figuring out how to care for your hair and maintain a regular running routine requires some trial and error, and it is not an easy journey for all. But we hope you’ll end up in a place where you’ll never have to choose between exercise or your hair because we believe both should bring you confidence and joy.

For some runners, that means trying something different altogether. One participant of the 2018 study described how transitioning from a relaxed hairstyle to a natural hairstyle was a liberating experience for her. As she expressed, “It was empowering when I cut off all my hair years ago… I was just able to do what I wanted to.”

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