The bounty of hair care advice out there is endless! You might say it could fill a whole ocean. Speaking of the oceans, have you ever wondered if salt water is good for your hair?
Yes, salt water can add volume and texture to your hair, but excessive use can dry it out.
Sometimes, after a day at the beach, you may come home with glorious beachy-looking hair. Those effortless waves and natural volume are hard to replicate with hair products.
Beachy waves are a big benefit to spending time in the surf. So you may feel that salt water is actually good for your hair. In reality, it depends on many different factors.
I know because I’ve been a hairdresser for over a decade. Much of my education covered chemical reactions between hair and environmental factors. And I’m not the only one– most of us learn about things like salt water’s effects on hair during beauty school.
To that end, I interviewed Linda Pomilio, master stylist at Carmine and Company in Warrington, PA. I started by asking for her thoughts on whether salt water is good for your hair.
She told me, “Every person’s hair is unique. However, I’d say trial and error would be the key to whether salt spray [or salt water] will work for you.
If you try a salt product and your hair feels terrible afterward, stop using it right away.
The good news is that deep conditioning should get your hair feeling better instantly. If you have super smooth hair that begs for texture, a salt spray may be your bestie. Men and women with oily hair will definitely enjoy the benefits of the drying effects of the salt.
In conclusion, we all love the look of our hair after a day in the surf. But there are alternatives that won’t be as drying to your locks.” I have to say, she hit the nail right on the head! But this knowledge is anything but common.
That’s why I put together this ultimate guide and FAQ to answer, once and for all: Is salt water good for your hair?
In this article, you’ll learn:
- What salt water is. I’ll also explain how salt water and seawater differ.
- Why you might (or might not) want to use salt water sprays. You’ll learn the science-backed benefits and potential drawbacks of salt water products.
- Who can benefit the most and least from salt water. Depending on your hair type, you can go crazy with the salt or may need to 100% steer clear.
- How, where, and when to apply salt water for best results. I’ll talk about my favorite products for different hair types and share pro tips for applying– including a DIY product!
- Frequently asked questions. Looking for more specific info? I’ve got answers to your questions.
Salt Water vs. Seawater
Not all bodies of ocean water that contain salt are the same.
Salinity is the concentration of salt in a body of water. And it’s different for, let’s say, the Atlantic Ocean versus the Baltic Sea. All seawater contains varying levels of salt, or sodium chloride.
That’s what makes it a “saltwater” body of water. So, when talking about seawater, it’s similar in many ways to salt water. (source)
The question becomes, why does this salt water affect your hair so much? It’s quite simple when you look at the structure of the hair shaft, and how it responds to the salt molecules in the water.
The salt from the seawater adds extra saline (salt and water) links to your hair. This temporarily alters the bonds of your hair, which control curls and waves. In a nutshell, the effect on your hair creates beautiful beachy waves. (source)
Salt Water on the Hair: Benefits and Potential Drawbacks
There are benefits (and potential drawbacks) of using salt water that you need to consider.
Here are the biggest benefits:
The above-mentioned “beachy waves.” Even if your hair is on the straighter side, you’ll enjoy a wavy effect.
Added body and volume. The salt thickens each hair strand. This gives you natural-looking movement and volume.
Benefits scalp health and cleanliness. Salt acts as an exfoliant, which can help to get rid of build-up on your scalp. This promotes healthier follicles and hair growth. The exfoliation stimulates blood flow to help your hair grow.
Anti-fungal properties. These are great for helping to get rid of and prevent dandruff. The salt water is similar to a natural shampoo and grease remover. Think of it like a natural clarifying shampoo!
So now for the bad news:
Salt water is very drying for your hair. It’s not such a big problem if you have very healthy, natural, or virgin hair that’s never been color treated. But on color-treated hair, salt is even more dehydrating. Be careful if you have this hair type.
With constant exposure to seawater, sand, and sun, it’s going to dry out your hair more. You may want to take precautions to prevent this. Too much exposure to seawater or salt water products is a recipe for disaster.
You’ll end up with a hair and scalp state that’s dry and sensitive from the salt water damaging it. For beach days, try using a hair oil, leave-in conditioner with SPF or swim cap to make sure it’s protected from the seawater.
Hair Type Considerations
Specific hair types may want to pay special attention to using salt water in the hair. At the same time, other hair types are a great match for salt sprays. I’ve broken down my recommendations below.
Frizzy, Coarse, or Heavily Processed Hair
With this hair type, it’s important to be very careful using salt water. Heavily processed hair, or chemically treated hair, is going to dry out very fast with salt water. It’s just not healthy enough to stand up to the salt water, since the chemical treatments weaken the hair shaft. It’s the same for thick or coarse hair. The salt water is going to dry out your hair, creating damage and breakage.
When I asked Linda about which hair types should avoid salt water, she said, “If you have frizzy, coarse or dry hair I would definitely stay away from a salt spray.
Salt tends to leach out moisture and oil giving the hair texture, but your hair can appear more dry and brittle from the application. Fine and oily hair can definitely benefit from a salt spray, helping sop up those oils.”
Fine or Oily Hair
With fine and oily hair, salt water is actually going to make your hair look better. It’s going to help to clarify some of that oil, making it less greasy. For fine hair, it will add volume to each hair shaft, so that it will look fuller.
That said, less is more with fine and oily hair. It’s so easy to use too much of any product. Be sure to start small and increase in small amounts for best results.
Curly or Color-Treated Hair
If you have natural curls untouched by dye, salt water will help create gorgeous beachy waves.
But if you have color-treated hair, the results aren’t going to be as great. Any existing frizz will just look even more frizzy.
With color-treated hair, the salt dries out your hair too much. That’s because your hair is already damaged from the coloring process. This is even more true if you have bleached or highlighted hair.
But you can still get beachy waves! Check out my recommendations below to achieve the look without using salt water.
Best Ways to Use Salt Water in Your Hair
The best way to use salt water in your hair is with products that contain salt. They’re chock full of nourishing ingredients to help prevent over-drying.
Sea Salt Spray Products
Bumble and Bumble Surf Spray: This is a good general product for any hair type. It was one of the original sea sprays ever created and it’s still popular for a reason.
Sun Bum Sea Spray: As a more nourishing spray, this one is great for color-treated hair. It has Hawaiian sea salt and sea kelp in the ingredients. It’s true that salt sprays can be a bit rough on color-treated hair. But if you still want to try one, this is the most conditioning option for your hair.
Davines This is a Sea Salt Spray: Fine or oily hair will love this spray, which is not going to weigh your hair down. It just adds the perfect amount of volume for a tousled and textured look.
Amika Un.done Volume and Matte Texture Spray: For coarse or heavily processed hair, this spray is a champion. It gives instant volume and reduces frizz. The company calls the results it creates a “perfectly imperfect texture.” That’s exactly what you want. Best of all, it doesn’t contain any actual salt– but still gives that beachy effect.
I asked Linda about her favorite alternatives to salt water spray. She told me, “If you love the textured finish that a salt spray gives your hair, but don’t like the way your hair feels afterwards, there are alternatives. I would suggest trying L’Oreal’s Curl Expression 10 in 1 Cream-In-Mousse applied to wet hair.
Follow up with Redken’s Spray Wax applied to damp or dry hair.
This great combination of products will give you that textured and beachy finish without compromising the health of your strands. L’Oreal’s mousse will give you soft hold, heat protection, smoothness and hydration. Redken’s spray wax will reward your hair with great definition, a messy shape and a waxy hold that mimics a salt spray.
Try twirling your hair around your finger as you style to define your wave and achieve separation.”
DIY Sea Salt Spray
Are you feeling crafty? Or you may just want a truly natural and clean product without any extra preservatives. It’s time to DIY a sea salt spray. Make your own sea salt spray at home with this recipe.
1 tablespoon sea salt or Epsom salt
1 cup warm water
1 teaspoon of argan, jojoba, or extra virgin coconut oil
2 drops of essential oil (optional)
- Simmer all the ingredients together until the salt dissolves.
- Let it cool.
- Pour mixture into a spritzer or spray bottle. A funnel is helpful for this step.
- You can also add a couple of drops of your favorite essential oil for a pleasing scent, like lavender or rosemary. Skip the oils in the sea salt spray if you have very oily or fine hair.
How to Use a Salt Spray in Your Hair
The best way to use a salt spray is to spritz it onto damp hair from your mid-shafts, avoiding your roots, and spray down to the ends. Start with a small amount. Then, evaluate how it’s working for your hair after styling.
You can always add more if needed, or even spray closer to the roots. You see, too much salt can cause frizz– especially at your roots. You’ll want to take baby steps when it comes to dialing in this product.
You can also use a blow dryer with a diffuser for extra curls and volume. Or let your locks naturally dry for heat-free styling. This would be the healthiest, least damaging option.
Remember, the salt water is going to be a little drying to your hair. That’s why it’s also important to incorporate your favorite deep conditioner into your hair care routine.
This will help nourish, protect, and keep your hair in better shape. I suggest once a month, once every 2 weeks, or once a week depending on how much the salt impacts your tresses.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does salt water thicken hair?
Yes, in a way. It’s going to cause each hair shaft to swell up, making it feel thicker and fuller with more volume. The results are temporary though, and will wash out of your hair once you shampoo it.
How long should you leave salt water in your hair?
For a leave-in salt spray, it’s okay to keep it in until your next shampoo. When you’ve spent time at the beach, it’s better to wash your hair after you get home before bed.
Does salt help hair growth?
Yes, depending on your scalp’s health, salt water can help with hair growth. Especially if you suffer from dandruff, it’ll create a cleaner, healthier environment and improve blood flow. When your scalp is healthy, your follicles are going to grow better. (source)
Does salt water lighten dyed hair?
Depending on the color of your dye, regular contact with salt water might lighten your hair. It’s notorious for causing bright fashion colors and toned blondes to fade faster.
But if your hair is dyed brown or black, for example, salt water won’t do much to lighten the tone. Your ends may get a sunkissed look.
Does salt water turn blonde hair orange?
Brassiness may occur with regular salt water/spray applications. The same is true whether you’re hanging out in the pool or at the beach with natural seawater. And if your hair is color treated, brassiness is even more likely.