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How to wear your hair when scuba diving? It’s a popular and sometimes frustrating topic of conversation among scuba girls. That’s not because we’re so shallow that we only care about our looks, but because spending hours a day in the ocean can literally destroy your locks.

As a kid I used to be obsessed with the Little Mermaid (ok, still am). One of my favorite things about Ariel was her luscious, voluminous hair, gracefully flowing around her as she styled it with a fork. Fast forward to 2020 and I’m still in awe of some modern day mermaids with perfect hair on Instagram.

Not sure how she pulls it off, but Madeleine is the queen of mermaid hair on Instagram

Over the years, I learned a few lessons when it comes to my hair and scuba diving. The first one was that a fork is not a great hair styling tool after all (I’m talking to you, Ariel). The second lesson was that if I let my hair float around freely during a dive, I’m guaranteed to surface with something that can best be described as a bird nest on my head.

So if you’re like me and you’re not born with mermaid hair genes, here are some hair tips for scuba diving to minimize the damage. No head of hair is the same, so some of these tips may work for you, and others won’t. This list is by no means complete, but these methods are either very popular among my fellow scuba girls, or have worked really well for me personally.

hair tips for SCUBA DIVING

When it comes to hair tips for scuba diving, you can pretty much divide everything in two categories: moisture preservation and movement restriction.

Moisture preservation

Like our skin, our hair needs water to stay healthy. But as sea water contains salt, it actually extracts water from your hair, leaving it dehydrated. The result? Dry hair, knots, split ends. Or in other words: straw. To keep your hair moisturized despite spending hours a day in the ocean there are a few things you can do.

One of the key principles to remember to minimize the damage by salt water, is that our hair absorbs the first liquid it comes in contact with. So if you saturate your hair with something other than salt water before jumping in, you’re already one step ahead of the game. There are various options to do this.

Coconut oil

Many mermaids go loco for all things coco when it comes to their hair. Oil repels water, so when applying coconut oil onto your hair before getting into the water, it will act as a barrier. However, experts say coconut oil isn’t beneficial for every hair type: it can actually make it even drier and more brittle than it was before. So if you’ve never used coconut oil on your hair before, you might want to go easy and do a little test run above the surface.

Hair conditioner

Applying hair conditioner offers the same protective shield around your locks as coconut oil, without making it heavy. When choosing this method, always make sure you use a reef safe conditioner. Destroying the reef while protecting our hair is obviously not a side effect we’re going for. When I tried this method, I found that after one dive all conditioner had been rinsed from my hair. So if you’re doing multiple dives a day, this method may not be ideal unless you don’t mind reapplying before each dive.

Fresh water

What if you don’t have any reef safe hair products at hand? Or if applying hair products is not something you want to be bothered with when you’re diving? Simply rinsing your hair with fresh water (and therefore saturating it) before getting into the ocean also works wonders. There are already a million things to think about when getting ready for a dive, so this is my favorite method when it comes to prepping my hair!

After-care: rinse rinse rinse!

The most important step to prevent my hair from turning into straw, is rinsing it with fresh water immediately after the dive. As soon as I get out of my gear, I rinse my hair (and face) with as much fresh water as is available. Small piece of advice: don’t use drinking water for this unless you bring your own – your fellow divers may not find the state of your hair as important as you do. But most dive operations often bring additional fresh water for cleaning the boat etc., that they will normally let guests use as well. If you’re diving from shore, just hop under the nearest shower!

Movement restriction

Some girls may be able to channel their inner Ariel and let their hair float around freely, but for me movement equals trouble. If I don’t keep my hair locked in place during the dive, I can hydrate and rinse all I want, but I’d still need a pair of scissors to save the day. For me it’s key to allow as little movement as possible, and making sure my hair stays in place throughout the dive. These are my go-to methods:

Headband
Hair tips for scuba diving: wear a headband

I never dive without my headband for two reasons: it prevents a permanent sunburn on my forehead and it keeps those shorter hairs near my face in place (and out of my dive mask). I use this awesome headband with whale shark print from Waterlust, which is made from recycled plastic! The lovely ladies at Girls That Scuba sell a very similar one that comes at a friendlier price.

Hood

If you want to take it one step further, a dive hood does an even better job at preventing your hair from moving around, with the added benefit of keeping you extra warm. I have and love the 3 mm hood from Fourth Element, which is also available in 5 mm or 7 mm for added warmth.

Braids

Many mermaids swear by french braiding their hair to keep everything in place. This method works especially well if you have thick, long hair. And besides preventing those nasty knots at the end of the day, it actually looks cute too! However, if you have finer and/or shorter hair, like me, this may not work if you do multiple dives a day. For me it will stay in place for one dive, but after that it just falls apart. On top of that, french braiding your hair is not necessarily an easy thing to do for everyone!

HAIR TIE overdose

This method was first introduced to me by my friend and fellow dive instructor Lara, and it’s been my go-to scuba hairstyle ever since, for days when I do multiple dives. I call it the hair tie overdose (or Lara method) because depending on the length of your hair, you’ll need a LOT of hair ties for this. It’s pretty idiot proof; you basically make a normal ponytail, but instead of just using one hair tie, you’ll continue to put hair ties every few centimetres until you reach the end of your hair. I prefer to use a low ponytail in my neck to minimize knots as much as possible, but you can also do this with a high ponytail.

Jessica has managed to actually rock this hairstyle like a total babe, but I must admit that when I do it, it looks nowhere near this good 🙂

Neoprene mask strap

No matter how strong or healthy your hair is, if you use a dive mask without a neoprene mask strap, you’ll be guaranteed to pull out half of your hair every time you remove your mask. Mask straps are usually made out of silicone, which apparently has a hidden talent for hair removal. By using a neoprene cover, you basically put a jacket around the silicone so it doesn’t come in direct contact with your hair.

I use this one from Girls That Scuba, it’s super soft and still in perfect condition after using it on an almost daily basis for more than a year.

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So there you go, my recipe for healthy and happy scuba hair: 

  • Saturate your hair with coconut oil or a reef safe conditioner before getting in the water
  • Or simply rinse with fresh water before and after the dive
  • Restrict movement by using a headband or dive hood
  • And french braid your hair / go crazy with hair ties
  • Always use a neoprene mask strap

Do you know any other methods for protecting your hair when scuba diving? Share them in the comments!

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