Competitive swimmers wear swim caps mainly because it streamlines their head shape and improves their hydrodynamics so that they can swim as fast as possible. Any side benefits a swim cap provides for them are just the icing on top.
Even for non-competitive swimmers who don’t care about speed, the side benefits swim caps provide are actually incredible. If you are an avid pool-goer and are worried about your hair drying out, consider wearing a swim cap.
Swim caps are effective at protecting your hair from chlorine, saltwater, and UV rays. They wrap tightly around your head which, while not waterproof, limits how much water can reach your hair. Swim caps also have a UPF rating, meaning it blocks the majority of the sun’s UV rays from reaching your hair and scalp. Lastly, swim caps also provide some potential life-saving benefits which are arguably more important than protecting your hair.
Can a piece of fabric worn over your head really do all of these things? Sounds too good to be true, but it’s actually not that much of a stretch. Read on to learn the details.
Swim cap material
First things first, since we’ve hyped up the swim cap beyond imagination, let’s bring it back down to reality. A swim cap can protect your hair, but not just any swim cap. It needs to be a high-quality swim cap, preferably made of silicone.
The three most common swim cap materials are lycra, latex, and silicone. Of these three, latex is the most common because it is cheap and comfortable. However, latex can sometimes cause allergic reactions. Furthermore, latex is known to let water pass through it, which means that it offers little hair protection from chlorine and saltwater.
Lycra/spandex is the same material that your swimsuit is made of, which is why it feels like you’re wearing a swimsuit over your head. Swimsuits are known for providing UV protection, so that’s good. Like a swimsuit, lycra is also not very waterproof and lets water pass through it. However, it’s a step up from latex.
Silicone swim caps are the high-quality, high-performance swim caps that swimmers want. It is what competitive swimmers wear and for good reason. Silicone does not let water pass through it, so it can limit how much chlorine and saltwater reaches your hair. Silicone also offers UV protection and keeps your head warm.
We haven’t even fully explained what silicone does for you yet (keep reading to find out), but know that if you want a swim cap that protects your hair, get a silicone swim cap.
Chlorine and saltwater protection
Pool chemicals and saltwater are notorious for damaging your hair. If you once had smooth, silky hair, it would be a shame to see it turn brittle and straw-like over a summer of swimming.
Your hair and skin naturally produces an oil called sebum, which keeps your hair and skin moisturized. Saltwater and chlorine can strip your hair and skin of sebum, exposing it to dry air and causing it to dry out.
As your hair dries out, it starts to become brittle. You will notice it feel stiffer, you will experience split ends, and hair can sometimes just break off. With the oils stripped off, you also may feel irritation or itchiness on your head.
Chlorine is also known to discolor hair, especially if you have a lighter hair color or dyed hair. Chlorine can react to the chemicals used in the hair dye, turning them green or sometimes a muddy brown. This is something people don’t want to deal with, especially if they spent over a hundred dollars on their hair recently.
A silicone swim cap is not waterproof, but it can severely limit how much chlorine and saltwater your hair is exposed to. The seal that the cap forms around your head is not waterproof, especially if it is placed halfway over the ears, or if you’re the swim cap over the straps of the swim goggles.
That said, it is enough to keep most of the water from completely saturating your hair, thereby limiting the negative effects of chlorine and saltwater.
When swimming outdoors, you need to be careful of the sun’s UV rays. Most people know to wear sunscreen to protect their skin, but many neglect protecting their hair. To that end, you can wear a swim cap.
Sun damage on the hair can result in similar effects as chlorine and saltwater damage: discoloration, dry, brittle strands, broken and split ends, thinning, and frizziness, and so on.
A swim cap not only protects your hair, but also your scalp, since it is unlikely that you applied sunscreen there either. So even if you don’t care about your hair, at least care about your skin and wear a swim cap anyways.
Keeps you safe outdoors
Hear me out here. What’s the best way of protecting your hair? How about keeping you alive so you even have the luxury to care about your hair? A swim cap can help you with that too.
A silicone swim cap is thicker and much more durable than latex and lycra, making it great for keeping your head warm when swimming outdoors. Staying warm will help keep your movements from becoming sluggish, improving your performance in the water.
The thickness of it keeps your hair packed down tightly, streamlining your head shape and reducing drag, ultimately resulting in better performance underwater. Reducing drag not only improves your speed, but also helps you conserve stamina since each stroke can propel you further, so that overall you need to do less strokes to cover the same distance as someone who is less streamlined.
You can also get swim caps in bright colors which increases your visibility in the water. This helps boaters, kayakers, and canoers see you and avoid you in the water. It also helps rescuers spot you if you’re in need of help.
All of this is to say that a swim cap can improve your chances of survival in the water. There’s no point thinking about your hair if the next time you go swimming is your last, so anything that improves performance and safety in the water should be taken seriously.
How to put on a swim cap properly
A swim cap will not be able to protect your hair if you aren’t wearing it properly. Therefore, you need to know how to put on a swim cap properly to get all of its hair-protecting benefits.
Take a look at the video above to see how someone with short hair can easily put on a swim cap.
Essentially, you stick both your hands in with palms facing each other. Find the middle seam of the swim cap, and then begin to stretch the cap outwards using the back of your hands.
Next, place the cap over your head starting from your forehead. You can “hook” the cap on your forehead as you pull it back over the rest of your head.
Adjust the swim cap as necessary. You can choose to put the cap over the goggles or not. You can also choose to put it over your ears or not. If you want to protect your hair by limiting how much water enters the cap, put your swim cap over your ears, and wear your goggles over the swim cap.
If you have long hair, the process is not much different with regards to putting it on, however you will need a bigger swim cap to account for the extra bulk. You will also first need to tie your hair into a bun so it’s easier for the swim cap to cover most of your hair. It’s okay if some of the hair on your neck isn’t completely covered.
By knowing how to properly put on your swim cap, you can limit how much chlorine and saltwater reaches your hair and protect your luscious locks from their harmful effects.