Hair Coloring and Steam, Sauna & Pool

Hair covered with a towel
Photo: Zoteva/Shutterstock
Q: Should I stay out of the steam, sauna, and pool after coloring my hair? For how long, if so?
A: After a hair color service – particularly one that applies a dark or bolder color – your greatest risk of problems comes as a result of the hair cuticle still being raised and allowing the color to bleed, run or fade. Because of this, it only makes sense to avoid excessive exposure to environments that might penetrate the shaft and interfere with the color.
Steam baths and saunas are a different type of a worry than swimming pools. This is because of the chlorine levels found in most pools. The chlorine can penetrate the hair and interact with the color on the hair.
In the case of some hair colors – especially with ash-toned colors – the interaction of the chlorine results in a green tint to the hair. With other colors the great worry is fading as a result of the bleaching action of chlorine.
The steam baths and saunas cause a problem as a result of the heat involved. Color-treated hair tends to be more porous than virgin hair. As a result, the dry heat of a sauna can leech moisture from the hair and promote damage to the hair shaft.
With a steam bath, the moist heat tends to cause the hair shaft to swell further than it already has and further damages the cuticle layer. When the hair dries afterward, the cuticle remains open causing the hair to have a more difficult time retaining moisture.
The solution isn’t “staying out of the steam bath, sauna or pool” because until the hair grows out and the color-treated hair is cut away, your hair is going to be “color-treated”. The secret is protecting the hair when you plan to enjoy these environs.
When you plan to visit the sauna or steam bath, cover your hair with a towel to act as an insulator. If you’re okay with your hair getting or being wet while in the sauna or steam bath, use a damp towel that has been saturated with cool water and wrung out. Afterward, use a good “smoothing” conditioner (one listed as formulated to make hair smooth) to help seal the cuticle layer and keep the color and moisture locked into the hair.
You can also use the conditioner on the hair prior to the visit into the sauna and/or steam bath and simply not rinse it. Just wrap the hair in a towel for insulation. The heat of the environment will help the conditioner penetrate and give you a deep conditioning treatment while you are enjoying the warmth.
For the pool, I recommend getting a bathing cap, or if that’s not a viable option, get some shampoo and conditioner designed for swimmers. These products help to remove chlorine from the hair and minimize the potential damage from swimming pools.
See also:
How to make hair color last longer
The effect of chlorine on hair
How do steam rooms affect your hair?
How can I keep my hair from drying out in a dry sauna?