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Skin- and hair-care secrets from California Olympians

Volleyball player Jennifer Kessy and swimmers Dara Torres and Natalie Coughlin share some advice on how to help skin and hair beat the heat and humidity this summer.

June 24, 2012|By Alene Dawson | Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • Olympic swimmer Dara Torres recommends rotating shampoos to keep hair looking good.
Olympic swimmer Dara Torres recommends rotating shampoos to keep hair… (The Washington Post / Getty…)

Looking beautiful isn't the goal, but it's often a natural byproduct of the discipline, tenacity and good health required to be an Olympic champion. The beauty and fashion industries have taken note, sponsoring athletes, naming them brand ambassadors and featuring them on magazine covers, as Vogue did this month with a picture of tennis star Sabrina Williams and soccer goalie Hope Solo arm in arm with swimmer Ryan Lochte, all dressed in swimsuits and running on a sandy beach. Now that it is officially summer, we turned to some California Olympians for their thoughts on how to beat the heat and humidity that are intrinsic to their sports. Swimmers Dara Torres (she was born in Beverly Hills and grew up in L.A.) and Natalie Coughlin (a Berkeley grad) plus volleyball player Jennifer Kessy (a USC grad born in San Clemente) shared their secrets for looking lovely even in humidity and sizzling summer sun.

Protect skin

Without sunscreen, "I absolutely burn," says newly anointed CoverGirl brand ambassador Kessy, whose volleyball training includes running on the beach. "If I go out in the sun, even just to the grocery store, I'm definitely putting [sunscreen] on my face and on my arms. Or even if I go on a 20-minute hike I'm wearing something or I would burn for sure.

"I wear at least an SPF 70, and if I can't find that then it's at least a 50 all over my body — my hands, my feet, my arms, my legs," she says. "I think that a lot of women forget to put it on their legs because they're so worried about their face."

The nonprofit Environmental Working Group's 2012 Sunscreen Guide warns that only 25% of sunscreens are effective and that it's important to constantly reapply even high SPF sunscreen. Many EWG-recommended sunscreens use minerals such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide that can leave a whitish tint.

When it's really hot, Kessy and Torres prefer those cream sunscreens that may look white on the skin. "That helps me know where I've applied it," Kessy says, adding that especially during long tournament days, skin safety trumps vanity.

Kessy says it is important to test sunscreen before taking a long run or engaging in any type of competition to make sure it won't run into your eyes and sting when you perspire.

Darker skin needs plenty of sun protection too. "I have Spanish blood in me, so getting burned really isn't an issue, but I'm so worried about my skin," Torres says. She uses MD Solar Science and Ocean Potion sunscreens and Neutrogena Cleansing Wipes to take it all off at the end of the day.

Ready, set, glow

Coughlin, who's also an avid surfer, credits her glowing skin to her diet. "I have mostly a plant-based diet, so I try to get as many fruits and vegetables in every meal as possible," she says. "If your skin and hair look dull, a lot of times that has to do with your diet as well as your skin- and hair-care routine."

Bronzers, self-tanners and spray tans are options for boosting a healthy glow.

Five-time Olympic swimmer Torres once struggled with an eating disorder. "I know what it's like to deprive myself of food and then crave it even more and end up eating more than you should," Torres says. For health and good looks, she counsels, "Don't deprive yourself of food and hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.… Drink lots of water."

Topical moisturizer is also really important, "especially in the summertime by the pool or by the ocean," Torres says. She uses La Mer and Sisley face moisturizers and body lotion by Amlactin (her sponsor). Thick body butter doesn't necessarily translate to hydrated skin, she warns.

Banish the green

"Some swimmers' hair turns green and some doesn't," Torres says. "But hair definitely can get damaged from the chlorine. What I suggest to people who aren't heavy-duty, in-elite-training-for-the-Olympics swimmers is to put conditioner underneath your swim cap." Torres likes WEN shampoo but recommends rotating shampoos. She doesn't use a chlorine-removing shampoo on her own hair but does on her daughter's.

Like Torres, Coughlin trains outdoors year-round, and she's in the water up to four hours a day. But she's not a fan of chlorine-removing shampoos, saying, "I really recommend against those because they strip your hair of all its natural moisture and then that makes hair more susceptible to the chlorine damage, so it creates a vicious cycle."

Instead, she says it's important to use a gentle shampoo and a really moisturizing conditioner after every pool session. She's a Pantene spokeswoman and uses its Moisture Renewal shampoo, Moisture Whip leave-in conditioner and a deep conditioner at least once a week.

"The sun definitely has bleaching effects on your hair … and over time also makes hair more susceptible to damage," says Coughlin, who advocates a swim cap for laps and wearing a hat outside the pool for general sun protection.

The frizzies

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