What to Do About Dirty Hair When Backpacking in Peru

If you’ve spent any time at the beach, I am sure you are familiar with the phenomenon of “playa” hair. (Playa means beach in Spanish.) It results from a combination of saltwater, sand, and sunblock interacting with hair. There comes a point in the day when I can’t wait to take a shower to get rid of the icky, itchy feeling that comes from playa hair.

The phenomenon of playa hair is also a problem when backpacking. In this case, it results from a combination of sweat, dirt, and sunblock interacting with hair. It leaves me with the same icky, itchy feeling I get at the beach. The added problem is that washing my hair in the middle of a trek in Peru is a whole lot trickier. Sufficient water is not always available. Plus, it gets quite cold at night. So, wet hair can leave me feeling chilled, especially after a long day of strenuous physical exercise.

Hair care may not seem like a big deal to those intrepid backpackers out there. But, I’ve actually chosen to go on shorter treks so I wouldn’t have to deal with playa hair for too long. Meanwhile, I’ve done a lot of experimentation to solve the problem.

First, here’s what didn’t work (at least for me): dry shampoo. Maybe because my hair is quite long, using dry shampoo only made the situation worse. It added dry, white flakes to the whole itchy mess. Not good!

There were a couple of methods that worked, though. Lots of little braids, Bo Derek style, were somewhat successful. The braids seemed to keep most of my hair clean. Plus, they kept my hair away from my face. Paired with a hat or bandana, the braids were workable, although not ideal. Ideal would have been a steaming hot shower!

Another method was washing my hair with biodegradable shampoo/conditioner when sufficient water was available. I twisted my hair in a special towel called the Turbie Twist™. It did a great job of soaking up the moisture. I was even able to put my hair in a ponytail about 15 minutes later without it dripping down my back. Plus, the good news is that, at least on the Inca Trail, you usually reach camp in the afternoon. So, there is plenty of time before sundown for hair to dry.

Now that you know how to deal with playa hair, there’s no reason to wait—sign up today for one of our amazing treks in Peru!