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How To Make Your Hair Look Amazing Underwater (Tips From A Professional Mermaid)

One of the classic hallmarks of underwater model photography is beautiful, flowing, floating hair. It can be key to creating that truly weightless look that shows the picture really was taken underwater and hasn’t just been photoshopped. But how do you get your hair to look amazing underwater? Here are some tips from my time as a professional mermaid performer.

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How To Make Your Hair Look Amazing Underwater

Underwater Hair Wrangling

Different people’s hair tends to be differently floaty underwater; the finer the hair, the better it floats. The water you’re in will also make a difference; your hair will float better in saltwater than it does in a swimming pool.

Using oils and oil-based hair products

Hair is covered in naturally produced oils, which also help it to float, so if you’re finding that your hair is looking flat underwater, you can try adding a conditioning oil like argan oil beforehand (this will also help to protect your hair from chlorine and keep it from tangling). However, a word of warning! Oil in the water can ruin picture quality for your photographs – and once the oil is in the water, you won’t be able to get it out in time to rescue the shoot. If you’re the only model being shot that day, and you use a small amount of product, you may be okay – but a lot of product or a number of models all using a small amount of product could ruin your water quality. So make sure you discuss any user of hair oils with your photographer beforehand. Thanks to photographer Brett Stanley for this tip!

Moving your hair underwater

When you drop down through the water, your hair will naturally rise; however if you then swim or move forwards, it will push your hair back from your face, which can leave it looking flat. In order to get that perfect floating hair effect, once you’re in position, try shaking your head gently from side to side, or run a hand upwards through your hair.

Be aware of the position of your hair, as it can ruin a great shot if too much of it gets in front of your face; if that starts happening, the best solution is to use both hands to gently waft the hair upwards.

The hair is the primary indicator that this shot by Shamira Crivellaro was taken underwater.

Hair Colour Matters

Think about the colour of your hair and the colour of the background. If you are using a typical blue underwater background, blonde or red hair will be the most high-contrast colours, and will really stand out against your background. Lighter hair catches the light best underwater, so if you’re darker-haired (like me!) bear that in mind. Of course, you can always try wearing a wig (see below)…

Using Wigs Underwater

Despite what you might expect, wigs are totally do-able underwater. However in order to prevent your wig making a floaty bid for freedom, there are some key pieces of advice you probably want to be aware of:

  • Make sure you get a wig with adjusters inside and set them to a tight setting.
  • Then make sure you have a wig cap. For added security, I recommend french plaiting or braiding your natural hair underneath the wig cap, and then pinning the wig through the wig cap and into the plait.
  • Be prepared for your wig to be a crazy tangled mess once you’re done with the photoshoot. The longer the wig, the greater potential for tangling. Wigs with straighter hair are likely to take less time to untangle – curly wigs can get really messy. Bring a comb and be ready to invest some time teasing it back into shape.
  • Bear the wig in mind when you’re entering the water and getting into position. If you rapidly dive down or swim forward, the water will push against the wig and be more likely to loosen it. The more gently you move around, the less likely you are to dislodge the wig.

When you’re modelling underwater in a wig, you need to think about more than just making sure it doesn’t float off your head. Before you get in the water, make sure you’ve checked out the hairline of your wig in the mirror. Especially with cheaper wigs, while they may look great on land with the fringe/bangs hanging down, once you’re in water there’s the potential for all the hair to float up and expose that hairline.

If the hairline isn’t great, you’ll want to make sure it’s not exposed in the photos; try dropping below the water with a hand holding the fringe down.

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I wore a red wig in this underwater photograph by David Kershaw

Styling Hair Underwater

Generally the best bet is to leave hair loose rather than attempting to style it; loose flowing hair creates a great underwater effect. If you are styling your hair, you’ll need a lot of pins to keep it in place! Remember also if you’re planning to use hair clips, hairbands, tiaras etc. that you need to think very carefully about whether your hair is going to get hopelessly tangled in them.‚Äč

This also goes for necklaces; earrings; and clothing that’s close to your hair; when I made my first ever mermaid top, it had fake seaweed on the shoulder straps. It looked great, but every time I got in the water, my hair ended up tangled in the leaves, and sometimes it couldn’t be untangled and had to be cut free. Needless to say, I remodelled the top pretty quickly!

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Photograph by Duncan Grisby

Learn more about underwater modelling

This article is part of a series sharing top tips on various aspects of underwater modelling! If you’re interested, you can check out this article on general underwater modelling tips to look amazing underwater or this post about learning how to open your eyes underwater.

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