Synchronized swimmers practice in goggles and swim caps, but during competition they go cap-less and goggle-less, according to Yahoo Shine. To keep hair in place without a cap, they comb unflavored Jello mixed with water through hair and twist it into buns. The paste can only be removed with a very hot shower. This removal process "takes about a half-hour" Leah Pinette of the U.S. National synchronized swim team tells Shine. "But it'll dissolve and then you just pick and scrape it off." (Mm!) The horse cartilage in the paste supposedly good for hair health. "It actually seems to make it a little shinier, but it also grabs at dead hair, so we end up loosing a lot of strands," Pinette explains.
Serious synchronized swimmers also cite serious strain on body hair. Chlorine dissolves and diminishes much of it, including eyebrows, Pinette adds. "I can't wait for the day when I don't have to keep drawing them on."
Male and female swimmers shave whatever’s not covered by suit or cap. Shaving "[changes] the sensory input to the central nervous system," says Joel Stager, director of the Counsilman Center for the Science of Swimming at Indiana University. "Motor output is magnified when you shave the skin.” So basically muscles can work faster and harder. He says this works in other sports too, and research exists to support the theory.
Every hairstylist faced with a swimmer's hair comments on what bad condition it ends up in. So some swimmers use conditioner before a race as a precaution. Also, some wear one thin swim cap to protect the hair, and then another thicker one over that to reduce friction.
Hair on the head probably doesn’t affect speed because of the swim cap so most Olympians don’t shave their heads. But high school boy swimmers often do — for them it’s “more of a tradition or a ritual” than an actual performance boost, says Stager.
Beginning cyclists can be spotted in a race easily — just look for leg fur. Michael Barry, who has competed in the Olympics and bikes regularly in tours around the world (including the Tour de France) has written extensively on his sport, including a detailed and downright poetic piece on the importance of leg-shaving for Bicycling magazine. The motives for this practice are unclear, though oft-cited ones include "cleanliness, style, facilitating massage, aerodynamics, and ease of treating road rash," Barry writes. Shaving can get tricky in cramped hotel bathrooms, and leave behind a mass of hair "as though a rat has been sheared," he continues. "Perhaps it is some combination of the mystery, the difficulty, and the taboo (to men in general the act is abnormal), that has turned leg shaving into a rite of passage."
A married couple of hobbyist cyclists who are fairly serious about it tell BuzzFeed Shift a lot of men who get to the leg-shaving phase of cycling seriousness know that women's shave cream is better to use than men's. (Waxing is apparently not a common practice in the cycling community.) When asked why he submitted to the lengthy, tedious process of de-fur-ing his legs the husband replied, "Serious cyclists shave. And I don't bike slow."
Jessie Sebor, editor-in-chief of Women's Running magazine, says runners can do a few things to look their best on TV. She suggests minimal makeup, including a tinted moisturizer with SPF and a waterproof mascara that can stand up to sweating. Also, a secure ponytail is a must. "Or if you want to get fancy, try a French braid twisted into a ponytail, like 1500 meter star Jenny Simpson," she says. "Regardless of hairstyle, however, the athletes on Team USA are powerful, strong and inspiring — and that is a beautiful thing!"
Britney Henry, who finished ninth at the Olympic Trials this year and did not qualify for the Olympic team, is an advocate of side braids. "I always pull my hair into a ponytail but I have had to find ways to keep my bangs out of my face," she says. "I have finally mastered the side braid, which seems to look the best and stays in place."
As for sweat marks, there's not much she can do: "I embrace it by always making sure I have a cute, colorful sports bra on."
Skincare is key: "After a long day in the San Diego sun" — where Henry trains — "my face takes a beating. Before heading to bed, I always put emu oil on my face. I wake up in the morning with fresh and soft skin."
Mariel Zagunis, fencer and two-time gold medalist, will carry the flag for the U.S. in the opening ceremonies, so she ought to get some pretty good mask-less camera time. She told Beauty News NYC that her staples are waterproof mascara and facial cleansing wipes: “I work out two and three times a day, so washing my face in between is really important. I don’t wear a lot of makeup when I practice, but I do like to put a little on my eyes every day and waterproof mascara is the number-one product I use.”
U.S. Olympic equestrian Beezie Madden has no special beauty routine: “My hair goes under a helmet.”