*The U.S. surgeon general paid a visit to the annual Bronner Bros. International Hair Show on Sunday with a special message for African American women.

According to CNN.com, Dr. Regina Benjamin discussed the reluctance of some black women to  exercise because it will sweat their hair out.  It turns out Benjamin has struggled with this issue too.

Below, CNN’s Q&A with Dr. Benjamin.

What brings you to the hair show?

Actually it’s the perfect event. My priority as surgeon general is prevention.  Everything that we do is to try to build a healthy and fit nation.

What we find when talking particularly with African American women – I’m later finding this with other women, too – was that when we talk about exercise, we hear, “I don’t want to sweat my hair back or I don’t want to mess up my hairstyle.  It cost me too much to get my hair done this week.”

When United Healthcare came and talked about this last year, it was a successful at the Bronner Bros. Hair Show with 60,000 hairdressers.  What better audience would be to help us find exercise-friendly hairstyles? This is trying to encourage women to continue to exercise and be healthy and give them a way to do that without messing up their hair.

Is there evidence that this hair issue is really why some women don’t exercise  or is this anecdotal?

There are some studies there. I’ve talked to a number of women and that’s the first thing they’ll tell you.   I know that was an issue for me. I didn’t want to mess up my hair. You sweat a lot in your hair and it changes your hairstyle completely.

Unlike other races and ethnic groups, you can’t wash your hair and go out. African Americans, most of us can’t do that. We need to spend a little bit more time on our hair. We need something that cuts down on getting hair back in a nice  hairstyle.  So I don’t think it’s something anecdotal.  I’ve talked to women a lot because I’m doing this conference and it’s a real issue.

  • Benjamin’s office cited two studies that examined why fewer than 30% of minority women in the United States get the recommended level of exercise. The reasons were lack of time followed by “economic constraints, major life changes or traumas, safety issues, weather and environment, the hassle of personal care such as showering and keeping hair looking good,” according to the American Journal of Public Health.

Has this hair issue become an easy crutch for not exercising?

It’s an easy excuse, but it’s a real excuse. If you go out and spend $40-50 to get your hair done, you don’t want to go out and get it all sweaty and wet that afternoon before you got to show it off.

Other ethnic groups would come up and say the same thing. I’ve heard it from Hispanics.  I’ve heard it from a couple of my older white patients that I have at home.  They’re saying I get my hair done every weekend- I don’t want to be exercising after I get my hair done. I don’t think it’s limited to African American women.

How do you deal with this issue?

I exercise at night.  That’s my solution: Exercise at night so when I finish, I can be at home. I’m a night person anyway.

Did it ever prevent you from exercising?

A little bit.  Early on when I was in college, I remember I liked swimming, but I didn’t swim because it messed your hair up.  It was a factor, it was a thought – it didn’t stop all the way, it becomes a decision point.

Are there hairstyles that work with exercising?

Last year, what we found was that the hairdressers and stylists tend to be able to show things they can do and different products that makes the hairstyle lasts longer. There are natural hairstyles, braids, short hairstyles and things like that. They’re really creative.