Gelatin Is the Secret to the Olympic Synchronized Swimmers’ Perfect Hair

Team USA swimmers Anita Alvarez and Mariya Koroleva transfix audiences with their flawless routines and motionless manes. (Photo: Getty)
Team USA swimmers Anita Alvarez and Mariya Koroleva transfix audiences with their flawless routines and motionless manes. (Photo: Getty)

It isn’t just their graceful routines and perfectly coordinated moves that have been mesmerizing Olympic viewers the world over. The synchronized swimmers of Team USA also seem to have the kind of hair that defies the elements. We mere mortals are lucky if we can tame our tresses for just one hour during an August heat wave, never mind splashing and somersaulting around an Olympic pool in Rio. So how do they do it?

Two athletes have finally spilled the secret to their magically motionless manes: It’s gelatin! Anita Alvarez, 19, and Mariya Koroleva, 26, synchronized-swim duet partners, told Vogue they specifically use Knox Gelatine, a $6 product that not only freezes hair in place but also deep-conditions it in the process. Talk about a win-win.

“It’s like unflavored Jell-O — we mix it with water, and it turns into a gooey mixture,” the ladies said to Vogue. “You comb or brush that into your hair, put it up in a bun, and put a headpiece over that, so when it dries, it gets really hard and your hair doesn’t fall out when you swim.” The pair said they will sometimes add decorations, like glitter, into the mix for fun — after all, they don’t need to wear swim caps, as the dried gelatin essentially acts as a cap.

Olympic Nail Art Puts Athletes’ True Colors on Full Display

But even if you can’t tread water, you might want to add gelatin to your shopping list. Savvy beauty bloggers have been reaping the benefits of gelatin for a while now. Many of them, like Heather, the woman behind the lifestyle blog Mommypotamus, have even published recipes for DIY gelatin hair masks. Heather calls it “the secret to shiny, strong hair.”

“Gelatin is a mix of proteins and peptides produced from collagen taken from the tissue, skin, and bones of cows, chickens, and pigs,” according to Dr. Nisith Sheth, a dermatological surgeon and British Skin Foundation spokesperson. (Yep, that’s what’s in your Jell-O.)

Gelatin is already present in our bodies — in bones, fibrous tissue, organs, skin — and it’s responsible for a lot of youthful traits, such as strong, shiny hair, plus healthy skin and nails. Using collagen for your strands is, according to an expert who spoke to the New York Times, “like using fillers, but for the hair.” Indeed, collagen is used in many facial fillers, to restore suppleness to aging skin.

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Price Isn’t Competing in the Olympics to Be Remembered for Her Hair

“By mixing [gelatin] with warm water, the bonds between molecules of collagen strands are broken down, making it quite viscous and easy to apply,” Sheth tells Yahoo Beauty. “As it cools down it sets and has properties similar to that of the original collagen, and so is quite firm and strong — it acts like a biological glue.”

But topically, gelatin can take your hair only so far. “The proteins of gelatin are too large to penetrate the skin or hair directly, so there is unlikely to be any long-term benefit from using gelatin in the hair,” Sheth confirms.

But any true beauty maven already knows that the point of a hair mask is to work the outer layers of your strands. As Heather from Mommypotamus writes, “Gelatin adheres especially well to damaged areas [of hair], but also nourishes the entire strand as well. It helps to smooth the hair cuticle, boost shine and reduce breakage.”

So, while gelatin supplements may lead to better long-term results (and longer hair), gelatin hair masks give you that quick fix of healthy, shiny hair in just minutes — 10 to 30 of them, according to Heather. (This timing — as well as specific ingredients — would vary from one hair mask recipe to another.)

And what better time to apply your mask and let the collagen work its magic than while watching the women’s team and female duet competitions this week? Consider it game on.

Let’s keep in touch! Follow Yahoo Beauty on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.