The United States surgeon general has a new message for American women: It is O.K. to have a bad hair day.

As the country’s leading spokespeople on public health, surgeons general often weigh in on issues of national importance like tobacco and disease prevention. But when the current surgeon general, Dr. Regina M. Benjamin, visited a trade show in Atlanta this month, it was to talk about what has become something of a pet cause: Too many women forgoing exercise because they’re worried it will ruin their hair.

“Oftentimes you get women saying, ‘I can’t exercise today because I don’t want to sweat my hair back or get my hair wet,’ ” she said in an interview. “When you’re starting to exercise, you look for reasons not to, and sometimes the hair is one of those reasons.”

The problem, Dr. Benjamin said, is that many women — particularly black women, like herself — invest considerable amounts of time and money in chemical relaxers and other treatments that transform naturally tight curls into silky, straight locks. Moisture and motion can quickly undo those efforts, with the result that many women end up avoiding physical activity altogether.

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