Swimming and Chlorine: How to Protect Your Skin, Hair, and Health

Water in its most natural and purest form is one of the most important things for our bodies. In it's most natural and purest form that is. With that in mind, one could think that swimming -- immersing oneself in a pool of water-- is a healthy thing. The health benefits of swimming are wonderful. However, the very things put in water to protect us from infection are responsible for some adverse effects on our skin, hair and even teeth. The name of that very enemy against us is – Chlorine.

Baby Swimming

Chlorine is a gaseous greenish yellow element used for its disinfecting power. One of its most common and obvious problems is that chlorine affects the blondes. Blonde hair is known to turn green because of the exposure to copper (pipes) and chlorine. Skin problems can also occur in frequent swimmers. If you think about it, the skin is the largest organ in the body. While technically water-proof, the skin can absorb contaminants from water. Although long term exposure to chlorine may cause cancer and other ailments, problems to skin and hair are usually not life-threatening. Irritation can occur on the skin and scalp, making for a dry, itchy body and head. Additionally, the Pacific Center for Health says that chlorine can also destroy much-needed proteins in our bodies. Depleted of protein, skin and hair can become very dry. Hair can become unmanageable and color-treated hair can be ruined. Thankfully there are several ways to protect ourselves from chlorine.

For Hair

  • Apply a thin layer of oil to your hair before swimming. You can pour olive oil, baby oil or coconut oil onto your hands and just rub it through your hair to protect it.
  • Wet your hair with non-chlorinated water prior to swimming will lessen the amount of the element that can be absorbed.
  • Purchase shampoos such as Ultraswim and other pre-swim conditioning treatments that can keep hair healthy when swimming.
  • Re-wet your hair frequently to rinse off the chlorine and keep it saturated with clean non-chlorinated water.
  • Use a bathing cap to keep water from contacting your hair.
  • Add a post-swim routine of deep shampooing, not using the high setting on the blow dryer and using a wide-tooth comb instead of a brush.

For Skin

  • Apply a waterproof sunscreen designed to protect against chlorine sensitivities.
  • Shower frequently between swims to reduce the amount of overall chlorine your skin will absorb.
  • Shower again when you are done swimming to remove all traces of chlorine. You can use soap this time.
  • Apply after-swim lotions that are specifically designed to neutralize chlorine’s causticity.

While swimming in a chlorinated pool can heighten the chances of these effects, even the light amounts of chlorine in your daily showers can harm your skin and hair. Therefore you should consider installing either a shower filter or whole house filter to remove this and chemicals from your daily bathing routine.

Chlorine isn't the only pool culprit. Water itself (ironically) removes moisture from the skin. There is a layer of oil present on all of our bodies, but once immersed in water, it disappears. This allows for the dryness to set in. To combat this, after showering (following the swim), apply a moisturizer- either a lotion or cream.

Let the Healing Begin!

If you are suffering from skin or hair problems caused by chlorine exposure do not worry because the damage is reversible. The human body is incredibly resilient and if you follow the proper care and diligence to reduce contact with chlorine, your body will quickly heal on its own, and you may find that you can still enjoy fun activities such as swimming!

Reading next