Protecting Against Chlorine Damage - Hair & Skin

November 27, 2013


Protect yourself from chlorine during swimming?


There are a variety of simple things that any swimmer can do to make swimming much less damaging for hair and skin.  In short, these three steps provide huge benefits to swimmers’ hair and skin: (1) Wetting hair before swimming, (2) Wearing a swim cap; and (3) Rinsing with vitamin C after swimming.


For background, I have been swimming and studying chemistry most of my life. About me.  I have spent the last 4 years trying to reduce the side effects of swimming in chlorinated pools by studying the chemistry underlying pool chemicals and the human body.  I have learned that the two best ways to prevent chlorine damage are (1) block exposure to chlorine by using a swim cap; and (2) eliminate lingering chlorine from your body immediately after swimming.  By applying these two principles, most people should be able to enjoy the pool without feeling irritated by the chlorine.  Below, I discuss some ways to block chlorine and neutralize chlorine.


Wet your hair. 

All swimmers should wet their hair with fresh water before swimming in chlorinated water.  Allowing the hair to soak in fresh water “fills up” the hair so that it is less likely to absorb the pool’s chlorinated water.  At a minimum, the swimmer can splash a little fresh water from the water fountain, sink, or shower onto her hair before heading out to the pool.  The overachievers could use filtered water or spring water.  I usually add a little warm water from the sink to my cap, then use that water to help me put my cap on.


Wear a cap. 

Wearing a swimming cap provides great protection against pool chemicals.  A latex or silicone cap acts as a barrier, preventing chlorinated pool water from contacting the hair.  The cap protects a swimmer’s hair by keeping it away from the pool water.  Wearing a swim cap is probably the single best thing that a swimmer can do in terms of keeping hair healthy.  Chemically speaking, the hair is only exposed to the small amount of chlorinated water—the pool water leaking into the cap.  Without a cap, the hair is exposed to an entire swimming pool filled with 4 ppm of chlorine. Wearing a cap is a little uncomfortable at first but it can prevent 99% of the damage to your hair).


Advanced technique: Add a little SwimSpray to neutralize leaking pool water. 

Even the best swim caps leak during longer swims.  Accordingly, a little pool water may sneak into the swimming cap.  Here, I find it useful to apply 3-4 sprays of SwimSpray to my hair before swimming.  Then, I put my cap on over my SwimSpray pre-treated hair.  Adding a little SwimSpray under my cap ensures that the pool water that gets under my cap becomes instantly neutralized, rather than eating away at my hair.  


Aside: Skin barriers do not work well and they are bad for the pool chemistry. 

Don't waste your time with pre-swim lotions or barrier products.  A family of products has tried to provide a barrier between the swimmer’s skin and the pool water.  For illustration, imagine that you could apply Vasoline over your skin, thereby preventing the pool water from ever touching you.  The problem with this technology is that all of the barrier lotions wear off in the pool, providing only a limited amount of protection for a short time.  Additionally, those barrier lotions later react with the chlorine in the pool to create more irritating molecules like chloramines.  I think skin barriers are a great idea but they do not work well in practice.


Shower with an antioxidant after swimming. 

The swimmer should wash with a vitamin C rinse immediately after swimming.  In developing SwimSpray, we learned that chlorine physically bonds to the swimmer’s hair and skin.  It doesn’t just wash away like dirt.  (Many swimmers notice a lingering chlorine odor for days after swimming).  Using a concentrated vitamin C rinse neutralizes chlorine’s bond to the hair and skin, so the chlorine washes away.

Moisturizing Lotion. 

If necessary, a swimmer can use a moisturizing lotion after swimming.  Given our work in dechlorinating swimmers’ hair and skin, I would suggest using a lotion with a high antioxidant concentration.  (Again, antioxidants help neutralize the oxidizing pool chemicals that can linger after swimming).  For example, a swimmer should chose a lotion listing vitamin C or vitamin E towards the top of the ingredients.

If you have any questions or tips of your own, we would love to learn more ways to prevent swimmers' chlorine problems.


10 Responses


January 05, 2017

I received a free cap after purchasing three 6-oz bottles of SwimSpray. I have allergies; one of them is an asthma-reaction to chlorine. I am also allergic to latex, which leaves a skin reaction that turns into vitiligo (white patches). THE FREE CAP I RECEIVED – THERE IS NOTHING IN THE PACKAGE THAT INDICATES WHETHER OR NOT IT IS LATEX MATERIAL. PLEASE ADVISE. Thank you.


December 12, 2016

I have been swimming for the past one month and I got severe tan. Applying coconut oil has stopped the tanning, but the damage was already done. The tanning has reduced considerably. You need to apply a good amount of coconut oil about 20 minutes before getting into the pool. Blend it into the skin until it is fully absorbed so that it does not stick. And further, when you are free, you can make a pack with gram powder, lemon juice, milk and turmeric powder and apply on the affected area. Add little more milk to moisturise the skin. After twenty minutes, clean your face with fresh water. Hopefully there should be some change. You can also take a mix of multani metti and add rose water. Mix them both in the form of a pack and apply it on your face. Once the pack dries, clean your face with lukewarm water. (This is not advisable for those with a dry skin) For those with sensitive skin, you can try using baby lotion or cetaphil lotion. Both these will work well..


June 14, 2015

Hi Dia, rinsing with apple cider vinegar does not remove chlorine. Also, using that sort of acidic solution on your hair and skin may irritate your skin or cause further hair problems. Vinegar (like baking soda) is one of those “simple” household items thought to solve every problem. This does NOT work for the case of removing chlorine.


June 13, 2015

Hi there.
Does rinsing with apple cider vinegar remove chlorine? Or should it be washed off with water again?


April 22, 2015


It is really nice article.
Could you please let me know the which brand that I can buy from stores/online?
1. moisturizer to use after swimming.
2. Shampoo to use after swimming.
3. what is non leaking head cap that we can use
4. what is the rinse oil to use for the hair before start swimming (though we use head caps).

Thank you for the great ideas and suggestions!


December 22, 2014

great article – exactly what I needed to know about training for a tri with sensitive skin. Thanks so much!

Mary Pigram

October 22, 2014

Hi Ellen,

Osmosis works quicker on dry particles, so it makes sense that chlorine would take longer to penetrate already wet hair as opposed to dry hair……


September 22, 2014

you can also apply oil on your body before swimming it will protect your skin from tanning nd drying

Ellen Hatfield

March 22, 2014

Found your article while researching moisturizing after swimming and saw you swim cap offer. I have worked up to swimming a mile a day, during this last month and lost 9 pound.


February 14, 2014

Is there a study you have found looking at wetting the hair before swimming? Because even though the hair can’t absorb the pool water in entirety, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the chlorine can’t enter the wet hair through osmosis.

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