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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.