Black Hair and Chlorine

December 24, 2012

Chlorine and Black Hair - We have recently learned that people with black or African American hair are particularly cautious about swimming in chlorinated pools.  Apparently some black women won't swim at all because of the chlorine:

"'Oh no, black women don't swim.' Michael Hawkins, an instructor at Hair Design Institute in Manhattan, often hears that from clients, students and some stylists when the subject of swimming comes up. 'She's not getting her hair wet. No that's not gonna happen.'" See WNYC News.

This got me curious as to why black hair pays a higher price for swimming in chlorine.

According to wikipedia "Hair color is the pigmentation of hair follicles due to two types of melanin: eumelanin and pheomelanin. Generally, if more eumelanin is present, the color of the hair is darker; if less eumelanin is present, the hair is lighter. Levels of melanin can vary over time causing a person's hair color to change, and it is possible to have hair follicles of more than one color."

Black hair is the darkest color. It has large amounts of eumelanin and is less dense than other hair colors. It can range from soft black to blue-black or jet-black.  See "Hair Color:Two Hair Colors for an Infinite Pallette". (Retrieved 2010-02-27).

One explanation is that black hair is more susceptible to oxidation than lighter (e.g., brown, red, or blonde) hair.  If this is true, one would expect chlorine (an oxidant) to react more with darker hair than lighter hair.  If oxidation is the problem, then rinsing with an antioxidant (like vitamin C) should help prevent that problem.  Notably, Angels Ringlets provides advice on how to care for coily hair, particularly after swimming in chlorine.

We will keep on top of this phenomenon as we continue to try to save all swimmers from the harsh effects of chlorine.

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