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Avoiding chlorine damage to skin and hair

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There are several ways to keep swimming pools clean and hygienic without the use of chlorine. (I’ll write more about some of them in another post.) Nevertheless, many swimming pools (not to mention mains water supplies) are still maintained by treatment with this outdated poison. Among them is the pool at my local gym. Now, much as I prefer to swim in the sea or in my favourite natural lake, surrounded by beautiful mountains and in water that is naturally beneficial, these options are (sadly) very often not available. This is not a perfect situation, but I love swimming and its benefits to my body and mind. So here are some really simple but effective ways I’ve found to minimise the effects of chlorine and my exposure to it. You may find them useful if you’re in a similar situation.

Clean water

Dry skin and hair are more absorbent than wet, so it’s a good idea to thoroughly wet your skin and hair with clean, preferably non-chlorinated water before swimming. Once hair and skin are saturated, much less will be absorbed from contact with the chlorinated water. Also rinse off thoroughly after swimming so as to limit the time that you’re in contact with the highly chlorinated water of the pool.

Use cool or lukewarm water to rinse, as hot water leads to further drying of skin and hair. As most mains water supplies are also treated with chlorine, unless you have a chlorine filter or access to non-chlorinated water, you really want to avoid hot showers or baths. Hot chlorinated water creates chlorinated steam which is then breathed in. Chlorine is also less soluble in hot water, meaning that more free chlorine is released into the air to be breathed. Also, warm water opens the pores, making your skin more absorbent to soak up the chlorine. Hot water also has increased levels of some chlorination by-products, particularly trihalomethanes such as chloroform.

For a boost to the natural defenses of your skin and hair, as well as to ease any itchiness after exposure to chlorine and protect against discolouration of your hair, rinse in a solution of Rooibos tea. Add a strong pot of the tea to a bath, or simply pour a cooled pot over your hair and body after rinsing in plain water.

Oil protection

After wetting your skin and hair before swimming, apply a light coating of either olive or coconut oil to both. Applied when wet, you need very little of the oil to cover your skin as it will spread easily. A small amount can easily be combed through wet hair. The oil forms a protective film between your skin and the chlorinated water, repels the water and helps seal hair shafts, as well as boosting your skin and hair’s natural defenses. Don’t worry about leaving an oily slick in the pool – you only need to apply a little oil, and it will sink into your skin easily so that most of it will remain on you. The same applies to hair. If you are using olive oil, you can put some in a spray bottle to make application easier. Add a few drops of an essential oil of your choice to boost the treatment and help combat the smell of chlorine that can otherwise linger on skin and hair. Feeding your skin with healthy oils before a swim is an important defense and helps saturate the pores so that less chlorine will be absorbed.

Do the same after rinsing off after your swim. Again, apply the oil to damp skin and you will need to use very little, leaving your skin feeling soft and smooth but not greasy. Chlorine can dry out skin severely and its effects can continue for some time, so applying more oil after swimming is vital.

Cap it

Wearing a rubber swimming cap is probably the best way to protect your hair from chlorinated water. A good one will keep your hair almost completely dry. Or you can soak and oil your hair before donning your cap.

And last but not least, keep pestering your local pool owners to ditch the chlorine and wise up to the healthier ways that exist to keep swimming truly safe and spotless. Happy swimming!

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