We are taking a deep dive (no pun intended) into the effects of chlorine on the hair and skin.
Chlorine is a chemical used to sanitize water and keep bacteria at bay in pools and jacuzzis. Although many of us associate chlorine with swimming pools, Alissia Zenhausern, N.M.D., a naturopathic physician at NMD Wellness of Scottsdale says, it is “one of the most commonly manufactured chemicals in the United States. However, a lot of people don’t realize that they are constantly exposed to chlorine every time they shower [or turn on the sink faucet], as tap water is treated with chlorine.”
And, in addition to pools and tap water, it can be found in bleach, solvents and pesticides. “The scary part is that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allows for a higher level of chlorine in tap water (up to 4 parts per million) than the recommended chlorine levels in public swimming pools (1-3 ppm)!” So even if you are not cannonballing into the deep end, your hair and skin might still come in contact with the chemical.
How chlorine impacts hair and skin
Dry skin and dull hair
One of the biggest repercussions of chlorinated waters lies within its ability to steal moisture from the skin and hair. And because it causes extreme dryness, it can lead to much more than itchy, parched skin and dry, brittle strands. “It breaks the cuticles and damages the hair as well as causes split ends and breakage of the hair,” adds Debra Jaliman, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. At the same time, chlorine works to strip away shine and vibrancy from the hair, causing it to appear dull. On top of that, “it can exacerbate eczema and cause rashes from the irritating effects of chlorine,” says Jaliman.
“Chlorine can increase the size of the pores on your skin,” says Zenhausern. “The reason they increase your pores is that chlorine molecules are slightly bigger in size than water molecules. Our face is made to absorb water molecules [and] if, over time you are exposed to larger molecules (i.e. chlorine), this can start to affect the size of the pores,” she notes. This, in turn, can cause “hypochlorous acid to enter and strip your skin of its natural oils.” With natural moisture depleted from the skin, the complexion might feel extra parched, leading to increased discomfort, dullness and flakiness.
Premature signs of aging
Zenhausern notes that dehydration caused by a lack of natural oils leads to extreme dryness and “premature aging of the skin.” When the skin experiences extreme lack of moisture, it appears less plump and nourished. As a result, fine lines and wrinkles might appear more prominent.
If you have light-colored or bleached hair, Jaliman says that green hair — also called “pool hair” — might occur. But she says the color is not 100 percent caused by the chlorine. “The chlorine interacts with the copper pipes and other metals. [It] causes a little of the metal to enter the water and change the color of the hair.”
How to counter the effects of chlorine on hair and skin
While it might feel hard to escape chlorine — especially when it can be found in tap water — you can counter its effects. Before you go swimming, Jaliman recommends a little hair prep. “Wet your hair with regular water as it makes it less likely that the hair will absorb the chlorine water,” says Jaliman. “You can also coat the hair with a conditioner to protect it from absorbing chlorinated water.” Or, opt for a swimming cap. Jaliman recommends using a hair care product like the Philip Kingsley Swimcap cream as “this product has fruit extracts and castor seed oil, which are great for the hair and will protect it from salt, chlorine and sun. It [also] has dimethicone, which will form a barrier on the hair to protect it from chlorine.”
Protecting your skin from chlorinated pool water might seem a little tricky, but it is totally possible. “You can protect your skin by putting sunscreen with oil in it or moisturizer on it to coat your skin,” says Jaliman. She recommends the Josie Maran Argan Daily Moisturizer SPF 47 as it contains “jojoba oil and argan oil [which] will protect from chlorine.” Additionally, she notes that “using a sunscreen that is hydrating and water-resistant is important to protect your skin from chlorine.
Post-swim, Jaliman says to rinse off as soon as possible under a showerhead filter, as the chemical is also present in tap water. “Using a shower filter can be an easy way to reduce your exposure to the harsh chemicals found in tap water,” adds Zenhausern. “Chlorine-free filtered water can help your hair [and skin] maintain its own natural moisturizing oils to keep it healthy and reduce damage from daily chlorine.
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