The feeling of gliding through the water can feel serene until you remember the damage that the chlorinated water is likely doing to your beautiful hair. Daily pool swimming can wreak havoc on hair due to the harsh chlorine found in pools; however, it's possible to protect your hair from chlorine exposure and its damaging effects.
In this article, we're going to look at how chlorine damages your hair, share our expert tips for minimizing or preventing chlorine damage, and provide a few ways to fix chlorine-damaged hair.
How does chlorine damage your hair?
Chlorinated water can make your hair dry and weak, which can cause breakage. While regular tap water contains chlorine, it usually doesn't contain enough to be a problem for regular showers. But the increased amount found in pools can have damaging effects on your hair and skin with more frequent exposure.
Effects of chlorine on your hair
Swimming pool chlorine is essential to kill bacteria, but it can do serious damage to your healthy hair if you're a frequent pool swimmer. Chlorine strips the natural oils (sebum) your body produces to protect your hair. In addition to irritating your skin and scalp, chlorine causes your hair to:
- Crack and split
- Strip your hair's natural moisture
- Change the natural hair color (or dyed hair color)
- Weaken, leading to split ends
Casual swimmers don't often see the effects of chlorinated water—for example, a dip in the pool once a year on holiday won't make a massive difference to your hair's health. But it doesn't matter if you swim once a month or once a day; people with specific hair types are more susceptible to chlorine damage than others. This includes people with:
- Thin or fine hair
- Color-treated hair
- Bleached hair
- Chemical-treated hair
- Dry hair
- Thin of fine hair
- Hair with existing damage
Whether you're a regular or daily pool swimmer, you need to know how to protect your hair from chlorine damage, regardless of your natural color or hair type.
How do swimmers keep their hair healthy?
If you only swim occasionally, there's not much you need to do to keep your hair healthy, except wearing a swim cap to avoid getting your hair wet with chlorinated water.
If you're in the pool daily or even several times a week, it's important to put a little more care and attention into protecting your skin and hair from chlorine damage.
How can I protect my hair from chlorine damage?
Here are our top tips to protect hair from chlorine. These tips should reduce the damaging effects of chlorinated pool water:
1. Rinse and wet hair before and after swimming.
Lap swim etiquette is the spoken and unspoken "rules" of the pool that help keep everyone safe and healthy. For example, there's an important reason the pool staff tells you to shower before going into the pool. This is a crucial step to remove any dirt and oils from your body, so they don't end up on the bottom of the pool, but it's also helpful to prevent chlorine damage to your hair.
When you pre-soak your hair with clean tap water or non-chlorinated water before entering the pool, your hair strands absorb that water, minimizing the amount of chlorine that is absorbed.
Likewise, it's always a good idea to rinse your hair thoroughly with clean water after swimming. You can apply some clarifying shampoo to give it a deeper clean.
2. Apply coconut oil, olive oil, and other natural oils to your hair.
If you're a frequent swimmer or have hair that's more prone to chlorine damage, consider applying a leave-in chlorine protectant on your hair. Natural oils, including coconut oil, olive oil, and jojoba act as a protective layer to prevent chlorine and other pool chemicals from being absorbing into your hair strands. For added protection, use a deep conditioning mask or leave-in conditioner, too.
3. Use Swim Spray.
If you have blond hair and are especially worried about the effects of chlorine on your light-colored hair, you can purchase a swim spray product to apply to your hair to help block chlorine from penetrating your strands. This product works for all hair types.
4. Use gentle shampoos.
We recommend using a gentle, sulfate-free shampoo and following with a conditioner after swimming, regardless of your hair type. This helps wash away any remnants of chlorine from your hair.
5. Wear a swim cap.
If you're a competitive swimmer, you likely already wear a swim cap on your head for swim practice. Swim caps are great to prevent chlorine from reaching your hair in the first place. For the best protection, wear it correctly so that all your hair is inside. Don't forget to wear your swim cap over wet hair to help it fit easier over your head. Keeping a couple of spare swim caps in your swim bag in case one tears isn't a bad idea either.
6. Put long hair in a ponytail.
If you have long hair and don't have a swim cap, tie your hair back in a ponytail, braid, or tight bun. This will minimize contact with chlorine.
7. Swim in outdoor pools.
When possible, swimming in outdoor pools is best. In outdoor pools, chlorine gas from the water evaporates into the air faster, reducing the concentration in the water and, ultimately, the amount of chlorine that could end up absorbed in your hair and skin.
8. Adopt these post-swim hair care routines.
Perhaps the most critical time to prevent chlorine-damaged hair is when you exit the water. Your post-swim shower and hair routine will help remove chlorine before it penetrates too deeply into your strands.
You probably have a pretty detailed post-swim regime if you swim regularly, including cleaning and care for your swim goggles. In addition to your existing post-swim routine, here are our recommended hair care tips for immediately after swimming:
Rinse your hair thoroughly with clean water, wash with a clarifying shampoo, and apply a leave-in conditioner.
Let your hair completely air dry while you get changed. Resist the temptation to use blow dryers, as they will dry your hair out more. If your hair needs additional drying after air drying, use a microfibre towel to dry any dripping or excess water from your hair gently.
Brush gently and remove tangles with a detangling brush designed for wet hair.
How can I fix chlorine-damaged hair?
The first step is knowing how to recognize chlorine damage. Chlorine-damaged hair usually appears very dry, frizzy, and constantly tangled. If you think your hair is damaged from the chlorine in the pool, talk to your hairstylist, who can likely assess the severity of the damage and help you protect your hair further while swimming.
Then, try these at-home remedies to reverse the damage or ease any dryness and itchiness:
Use a hair clarifier wash and natural conditioner to remove chlorine and any lingering harsh chemicals currently in your hair. You can make one using baking soda and apple cider vinegar.
Moisturize your scalp. If your head is dry or flaky, talk to your doctor or hairstylist for products to help restore and maintain moisture. Otherwise, coconut oil can help moisturize any dry skin.
To reverse significant damage from chlorine and prevent further damage, use a deep conditioner twice a week and apply natural oils like argan oil to protect the hair and scalp.
How to fix green hair
Chlorine bonds with copper, manganese, iron, and other hard metals in swimming pool water, which can tint your hair a shade of dull, ashy green—especially if you have lighter-colored hair. It's not-so-lovingly known as "Swimmers Hair."
Some home remedies to fix green hair from swimming include:
- Baking soda and water paste
- Lemon juice wash
- Soak hair in coke
- Wash hair with eight crushed aspirin dissolved in water
- Commercial swimmers’ hair shampoo and hair treatment products
Of course, your best defense is to protect your hair so it doesn't turn green in the first place.
Depending on the severity of the damage, it may take time to fully repair your beautiful hair to its original shine and volume, so be patient and seek professional help if needed. In the meantime, continue protecting your hair with regular shampoo and conditioner washes.
Keeping your hair and eyes healthy in chlorine water
Don't worry! It's possible to keep your hair healthy, even if you swim daily in chlorinated water. Follow our tips to protect your hair from chlorine so you can keep enjoying your swims.
If the chlorine burns your eyes while you're in the water, consider protecting them with FORM swimming goggles. Not only do they protect your eyes from chlorine, but they help you become a better swimmer. Our integrated augmented reality display shows you real-time swim metrics like distance, time, and pace. It's an excellent tool for measuring your performance as you train for a swimming competition or race.
Learn more about using FORM swim goggles for your swimming pool practice swims.