Now that Memorial Day has passed, pool season has officially started. As the weather turns warmer and school assignments have disappeared, you will find people spending time in the sun and cool water. Most avid swimmers recognize the extreme damage that chlorine will do to the hair over a period of time. For the average pool owner, the swimming season lasts through the summer and into September. This is a long time for your hair to be continually exposed to the harsh elements of chlorine.
The Damage Chlorine Can Do
Most people use chlorine to keep their pool water free from germs and bacteria, keeping the water safe without having to continually be replaced. Chlorine is yellow gas that can also be liquified when bonded to other molecules. In its earliest uses, it was an antiseptic, though the Germans weaponized it in a gas form during the first World War. There are several things that chlorine is used for today, though one of the most common is pool maintenance.
There are several properties in chlorine that make unsafe for continuous hair exposure. There are natural chemicals in your hair that negatively react to the harsh properties of chlorine. The hair shaft starts to dry out, leading to coarse, brittle hair strands that are easily prone to breakage. Excessive breakage leads to noticeable hair loss, as damaged follicles can’t quickly replace the strands that have fallen out. The cuticle is the outer shell that protects the interior core of the hair strand, and your hair is kept smooth and moisturized by a natural oil (sebum) produced by the scalp. The chlorine in pool water strips this oil from your hair, further compounding problems of dryness and cracking. Your hair also loses its shine and develops split ends.
Hair Care Tips Before Swimming
Since chlorine is a drying agent, swimmers need to take protective measures throughout the swimming season to prevent damage to their hair. There are several ways you can keep your hair from coming into contact with the chlorinated water, or when it does, protect it from damage.
- Use Coconut or Olive Oil. Using natural oil will reinforce the sebum that is produced by the scalp. Coating your hair keeps chlorine from penetrating the additional layers of oil and reaching down into the core. Coconut oil is nourishing and less expensive than olive oil, which is often used because it won’t weigh the hair strands down. Coconut oil also seals in moisture and strengthens the hair shaft.
- Rinse Your Hair. Before you step foot in the pool, wetting your hair with non-chlorinated water can prevent damage. Wet hair isn’t as absorbent as dry hair, so you reduce the amount of chlorinated water molecules that your hair may soak in during a swim. You can also use this tip to protect your skin from taking into to much chlorine as well.
- Use a Leave-in Conditioner. Conditioner is used to moisturize the hair, but a product that isn’t a leave-in will get rinsed away by the water. The leave-in conditioner will work like a natural oil to provide a hydrophobic barrier on the hair strands to prevent chlorine from seeping in. There are several brands that are market with specific formulas for swimmers who use chlorine-treated pools.
- Wear a Cap. If you don’t want to use a lot of product on your hair or you are worried about excess oil in your pool water, a swimming cap is a good option. This is the most comprehensive way to protect your hair since a well-fitting cap prevents almost all contact with the water. Swimming caps are also reusable and fairly inexpensive.
Hair Care After Swimming
Though you may try a preventive strategy prior to your swim, you also need to take defensive actions after your time in a chlorinated pool. If you frequent a public pool, you will often find a shower system nearby with a sign advising you to rinse off before and after pool use. This is a great way to reduce residual chemicals from your hair and skin. The best thing for your hair is to wash it with lukewarm water then rinse it in cold water. This seals the cuticle. You can also try a clarifying shampoo, as these are formulated to strip chemicals out of hair, but these can be drying if used excessively. Carefully rinsing each swimming session and using a nourishing treatment at least once a week are the best treatments.
Don’t let swim season leave you with straggling, dry, unhealthy hair. Pay close attention to how your hair is responding to your swimming habits, being careful to protect it before and after each time in the water.
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