When the sun really shines, there’s no better place to beat the heat than in a pool. Beyond their ability to quickly cool us down, pools offer myriad benefits for mind and body. Their effect on our skin and hair aren’t always positive, however. Whether you hang out at your neighborhood pool, go for a swim during a hotel stay, have a pool in your building or backyard, or swim at your gym, you won’t want to miss this guide to being pool smart for healthy skin and hair this summer—and year-’round.
Pros and cons of swimming pools
Pools can be both calming, meditative retreats and fun, social spots. Swimming provides full body exercise benefits, without impact, making pools attractive tools for physical therapy, cardio, and resistance training that’s gentle yet effective. Swimming can also be a top way to get in shape or lose weight while enjoying the process.
Of course, pool water can be damaging to skin and hair, and certain types of treated water can pose even more serious health risks. When it comes to skin, pools treated with chlorine and salt (which produce lower amounts of chlorine from salt as needed) both have the potential to damage or irritate. Undiluted chlorine is known to “irritate the skin, and can cause burning pain, inflammation, and blisters,” according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Even though chlorine in pools is highly diluted, some of its irritation and toxicity effects remain as small amounts of chlorine pass through the skin.
Children may be especially susceptible to the negative effects of chlorine. The ATSDR notes, “Because of their larger surface area:body weight ratio children are more vulnerable to toxicants absorbed through the skin.” According to Dr. Andrew Weil, chlorine is a strong oxidizing agent and irritant, harmful to eyes and skin, the respiratory passages and lungs. Weil explains that the irritant trichloramine is produced when chlorine combines with organic matter like sweat and urine in pools. It also appears that increased risk for excessive chlorine exposure comes from indoor pools, since they provide less ventilation.
How to protect yourself from the negative effects of pool water
Before swimming, take a long shower—in non-chlorinated water if possible. Skin and hair can only absorb so much water, so it’s better to absorb water from a shower with far less chlorine than heavily chlorinated pool water. You can also apply an emollient and/or occlusive moisturizer prior to swimming. This is especially helpful for those with dry skin or irritated skin conditions. Hair may benefit from the application of oil like coconut or olive, or a leave-in conditioner. Follow with a classic swim cap for the best hair protection.
After swimming, go into a sauna if possible to induce sweating. Then shower thoroughly. Dry skin types should apply an emollient moisturizer within a few minutes of showering to keep skin from over-drying. For hair, leave the pool and wash immediately with a natural shampoo, then rinse thoroughly with diluted apple cider vinegar (24-32 oz of 1:10 vinegar:water ratio), and follow with an emollient conditioner or oil. When possible, choose a saline or natural pool for less harsh effects on skin and hair.
After swimming, you may also want to dry brush and/or use a body scrub to keep follicles clear and encourage healthy perspiration and detoxification through the skin.
Overall, we think that the benefits of moderate pool use far outweigh the negative effects— especially if you use these smart tips for extra protection. You might also consider reducing your overall chlorine exposure in daily life by drinking and/or cooking with filtered water, and either using a whole house water filter or a shower filter.
We want to hear from you!
How do you use pools in your life during the summer season— or at other times of the year?
What precautions have you taken to protect your skin and hair from the effects of pool water?