Swimming is the best. Nothing screams summer like taking a dip in a pool. I remember how excited I was as a child when my family moved to an apartment that had a pool. There’s something super refreshing about the way a swimming pool smells.
However, our friend the swimming pool has a dark side. If you’ve ever even been near a pool you know the heady scent of chlorine. Swimming, especially swimming daily, can expose us and (more importantly) our hair, to some serious wear and tear. We need to know how to protect hair when swimming everyday.
Honestly, no matter how refreshing and fun swimming every day can be, it can have damaging effects on your hair. It can leave your hair dry and prone to breakage, thanks to the chlorine build-up. This is often called “swimmer’s hair” since it happens mostly to athletes who practice laps in the pool daily.
Today, we are going to look at the dangers presented by daily dipping, and how to defend yourself against this chlorinated foe.
I’ll also take you through the different ways to protect your hair from chlorine damage.
Table of Contents
Dangers Your hair Is Exposed To
There is more than one danger to frequent swimming, but the danger that takes the cake and wins the top spot on this list is chlorine.
Chlorine is a base chemical element, CL atomic number 17 on the periodic table.
Despite its unnatural scent, it is actually naturally occurring, and despite the thrust of this article, it does a lot of cool things.
Chlorine is one of the most powerful and surprisingly economical methods to kill germs.
Disinfectants made with chlorine can eliminate a ton of dangerous germs and are used EVERYWHERE.
The bottle of bleach you may or may not have at home?
I’d bet money it is chlorine bleach.
It’s used in homes, hospitals, hotels, restaurants, and of course, swimming pools.
You wouldn’t want to swim in a public swimming pool that hasn’t been disinfected, trust me.
However, chlorine can be a little too good at its job sometimes.
Chlorine, like most disinfectants, is usually used to break down or strip away dirt, oil, and bacteria.
The problem with that is that our follicles naturally make oil and sebum to protect our hair from damage and the dirty dangerous world around us.
Removing the oil from your hair can dry it out, cause over-drying, and can increase your hair’s porosity (You. Do. Not. Want. This).
While the occasional dip is OK, regularly exposing yourself to the chlorine in swimming pools can cause some pretty serious damage to your hair.
But chlorine can do even worse things to your hair than that.
Chlorine also produces free radicals, which aren’t super great for us.
They are oxygen atoms that are by themselves (normally oxygen atoms come in pairs).
These lonely radicals will bond with all sorts of molecules in our body and damage them in the process.
The radicals can change the physical properties of our hair.
They can react with the pigments that give our hair color, the proteins that form our hair shafts, and the sebum covering our hair.
Chlorine will be especially bad for your dyed hair.
Chlorine is not super friendly with the chemicals used to pigment hair, and will at best strip all of the dye out of your hair, and at worst (usually if you’re dyed blonde) it can turn your hair green.
Unless you want to look like the swamp thing you’ll need to avoid pools altogether or follow the tips below.
Now I’m not you, I don’t know your swimming preferences, but I do know me.
I know my favorite time to swim is when the sun is out.
To me, swimming is an outdoor occasion for sunny days.
I think most of you feel the same way.
This presents a second danger.
The sun isn’t all bad.
It provides some good things for your hair, like Vitamin D which helps prevent hair loss.
However, it can damage your hydrolipidic film, which is a part of your hair that fights against external bacteria.
It also harms epithelial cells, which helps your hair grow.
UV light from the sun can take away Vitamin E and C from these cells, which they kinda need.
You read that right.
Water herself is our third danger.
I know it sounds silly because we wash with water everyday.
Every single hair professional in the world will tell you that your hair needs moisture.
What they don’t often say is that there can be too much of a good thing.
Too much exposure to water can harm your hair, and it’s especially bad for damaged hair.
Let me explain.
Normal hair is supposed to soak up 30% of its weight in water when you dunk it in a body of water.
Hair that is too porous – which don’t forget, is one of the effects of chlorine – will soak up even more.
It can soak up to almost 50% of its weight in water.
When this happens it causes your hair strands to elongate because of the water’s weight and it will lose some of its tensile strength.
Think of it as someone pulling your hair all the time.
To make matters worse, hair that is very curly can lose almost 50% of its strength when wet, which is a big deal.
Your hair is already being pulled on, and now when combing or brushing it will break more easily.
There is also something called hygral fatigue.
Your hair will, when soaked repeatedly, swell during the process, then shrink unevenly afterward.
This will stress your hair out in a physical way in the cortex of the hair strands.
This means your hair will experience gradual fatigue of the fiber, which makes it way more likely to break when under stress (like me).
Like a karate master, this type of stress can break your hair in ways you didn’t know it could be broken, in ways like cuticle breakage, mid-strand fracture, and splitting.
Signs Your Hair Is Affected By Daily Swimming
Chlorine is a disinfectant that keeps the water clean by killing bacteria, so it keeps swimmers safe from potential diseases from grimy water.
But remember that disinfectants are meant to strip surfaces and liquids of dirt and debris.
That means if it touches your hair, it can strip it of moisture and sebum as well, leaving your hair extremely dehydrated.
Chlorine can build up over time on your hair, just like a thick, stubborn oil that feels impossible to wash out.
When your locks have chlorine build-up, you’ll notice a ridiculous amount of shine in your hair.
You might think it’s a good thing at first, but when you look closely, you’ll realize that it’s a waxy kind of shine indicative of product build-up.
Your hair will also feel super dry – the opposite of soft, shiny, healthy hair.
Chlorine build-up is often easy to spot on lighter-colored hair, like blonde and light brown locks.
Chlorine can sometimes deposit copper into your hair, which then binds to your cuticles and creates a green shade, leaving your light, gorgeous hair with an unkempt green tint.
But wait, there’s more.
Dehydration due to chlorine damage can also end in weaker hair strands and split ends if it gets so dry and porous.
Who Is Prone To Swimmer’s Hair?
Anyone who takes a dip in the pool every single day will be susceptible to all these symptoms of chlorine damage.
But if you already have unhealthy, chemically-processed hair, you might be even more vulnerable.
That’s because your hair is already porous and can absorb chlorine faster.
How To Protect Hair When Swimming Everyday
Being a daily swimmer can be more than a little rough on your mane.
However, we are solution-oriented people and this article isn’t just here to get you down.
It’s time to talk about how to solve these problems, starting with what to do before you take a dip.
The Chlorine Problem
As this one is the worst, let’s arm you with knowledge on how to fight it first.
Soak Your Hair
The first step to proper pre-swimming prep is to saturate your hair with clean water before getting into the pool.
This one seems silly, I mean you are going to soak your head anyway, why do it before you get in?
It’s actually pretty smart, and not too hard either.
You see our hair is like a sponge.
It can soak up between 30% to 50% percent of its mass in water, remember?
So if you soak your hair in fresh water first, your hair will fill up on non-chlorine water.
Now when you dive in, your hair will already be soaked and absorb less of the chlorinated water.
This means that less chlorine is sliding into your hair’s DMs, and you will take less chlorine home from your pool date.
Conditioners are godsent.
You can use leave-in conditioners, regular conditioners, or deep conditioners in a bid to prevent or reverse hair damage.
If you apply a leave-in conditioner it can create a physical barrier between your hair and the chlorine in the pool.
Think of it as an invisible swim cap, keeping the chlorine water from getting soaked up by your hair.
This leave-in conditioner by Malibu does a great job of creating a barrier between your mane and the pool water.
After you are done swimming, you should shampoo your hair and follow it up with a swimmers’ conditioner.
It leaves the hair soft and smooth, and most importantly, your hair won’t turn green!
Regular swimmers are always exposed to chlorine and this can cause their hair to dry out.
Using a good deep conditioner can help to restore moisture to the hair strands and reverse any damage that may have been caused by chlorine or the sun.
Recommended Post: Best Leave-In Conditioner For The Beach
Throw On A Swim Cap
Not everyone loves this one, I know.
Swim caps are a pain and they don’t always do us favors.
But they are one of the best ways to go to protect your hair from chlorine.
If you were a warrior (I mean, you are all warriors), you could go into battle naked or you could wear armor, which would you choose?
A swim cap is like armor for your hair, plus you get to look like you came out of the roaring ’20s and that’s my favorite era.
Don’t Forget To Rinse
This one is also obvious.
Even if you soak you will still have chlorine on you.
Almost every pool I’ve been to has a shower or rinsing station, don’t skip this step.
Some types of shampoo have been formulated specifically for cleansing hair that has been exposed to chlorine.
While chlorine is an effective and inexpensive germicide, and by far the most common, it isn’t the only one used in pools.
They’re a bit fancy, and they aren’t incredibly common, but more and more are springing up each year.
What am I talking about? Saltwater pools!
They use the same method that the ocean does for keeping clean, which is basic old salt.
It’s also so much less damaging to your hair.
The water doesn’t smell like anything, which is a bonus if you dislike the smell of chlorine, like me.
It also won’t leave you feeling as crusty as the ocean does as you need a lot less salt to keep a pool clean compared to an ocean.
The Sun Problem
This one’s pretty short so I won’t make a list.
The sun solution is pretty simple; it’s really just blocking UV rays.
UV rays are the main source of damage to your hair from the sun.
There are plenty of hair products designed to block damaging UV rays, all you have to do is take advantage of them.
There are also men’s hair gels with sunscreen that guys can use to protect their locks from sun damage.
Apply a little before even stepping outside to keep your strands shielded from the death beam above us.
The other solution is to just physically block the sun: wear a hat or a swim cap.
It’s really that simple.
Related Post: Best UV Protection For Color-Treated Hair
The Water Problem
As discussed, water itself can take its toll, so even in a chlorine-free pool, danger still lurks.
But never fear, I do have a couple of preventative tips to help you out.
You can use this in place of a leave-in conditioner to protect against chlorine, as it will act as an emollient (something that will block water from entering your hair).
It also has a lot of fatty acids.
These fatty acids help nourish your hair and combat hygral fatigue, or at least reduce its effects.
If you’re a daily swimmer then bringing coconut oil into your daily routine is a must.
Remember how your hair can be weaker when soaked often?
This means your untangling session after going in the pool could potentially be a minefield of breakage.
Putting your hair into a braid helps afterward with detangling, and keeps your hair strong while you’re in the pool.
You’ll see far less breakage before and after with a braid.
Just don’t make the braid too tight, because then you’re just making the strain on your hair worse.
Keeping your hair safe from poolside dangers is more than just what you do before; it’s just as important as what you choose to do with your hair after a dip.
Follow these tips to make your hair feel like chlorine, hygral fatigue, and UV rays have never existed.
Do it as soon as you’re able to after swimming, you’ll want to wash the chlorine off your skin as well anyways so a shower at home or at the hotel isn’t a bad idea.
You’ll want to use a chlorine-fighting shampoo. You’re looking for some strong shampoo.
There are even shampoos that are designed for swimmers, which you should keep an eye out for if you’re a regular or daily swimmer.
Chlorine and water, in general, can be very drying for your hair, inside and out.
You will want to use oils and conditioners that are especially hydrating to restore your hair’s natural sheen.
Remember that your hair is extra weak right now.
Unless you have flat hair, and probably even then, you’ll want a detangler when brushing out your hair even if you’ve had it in a braid.
You’ll want to be as gentle as possible to avoid breakage from our good friend Mr. Hygral Fatigue.
Swimming is not just fun, it’s considered the best low-impact workout readily available.
Regardless of how old or young you are you can enjoy and benefit from swimming.
However, it’s also no joke for your hair.
Keeping your mane beautiful is keeping your mane healthy, so don’t skip or skimp.
You should try to follow some of these pointers on how to protect hair when swimming everyday if your hair is to come out unscathed from the potential chlorine, UV, or water damage.
If you follow these tips, the watery depths should hold no fear for your hair, and if you keep with the program then by the end of summer, your locks will look rock-solid.
Related Post: Can You Leave Chlorine In Hair Overnight?