Chlorine kills harmful microbes in the water to prevent the spread of waterborne diseases and prevent algae growth. It is a harsh chemical, and prolonged exposure to any chemicals will have some side effects. People who swim in chlorinated water everyday have likely already experienced some of these side effects:
- Dry skin and hair
- Itchy eyes
- Skin rashes
- Skin burns
- Discolored hair
- And much more.
If there are so many downsides to chlorine exposure, then why do we need it? Because I guarantee you, swimming in any stagnant body of water not treated with chlorine is infinitely worse. It is a necessary evil that we just have to learn how to deal with.
In this article, we will discuss the side effects of swimming in chlorine everyday and how you can minimize these bad effects.
How chlorine works
To better understand how chlorine affects your hair, skin, and overall health, you need to first understand what exactly it does.
The primary purpose of chlorine is to sanitize the water. It does this in two major ways:
- It kills microbes in the water.
- It oxidizes the pool to eliminate organic matter in the water.
Organic matter refers to anything organic from fallen leaves to sweat, oil, urine, and even feces. Chlorine aggressively attacks organic material because they contain bacteria, germs, and viruses. This effectively halts the spread of waterborne diseases and inhibits the growth of algae.
Unfortunately, a side effect of chlorine reacting to the organic matter is that a byproduct of it is known as chloramine.
Chloramine is what actually gives a swimming pool that distinct musty smell, not chlorine. Furthermore, chloramine reduce the potency of the free chlorine in the pool, making it less effective at disinfecting the water. Chloramine can also irritate your skin, and swimming in it everyday can result in the following side effects:
Downsides of swimming in chlorine everyday
Ever wonder why your hair and skin gets oily? That’s because attached to your hair follicles is something called the sebaceous gland which secretes sebum – which is the natural oils our skin produces.
The purpose of sebum is to coat the skin and hair in a protective layer of oil and wax that lubricates it and keeps it from drying out.
When you go swimming in a pool, the chlorine-treated water will react to the sebum on your skin and hair, stripping it off and opening your pores. This can result in dry, itchy, and irritated skin, and can also cause your skin to prematurely age, resulting in wrinkles.
The chloramines present in pool water will attach to the skin after some time. If you go to the pool everyday, you increase your skin’s exposure to chloramine which can result in a red, itchy rash. Continued exposure can cause the skin to become inflamed, eventually worsening into a blister or hives.
If there is too much chlorine in the pool and you expose your skin to it, you can suffer a chemical burn known as “irritant dermatitis.” You can also suffer a chemical burn if there is poor ventilation in the pool and chlorine gas builds up.
There is also another type of burn you can get when swimming outdoors and that’s sunburn. Sunburn can exacerbate sensitive skin that is already inflamed by exposure to chlorine, and this can cause an extremely painful sensation.
Acne occurs when the sebum secreted from the sebaceous gland is blocked by dead skin cells and is unable to exit the hair follicle.
As mentioned in the “Dry skin” section above, chlorinated water can actually open up clogged pores and strip off excess oil on the skin which temporarily helps people with acne recover.
But before you decide to incorporate going to the pool everyday as part of your daily skin care routine, consider the long-term effects.
When the natural oils on your hair and skin are washed off, your hair and skin will dry out quickly. In an attempt to compensate, your sebaceous glands will secrete more oil than usual to make up for the oil that was stripped off. The net result is that your hair and skin become even more oily than before.
Since the sebaceous glands are working overtime secreting oil, you are further increasing the chances of a pore getting clogged, thereby increasing the likelihood of developing acne in the long run.
Worsening of existing skin conditions
Pre-exisiting skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis can get exacerbated by chlorine exposure. You may experience even more inflammation of the skin, redness, itchiness, rash, or pain than what is already present.
How to limit chlorine’s negative effects
As you can see, prolonged and frequent exposure of chlorine can result in some pretty nasty side effects. However, is the solution simply to limit the amount of time spent at the pool? That is definitely one option, but it’s not a satisfactory one. The tips below will help you protect yourself from chlorine so that you can continue to swim often.
Swimming outdoors can minimize the harmful effects of chlorinated water. Many harmful compounds that are formed when chlorine reacts with organic matter become gases. That is why swimming pools have a very distinct smell.
In an outdoor pool, you’ll notice less of the smell simply because the gases are blown away and dissipated into the air. In an indoor pool, adequate ventilation is required to keep the air fresh. If you notice an overwhelming “chlorine” smell, that suggests the presence of too much harmful gases in the air.
Prolonged exposure to this gas can result in blurred vision, coughing, chest tightness, difficulty breathing, burning sensations in the nose, throat, eyes, nausea, and vomiting. Swimming outdoors avoids this issue entirely.
Shower before and after swimming
Chlorine and all of the disinfection byproducts in the water can linger on your hair and skin after swimming. They can continue to irritate the skin unless it is thoroughly rinsed off. After every swim, at a minimum, rinse your whole body with fresh water. It’s even better if you have clarifying shampoo to help wash the chlorine off, and some conditioner to restore the oil back to your hair.
It’s a good idea to shower before you enter the water too. Not only is it hygienic, but saturating your skin and hair with fresh water can limit how much the chlorinated water can get absorbed into your skin and hair, thereby limiting their harmful effects.
You will no doubt have lost the protection of your skin’s natural oils after swimming. Just like how conditioner restores a protective layer of oil back onto your hair, coating your skin in moisturizer also helps to keep it from drying out. This can help to prevent cracks and wrinkles which are a sign of dry skin.
Consult a dermatologist
If you or your children experience persistent itchiness, red skin, rashes, burns, or blisters, then see a dermatologist immediately. Skin issues need to be addressed before they cause permanent scars.
People with pre-existing skin conditions should see their doctor before they even decide to go to the pool because chlorine can exacerbate your skin condition.
Generally speaking, most people do not swim enough that they experience such harsh side effects from chlorine exposure. That said, pool enthusiasts and people on swim teams should be vigilant about showering before and after swimming, thoroughly washing off the chlorine from their body, and restoring the oils lost in the hair and skin by applying conditioner and moisturizer.