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How To Protect Your Hair From Chlorine

How To Protect Your Hair From Chlorine

How can I protect my hair from chlorine damage?

Chlorine is used in swimming pools to kill bacteria, viruses and fungus. This keeps the water safe for swimmers. A side effect, however, is that chlorine can affect other living organisms in pools—us! Specifically, chlorine has a drying effect on skin and hair.

The chlorine interacts with the protein that makes up the outer layer of your hair, causing the texture to change. This change happens on a microscopic level, but it’s noticeable in how hair behaves. Each strand becomes rougher with more exposure to chlorine, making it prone to lose moisture over time. And that rough texture also makes the hair feel brittle like straw and quite tangly. If you’ve ever gone for a swim and let your hair air-dry straight from the pool, you’ll be familiar with the way it sticks together in clumps instead of behaving as individual strands.

Hair type

Swimmers Hair

Because swimming takes place in water (of course), what type of hair you have matters to how you manage it. Specifically, how porous your hair is will affect your before- and after-pool hair care routine. If you’re not sure what porosity of hair you have, generally it works like this:

  • High porosity – absorbs and evaporates moisture fast: If you dunk your head in the pool, it soaks up loads but then dries out quickly.
  • “Normal” porosity – soaks up some, takes a while to dry.
  • Low porosity – absorbs very little moisture and evaporates fast from the surface: If you dunk your head, it may not look like your hair even got wet.

Some people have high porosity naturally. But processing the hair (colour, chemical or heat treated) increases the porosity, as well.

High porosity hair in particular is prone to absorbing too much pool water, and therefore too much chlorine. But all hair will get damaged from excess chlorine over time. Luckily, you can take action to protect it.

Here’s the routine we recommend for general hair care at the pool:

  1. Wet or dampen hair with fresh water.
  2. Gently moisturise hair with conditioner or oil.
  3. Cover with a silicone cap, taking care to tuck in all hair.
  4. After your swim, rinse straight away with fresh water.
  5. Shampoo as usual or use an after swim shampoo.

Create a protective barrier

protecting hair against chlorine

Soaking your hair with fresh water before getting into the pool accomplishes two things.

  1. If your hair is of average porosity, then ensuring it’s saturated with fresh water will prevent it from absorbing as much chlorinated water in the pool. If you have low or high porosity hair, soaking it may not help much or may even damage it. Instead go straight to moisturiser (below).
  2. Having damp hair makes it easier to get on your swim cap. Putting your cap over dry hair can pull the hair, and it makes it very tricky to ensure all the hair gets tucked in. Stray strands of hair break the seal where they poke out.

After your hair is wet, adding some moisturiser in the form of a dab of conditioner or even a drop of oil gives extra protection. For highly porous hair, adding oil with damp hands is better than soaking the hair first. This way, the hair doesn’t absorb too much water initially. For low porosity hair, doing this will ensure moisture (water) and waterproofing (oil) get massaged in. For all hair types, it creates a waterproof barrier to keep moisture in, and prevents additional chlorinated water from sneaking in.

Hair friendly oils include coconut, argan, and jojoba. You could use a product like AquaGuard; its relevant ingredients are cetearyl alcohol (a moisturiser), shea butter, sweet almond oil, and argan oil.

Cover up

swimming cap for protecting hair against chlorine

A good swimming cap will keep your hair almost completely dry. You can help protect your hair even more by plaiting or twisting hair up before putting the cap on. This helps keep high porosity hair from swelling too much if it does get wet, and it also prevents too many loose hairs from sneaking out.

Swim caps come in several different fabrics, and not all will protect against chlorine.

  • Mesh lycra – Not waterproof at all. These caps are only useful for keeping hair out of the face.
  • Neoprene – Not waterproof. This is the same material wetsuits are made from. These caps are used for cold water swimming to keep your head warm, not dry.
  • Latex – Waterproof, but they are prone to split and aren’t an option for those with latex allergies.
  • Rubber – Waterproof. These will keep pool water out, but they will also tug at the hair when coming off. If your hair is already fragile, this may not be the best option. And they’re also a problem for latex allergy sufferers.
  • Silicone – Waterproof. These are one of the best options for keeping hair protected from the water. The material is hypoallergenic, and they form a good seal to the skin. They tend not to pull on the hair the way that latex and rubber do.

Speedo has one of the best rated silicone caps on the market. SOUL CAP makes an excellent one specifically to accommodate and protect Black hair.

Clean up

shower after swim

After your swim, hit the showers straight away. Rinse your hair completely, even if you were wearing a cap. Shampoo if you can. If you want to, you can use a post-swim clarifying shampoo. These products are promoted to capture chlorine and remove it from hair. But if you followed all the steps above, your regular shampoo will be sufficient.

After that, it’s time to moisturise again. You can condition as normal in the shower. Or for drier hair types, consider a more intensive treatment with a leave-in oil to lock in hydration. If you swim often, a weekly hair treatment such as a hot oil or a mask will make a lot of difference.

Get swimming!

It sounds like a lot, but it’s just like kitting up for any other sport. If you’ve got your hair routine on lock, but your swimming needs some help, our coaches are ready to help you brush up. And our lovely facilities mean you’ll always have space to pamper yourself.

by Alistair Mills

In 2016 I saw an opportunity for a new swimming company that did things a little bit differently and here we are almost 4 years later, having built a family of teachers and clients that we are all really proud of.

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