When we think of chlorine, we can probably already smell the bleach we use to disinfect and clean our house surfaces like our toilet and bathroom. It’s plain irritating, but it’s good at doing the job.
Chlorine is a highly reactive product which is why it is used not only as a disinfectant but as an essential product for healthcare, food, building and construction, and so much more.
You see, chlorine is not at all bad. As a disinfectant, chlorine is widely used because it is cheap and effective.
Considering how frequently it’s used in tap water and swimming pools, let’s take a deeper look at just how bad chlorine is for your hair.
School taught us that the skin is the largest organ in the body. Our skin has sebaceous glands which secrete sebum, an oily substance that helps keep our hair and skin resilient to water and moisturized.
When hair is repeatedly exposed to chlorine, it strips off the sebum. This gives us a general idea of why chlorine is not really friendly to our hair.
Remember chlorine is highly reactive, so expect the following if our hair is always in contact with chlorine:
Anyone who has been to a pool usually feels a sense of dryness after. This is because chlorine strips off our skin and hair’s natural oil.
When we have dry hair, it’s not surprising to see split ends as well.
Not every hair reacts the same. If you have existing hair issues, have fine hair, chemically-treated hair, or naturally blonde hair, you are more vulnerable to having dry and brittle hair.
The scalp, being the skin that supports our hair, will likely suffer from dryness when exposed to chlorine. If left untreated, a dry scalp can lead to dandruff, itching, and irritation.
If you color your hair, you might ask, “Does chlorine affect hair dye”?
So, what does chlorine do to your dyed hair?
Chlorine can cause your dyed hair to become dry and brittle and its colors to fade faster. Dyeing hair means subjecting it to chemicals that may result in porous hair.
Porous hair means that it is more likely to absorb impurities like chlorine. It is recommended to wait between 3-7 days after dyeing our hair before swimming in the pool or ocean.
It totally makes sense because you wouldn't want to expose your hair from one chemical treatment to another.
The reaction of copper, hard metals, and chlorine in water results in oxidation. The common examples of oxidation are rust and the brown color of apples or potatoes when exposed to air.
The oxidized product binds with the hair strands leading to greenish hair color for people with blonde or light-colored hair.
Absolutely YES. The longer you let chlorine sit on your hair, the drier your hair gets if you are not wearing any protective treatments like hair oil, conditioners, swim sprays, and more.
Should you wash your hair after swimming in chlorine?
If you can, use a clarifying shampoo for a deeper clean. Put on some conditioners and leave-in conditioners after to restore moisture.
As it’s most likely impossible that we will never go to a pool nor take a bath in the shower, let’s explore our options to reduce, if not eliminate, hair damage caused by chlorine.
If our hair is already saturated with water, it can only absorb very little chlorine. This is why we must always shower before dipping into the pool, especially with highly porous hair.
Hair porosity measures how our hair absorbs and retains moisture.
Do the sink test to check if you have low, normal, or highly porous hair. Submerge your fallen hair strands in a container filled with water.
After your swim, rinse your hair with clean water as you don’t want chlorine and other chemicals to sit on your hair any longer.
If you have time, use a clarifying shampoo over a regular shampoo for a deep clean. Then use a hair conditioner, leave-in conditioner, or a deep conditioning mask to replenish the lost moisture.
Swim caps are very effective in keeping your hair off the pool water and away from your eyes and mouth. They're not waterproof, so your hair might still get a bit wet.
They come in different materials — silicone, latex, lycra, and neoprene are the most common. Professional swimmers often go silicone or latex due to their tight fit.
Oil and water simply can’t occupy the same space, so applying hair oil before we soak our hair wet minimizes water absorption as oil will repel them.
There are many choices available in the market — coconut oil, olive oil, argan oil, avocado oil, and more. Choose one that suits you.
There are many available commercial swim sprays to choose from. A lot of them have Vitamin C as their active ingredient as it neutralizes chlorine.
But if you want a cheaper option, you can also have DIY vitamin C spray by mixing half a cup of filtered water and half a teaspoon of crushed Vitamin C tablets into a glass bottle spray, preferrably.
There are 2 common types of vitamin C in the market: ascorbic acid and sodium ascorbate. The latter is less likely to irritate your skin. Apply them to your hair and skin before and after swimming in the pool.
Possibly the cheapest way to remove residual chlorine from your tap water at home is by boiling it before using it.
The disadvantages would be this process is time-consuming and may not be practical when you need large volumes of water.
There are many shower filters now available in the market. They can filter chlorine and chloramine from your tap water.
This is a practical solution as the cost will not be as much as buying a water filtration system.
The answer is NO. I can imagine it’s such a relief to know this, right?
Average chlorine levels used in pools may cause hair damage like being dry, brittle, and having greenish hair but not shedding or thinning of hair.
The Journal of Dermatology published a study where a group of 67 professional swimmers spent regular time in the pool and 54 people who didn't. The result says that the swimmers have experienced dry and coarse hair but not hair loss.
But consult a dermatologist if you experienced significant hair loss after one or a few visits to a pool. There are many factors to consider when you talk about hair loss.
Chlorine water could come not only from pool water but also from our faucets and showers. Chlorine and chloramines are the most widely-used disinfectants by water treatment facilities to make water potable.
You may ask why chlorine is still present in the tap water we consume or use for showers?
This residual chlorine is important to prevent the re-growth of bacteria and other pathogens.
Bear in mind that these treated water travel from distribution systems to water storage facilities where they may stay for a while, not being used.
It may feel like we can’t totally avoid chlorinated water even if we hardly go to the pool. This means that our hair is more likely to suffer from chlorine-induced damage, especially if we shower daily.
There are many available water treatments to remove chlorine from your tap water. But the most cost-effective and practical would probably be installing a dechlorinating shower filter.
The common signs to look out for healthy hair would be one that’s shiny and have more healthy ends, not split.
They are also easy to detangle and can stretch into their full length without breaking. When you touch healthy hair, it's soft and smooth.
After knowing what chlorine can do to our hair, making it brittle, dry, and porous, plus it can also irritate our scalp. Hence, chlorine can’t promote healthy hair conditions.
When your hair and scalp are not healthy, it’s least likely to expect hair to grow faster.
But remember that a lot of factors influence hair growth — genetics, nutrition, hormonal imbalance, medications, and health issues.