Protecting Your Hair Against Chlorine Damage – A Few Easy Fixes

The first thing I heard when I decided to start swimming was that hair was going to get wrecked! Meaning, my hair would suffer from the chlorine and other pool chemicals. My own sister told me this repeatedly together with others who ended up with severe hair damage.  One time, in the locker room after a swim, a woman shared with us how her hair had fallen out completely! She said that her hair dresser looked on in disbelief as she tried to style strands that were coming out in her hand. I heard horror story after horror story. WHAT IS A GIRL TO DO? We don’t want to lose our hair while trying to get/stay in shape. It doesn’t seem like a fair trade off.  I immediately began doing research – but quick – beginning with those who swam in pools on a regular bases.

Hair Care for Swimmers from Actual Swimmers

This is what I found when I asked other swimmers what they do to protect their hair from pool chemicals:

Wet the Hair First With Fresh Water

There is some science behind why fresh water protects one’s hair from chemical water.  See below. From my four years of experience, I wouldn’t go into a pool without wetting every single part of my body first with fresh water. If it protects the hair, why stop there?

Wear a Swim Cap

As far as wearing a cap, please note that the hair will still get wet if the head is submerged in the water. Most caps are not designed to stop the hair from getting wet. They’re designed for getting the hair out of the swimmer’s way while they’re swimming. My hair is shoulder-length and I can hardly swim without a cap because my hair falls in my eyes and mouth as I swim. For those with really long hair, I can only imagine how you fair in the water. I heard of a cap that does keep out water from a Jamaican swimmer who has dreads. I watched him swim 100+ freestyle laps, take off his enormous cap that covered his thick, long hair, and his hair was COMPLETELY DRY. It’s called a XL Dreadlock swim cap and it can be found at…. For those who don’t have dreads or extremely long hair, try one of my favorites, the TYR Wrinkle Free Silicone Cap. I like these because they don’t wrinkle #1, and #2 they don’t cling to your hair while you’re taking them off. When hair is stuck to the cap, hair can be pulled out at the root if you yank off the cap. Plus, they’re only about $10.  Wear a Swim Cap: Wearing a swim cap is essential. Swim caps eliminate the swishing or washing of hair through chlorinated water. They have the added benefit of keeping your hair out of your face while swimming. While it is not possible to guarantee a water tight seal, swim caps are very effective in minimizing the damage that comes from washing your hair through chlorinated water. Wearing a “Hair Guard” Headband underneath the swim cap is also recommended as it provides an additional layer of protection. For more information on selecting the right swim cap, see our “Types of Swim Caps” resource and our “Swim Caps for Long Hair…

Wash Hair Directly After a Swim

This may seem like a no-brainer but I realize that there are some who may think that if they wear a swim cap or have a weave in that their hair is protected – IT ISN’T. Think of it like keeping make-up on your face overnight. The cream would find its way into the pores eventually, clogging up the skin. Unless aging prematurely from clogged pores is a desired effect, washing one’s face nightly is a must. For your hair, try OGX Shampoo Nourishing Coconut Milk it’s paraben and sulfate free. Parabens, developed in the ’50s, prevent bacteria and act as a preservative and sulfates are foaming cleansing agents. Both are chemicals that work in the cleaning process, but tend to strip the hair of its natural wholeness. Once you’ve shampooed the hair, apply a leave-in conditioner and once a week use a good clarifying shampoo.

The Science of Why Hair Gets Damaged

Pool chemicals, especially chlorine and bromine, react with the sebum and oils that protect your hair, leaving the hair’s cuticle exposed. This allows other chemicals to react with your hair, such as copper compounds, which can give your hair a greenish tint. Your hair also becomes more susceptible to damage from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. The ultraviolet radiation breaks the bonds in keratin, the protein that makes up hair, causing roughness and split ends. Pigment molecules also succumb to pool chemicals and the sun, so even if your hair doesn’t turn green, it can become lighter or faded. Information fount at…

How to Maintain Your Swimmer’s Hair and Even Grow Your Hair

Contrary to the naysayers, my hair has been growing even though my locks are submerged in chemically treated water three to five days per week! No, I do not have an indestructible head of hair, but I do have a secret, that is really not a secret at all. I use a sulfate free shampoo like OGX Nourishing Shampoo, mentioned above or L’Oreal Paris EverPure Shampoo and a good instant conditioner, L’Oreal Paris EverPure, and I top that off with a really GREAT deep conditioner at least once a week. When possible, I leave my deep conditioner in and let the hair dry with it on until the next swim.

I do realize that some may not wish to do the last part because deep conditioner may feel heavy on the hair, or the hair feels limp or clogged with so much product. This is where the clarifying shampoo once a week comes in. By routinely washing everything out, you don’t get a build up.

When I don’t do the above routine, I have problems with my hair. Prior to becoming a swimmer, I didn’t wash my hair quite as often. Now, my hair doesn’t feel right unless it’s washed and well conditioned.

Swimmer’s Hair Discussion

This is the most talked about topic I hear from fellow female swimmers by far. We want to jump in for a quick swim in the morning, but what do we do with our hair afterwards, especially if we have to go to work, or school, or what have you? How about swimming to lose weight and ending up bald in the process due to harsh pool chemicals? Let’s do a few laps and then head out to a party – WHAT ABOUT OUR HAIR?

There is hope! I do sincerely believe that for all of our hair care needs, there are solutions available just waiting to be discovered. My hair care routine has actually improved now that I’m a swimmer. Imagine that!

Please leave a comment below about your swimming hair care regime. You might help someone in the process.




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