How Chlorine Is Messing With Your Skin — & What To Do About It

Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
When you’re a kid diving into the deep end on a blazing hot July day, the last thing on your mind is whether the chemical used to keep germs at bay may also be doing serious damage to your skin and hair. Swimming in a pool without chlorine is about as good as bathing in a petri dish, but its harsh, bacteria-busting properties aren’t exactly beneficial to your moisture levels. “[Chlorine] strips our skin and hair of their natural oils, and leaves us looking dry and lacklustre,” says dermatologist Shereene Idriss, MD, of Union Square Laser Dermatology.
Still, that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice a dip in the pool just to avoid spending the rest of the season with parched skin and straw-like hair. As Dr. Idriss explains, the moisture-zapping side effects are actually pretty easy to combat. Soaking your hair in fresh water from the shower (or a bottle of Evian, if you’re fancy) before you dive in is a simple way to prevent damage — hair can only absorb a certain amount of liquid, so the wetter it is when you get in the pool, the less chlorine it’ll draw in. You can even apply a leave-in conditioner, Dr. Idriss says, to create a physical barrier between your hair and the chemicals.
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As for your skin, if you’ve already coated yourself in a generous layer of water-resistant SPF (and you did, didn’t you?), then you’re pretty much good to go — the lotion will lock in moisture as it shields you from the sun, but if it’s a night swim we’re talking about here, a regular moisturiser will do the trick.
No matter how many preventative measures you’ve taken, the best way to keep chlorine from having lasting negative effects on your skin and hair is by properly rinsing off in fresh water as soon as you can. “Avoid harsh soaps and shower gels, as they’ll only add insult to injury,” Dr. Idriss says. While your skin is still damp from your post-pool shower, apply a rich, soothing moisturiser right away.
All that diligent preparation may make embracing the spontaneous a little more difficult. Nothing puts a damper in a spur-of-the-moment nighttime swim quite like having to stop to slather on conditioner first, but on the plus side, now you won’t have to worry about repairing the damage once September rolls around. The end of summer is already a huge bummer — why make it any harder on yourself?
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