It’s not likely that many of us have ever stopped to wonder how chlorine damages our hair before jumping into a pool. But it is something to think about, especially with many of us spending more time in the water during the summer.
So, what’s chlorine’s damage? Does it affect every type of hair the same way? How can you best protect your strands?
We reached out to the experts to bring you the answers to those questions and more. Read their advice on the matter below!
How does chlorine damage your hair?
Chlorine is a pretty damaging chemical, so there are a number of ways it harms your hair.
“It can slowly eat away at the protective cuticles, which makes the hair tangled and exposes the delicate cortex layer,” Oribe educator Adam Livermore says. “Chlorine can also break down the amino acids in our hair, which can deplete its natural strength and dry it out. It also removes the natural melanin from strands, which is part of why it lightens and turns that green ‘pool hair’ color.”
Oh, did you think that was it? There’s more where that came from.
“Excessive chlorine exposure can cause structural impairment to the hair shaft, thus weakening it,” board-certified dermatologist Dr. Marnie B. Nussbaum shares. “The chemicals found in chlorine will strip the natural oils from your hair and scalp, and this stripping adversely impacts the hair’s cuticle and protein, which is called keratin. Chlorine is also effective at dissolving hair lipids. Hair lipids are needed to coat the hair shaft, providing moisture, shine, and manageability. Hair that is devoid of intact lipids is more prone to static electricity, breakage (in the form of split ends), and hair frizz. The result is dull, dry, and brittle looking hair that is more prone to damage. Chlorine can also lead to itchy, red, tight, dry skin on the scalp.”
What types, textures, and colors of hair experience the most damage from chlorine?
When it comes to causing hair damage, chlorine takes no prisoners. The chemical will damage any locks that cross its path.
“Chlorine is a bleach and has no preference of how it treats hair and skin. It strips natural oils and melanin from any hair type,” co-founder and creative director of R+Co Howard McLaren notes.
Individuals with finer strands can be prone to more damage than those with coarser hair, but that isn’t always the case.
“All textures are vulnerable, Adam says. “Naturally, finer hair is more susceptible to its damage than coarser hair, but often times coarser hair is more porous, making it absorb more. And when it comes to colors, lighter shades tend to show the green patina more.”
Still, those with already damaged tresses will notice it the most.
“Hair that is already fragile, damaged, or color-treated hair can be especially prone to damage,” Dr. Nussbaum shares.
How can you prepare your hair before getting into a pool filled with chlorine?
As far as protecting your hair before getting into a pool, both Dr. Nussbaum and Adam offer similar bits of advice.
“Consider wearing a swim cap to protect your hair from chlorine exposure,” Dr. Nussbaum says. “Wet your hair prior to swimming. Think of your hair like a sponge. You want it to absorb fresh water, not chlorine-riddled pool water. By wetting it beforehand, you can reduce the amount of chlorine your hair intakes. Applying coconut oil or a similar oil-based conditioners prior to swimming can also help.”
Adam’s advice was pretty on par with what Dr. Nussbaum had to say.
“A wet sponge will absorb a lot less water than a dry sponge, right? It is the same with hair,” he says. “The easiest thing you can do is get your hair soaking wet with tap water before you get in the pool. For even better protection, I tell all my clients to use the Oribe Pre-Shampoo Intensive Treatment on their dry hair before they get into the pool. It’s an incredible treatment in its own right, but when it comes to the pool, it basically waterproofs your hair so the pool water won’t have much of an effect on it. Apply it very sparingly to your dry hair (repeat dry hair), tie it up, and then shampoo it out when you’re done swimming. You’ll get all the benefits of the treatment, plus protection from the pool water.”
What should you do immediately after swimming in a chlorine filled pool?
Let’s say you are so excited to jump in the pool that you forget to follow the advice above. Don’t fret, it happens. Dr. Nussbaum shares a simple hack for that.
“Shampoo and rinse your hair directly after chlorine exposure to help flush the chemicals out and moisturize the hair,” she says. “Conditioners or hair treatments can also help to rehydrate hair and repair damage. Also, after washing and conditioning, always comb or brush gently. Wet hair is more fragile and prone to breakage than dry hair.”
Adam agrees that washing your hair immediately is best, along with using a few other Oribe products to save your strands.
“Wash your hair immediately and masque it,” he notes. “Oribe Gold Lust Repair & Restore Shampoo has a pineapple enzyme in it that gives the hair a good, deep cleanse. The Gold Lust Transformative Masque will help work to repair any damage and leave your hair feeling great.”
How much is too much exposure to chlorine?
Any exposure to chlorine will do a number on your strands, no matter what. Howard is adamant that knowing this will help us take better care of our tresses.
“Any exposure to chlorine is too much,” he says. “That’s why understanding what we are exposing ourselves to will keep our skin and hair from drying, causing split ends and discoloring our hair.”
Adam strongly encourages his clients to not swim in chlorinate pools, though he knows not everyone will heed his warning.
“Honestly, I don’t swim in chlorinated pools and I tell my clients to keep their hair out of pool water completely,” he mentions. “If you must have a swim, use the Oribe Pre-Shampoo Intensive Treatment on your dry hair before you dip, wash it all off afterwards, and masque while you lounge poolside.”
And Dr. Nussbaum shares that it all depends.
“It’s different for different hair types, depending on hair health state,” she states. “Generally, if you’re swimming several times per week, try wearing a swim cap. If that’s not an option, take the above steps to care for your scalp and hair.”