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How to Protect Your Hair Against Chlorine

Even though most of us are long past school age, you don’t need three months of dedicated summer vacation to find time to enjoy the season. One of the most accessible ways to relax during the summer is taking a dip in the pool, where you can enjoy some fresh air and outdoor time while still beating the heat. But as much as we advocate for indulging in some pool time, the same chlorine that keeps your pool water disinfected can also have some pretty negative effects on your hair.

What does chlorine do to our hair?

Here are some of the most common effects that chlorine can have on your hair:

  • Strips sebum: Chlorine may be great at disinfecting and removing contaminants from your pool, but that strong stripping effect can also be bad news for your strands and scalp. Chlorinated water can strip excessive amounts of sebum from your hair and scalp, which will leave you with dry, frizzy, and potentially damaged strands.
  • Dries out hair: Your sebaceous glands produce sebum, which is a naturally-occurring oil that is responsible for protecting your hair and scalp from moisture loss. When chlorine strips sebum from your hair, you’ll notice that it looks noticeably drier.
  • Can cause brittleness or breakage: If chlorine in your pool makes you lose too much oil, your hair can actually become brittle and break off.
  • Turns hair green: Those with blonde hair may have an extra reason to be cautious around swimming pools — chlorine can actually leave blonde hair looking green. But it turns out this isn’t entirely the fault of chlorine: copper is commonly found in pool water, and when bonded with chlorine it forms a film that sticks to proteins in hair, causing it to look green. Be sure to check out our blog post on how to get rid of brassy hair to really ensure your blonde strands are looking their best all summer long.

How else does chlorine cause hair damage?

Beyond the most well-known effects of chlorine on our hair, there are also things happening below the surface.

  • Chemical reactions: As a disinfectant, chlorine can have an unwanted chemical reaction with your hair, weakening it and causing breakage and damage.
  • Reacts with hair proteins: When chlorine reacts with the protein in hair (called keratin), it forms water-soluble chemicals that weaken the structural integrity and bonds in hair fibers. This also can lead to damage, breakage, split ends, and even hair loss.
  • Pushes up cuticles: Chlorine is also responsible for making your hair look lifeless and frizzy. Chlorine salts can get in between the cuticles, pushing them up, which leaves you with less-than-pretty-looking hair.
  • Reacts with UV rays: You know how important it is to lather on sunscreen and sunglasses to protect your skin and eyes from damaging UV rays? The sun can also be just as bad for your hair. And the damage and weakening that can come from exposure to chlorine also means that your hair becomes more susceptible to damage from UV rays.
  • Dissolves hair color and highlights: Chlorine also can strip dye from hair, meaning you’ll need more frequent color appointments to fix faded color if you’re not careful.

What should I do to my hair to protect it before swimming?

Since no one deserves to spend a summer indoors or sweltering in the heat, we don’t want to scare you away from going near swimming pools ever again. You can still enjoy this seasonal pastime as much as you’d like — there are just a few adjustments you can make to your routine to ensure your hair is as prepped and prepared as possible. After rounding up your sunscreen, swimsuit and towel, make sure you follow these precautions before hitting the pool to make sure your hair is properly protected against chlorine.

Soak hair in fresh water

The easiest way to avoid soaking up chlorinated pool water? Make sure your hair is wet before you jump in! By saturating your hair with fresh water, it becomes less absorbent than dry hair. This will help to stop your strands from soaking in any additional damaging pool water.

Use a swimming cap

If you want to keep your hair dry and protect it from chlorine, invest in a swim cap. This is an excellent way to really protect your hair across the board: you’re keeping it snug and dry away from the harsh effects of chlorine, potential tangles, breakage, and sun damage. If you’re unsure where to begin, check out thesebest-selling swim caps on Amazon.

Create a protective oil barrier

Applying olive, coconut oil or another organic hair oil to your hair before your next swim helps to form a protective barrier that prevents chlorine damage. These nourishing oils are also great for overall hair health, so you’re actively working towards healthier, shinier strands.

Use a pre-swim conditioner

Applying a pre-swim conditioner can help to seal the cuticle and form another kind of protective barrier against chlorine and damage.

solu clarifying shampoo davines

photo by @goldandglowco

How to care for your hair after swimming

Even with the previously mentioned precautions, there are still some additional steps you can take after swimming to ensure chlorine won’t damage your hair.

Wash your hair with a clarifying shampoo

Your post-pool shower should include a clarifying shampoo, which can help remove any stubborn chlorine deposits on your hair. These shampoos are also great for removing any additional residue or product build up that may have been weighing your hair down. If you don’t have clarifying shampoo on hand after swimming, use any sulfate-free shampoo or just rinse your hair with fresh water to remove some of the chlorine present on your strands.

Dry your hair gently

We know that chlorine can make your hair more susceptible to damage and breakage, so it's especially important to be gentle with your hair after a swim. Microfiber towels are kinder on strands, since they absorb excessive water without being as rough as traditional cotton towels. Be sure to detangle your hair carefully with a comb, and always use a heat protectant spray if you plan on heat styling your hair after.

Use a leave-in conditioner or hair mask

Every hair type can benefit from a rich conditioner or weekly leave-in hair mask treatment, and this is especially true for hair exposed to chlorinated pools. After showering with your clarifying shampoo, apply a nourishing hair mask to your strands: this will help to restore lost moisture, hydrating and giving softness and movement back to strands after chlorine dries them out. Using a leave-in hair milk after your swim is also a great thing for your hair, since it helps to detangle while moisturizing and softening your hair.

Final thoughts on protecting your hair against chlorine

Summer is all about finding time to unwind, so the last thing you need is to worry about hair damage every time you step outside. Start by wetting your hair with freshwater or a protective hair oil before your next swim — or just make it easy on yourself and wear a protective swim cap. Make sure your post-swim shower includes a clarifying shampoo and restorative conditioner to strip any residual chlorine deposits and bring back essential moisture and nutrients into your strands. Just keep these tips in mind the next time you take a dip in the pool, and you’ll significantly decrease your chances of chlorine damaging your hair. And since keeping your hair healthy is another great way to protect it against chlorine damage, be sure to read our blog post on healthy hair care tips. If you have any additional tricks that have helped to protect your hair against chlorine damage, be sure to share them in the comments below!

By Lauren Hannel, staff contributor

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1 Comment

1 Response

Cynthia Spivey
Cynthia Spivey

November 29, 2023

Great advice

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