mhn news & blog

June 07, 2012

Chlorinated Pool or Saltwater Beach: Why and How to Care for Your Hair

If you swim in a chlorinated pool, or in saltwater, you will want to keep quality shampoo, conditioner, and moisturizers in your bag or locker. As you may have experienced, salt and chlorine leave skin and hair  feeling desert dry. Repeated exposure can cause or increase hair shedding.

Hair that is most at risk for salt or chlorine damage is hair that has been permed or relaxed, dry by nature, thin, fine, or already over processed.

Corrosive Chorine

Chlorine is a bleach effective at sanitizing swimming water. This is great for cleansing and disinfecting the water in pools, but it is not ideal for human hair and skin.

The natural oils that lubricate our locks and skin are broken down by chlorine, and our thirsty hair and skin absorb the chemically treated water. Chlorine likes to get cozy in our hair roots and it scorches the tips of strands causing them to appear blunt. The disinfectant may also bleach the color out of the hair ends and split them.

The structures that determine hair color and form hair protein (keratin) falls apart after frequent chlorine contact. The result can be brittle hair that easily breaks off in pieces, or you might end up with the not so popular dry and frizzy look. If your hair is chemically permed, chlorinated water will relax the curl.

The water you are swimming in may contain metals such as manganese and copper. Chlorine oxidizes metals and oxidized metals love binding to hair protein. You would never know this occurs except for the tint of green it can leave on your locks. The same thing can happen if your hair has been treated with dyes using metallic salts.

The Sting of Salt


Since salt has been used for centuries to dry meat you can imagine what repeated exposure does to skin and hair. The reason saltwater is harsh has to do with osmosis, the rule of nature that directs a fluid containing few particles to flow toward a fluid with many particles. It is nature’s clever way of equalizing both fluids.


When you go into the ocean, the moisture in your hair and skin is drawn to the saltwater because of its higher concentration of salt (more particles). This moisture exodus leaves you with an imbalance of the fresh water and minerals your body needs. Salt particles can also lodge themselves into pitted cuticles (outer part of hair shaft) and remain there unless rinsed or washed away.

After the Swim

After swimming, wash your hair promptly with a good shampoo and follow-up with a moisturizing, protein conditioner. If you are without shampoo, rinse your hair with fresh water. Let your hair air dry or squeeze it dry with a towel.

Frequent swimmers might want to invest in anti-chlorine hair products. In an article at, Lynn Farris recommends using Ultra Swim, Triswim, or Lanza Swim & Sun Daily Shampoo after swimming. Another anti-chlorine shampoo option is Aveda.

Regular swimmers do well to wash their hair with a clarifying shampoo once per week. It will remove any chemical buildup clinging to your hair. If you don’t have clarifying shampoo, simply add a teaspoon of baking soda to your usual brand, or, treat your hair to the following:

* 1/4 cup of fresh lemon juice or vinegar

* 2 tablespoons of baking soda

* 1 teaspoon of mild shampoo

Mix and massage into your hair from root to ends.  Put on a shower cap or plastic wrap- leave on 30 minutes.  Then rinse and condition.

Deep Conditioning

Avid swimmers can benefit from a deep conditioning treatment once a week.  An avocado and coconut milk hair mask is a really great all-natural deep conditioning treatment that will help replace moisture and add lots of sheen to hair that has been stressed from a day of water and sun.

Damage Prevention

Six tips of prevention for salt or chlorine damage:

1. Before swimming, soak your hair in fresh water. If the shafts are bloated with water, it will take longer for chlorine and salt to have a negative effect. Your hair becomes like a saturated sponge that cannot absorb anything more. This is effective protection for short swims.

2. Wet your hair, then add a light coat of hair oil, or olive oil. Make sure you get the oil all the way to the ends. If you do not have oil, use a bit of hair conditioner. Do not get the oil on your scalp when under the sun. If you have ever combed your hair over a sun burnt head, you will know why.

3. Wearing a swimming cap will prevent most of your hair from getting soaked with chlorine or salt. To make the cap more effective, soak your hair in fresh water and run a little oil or conditioner through it, before pulling on the cap.

4.Buy a hair conditioner or conditioning spray with UV Protection and use it before your trip to the beach.

5. Get plenty of vitamins A, C, E, and calcium to keep skin and hair healthy from the inside.

6. Cut your hair.  Trim the ends to remove split ends.  This will help prevent your hair from looking dry or frizzy.

Have fun swimming this summer and protect your hair!