This Is What Chlorine Really Does to Your Hair—And How to Fix ItThis Is What Chlorine Really Does to Your Hair—And How to Fix It

This Is What Chlorine Really Does to Your Hair — How To Protect It

Summer's here, and with the arrival of longer days, warmer nights, and lots of opportunities for swimming comes something significantly less fun: seasonal chlorine damage from swimming in chemically treated pools.

Apart from the sun, chlorine is one of the most common reasons for hair damage during the summer. And if you’re one to take a dip in the pool year-round, then this may be an even bigger concern, lasting well beyond summer.

While chlorine is great for treating our swimming pools, it turns out that chlorinated pools aren't so great at treating our tresses. But that doesn't mean you need to spend summer sitting high and dry! If you’re wondering what chlorine actually does to your mane, here's the full breakdown, from preventative steps you can take to protect your hair from chlorine exposure to what to do to revive your hair if the damage has already been done.

How Chlorine Works

First, let's swing by the pool for a quick refresher on how chlorine works and why (chlorine hair damage aside) it's a necessary ingredient for a well-balanced pool. Both freshwater pools and saltwater pools contain chlorine. The only difference is that freshwater pools have harsh chemicals added to them in minimal quantities, while saltwater pools generate chlorine on-site from sodium chloride. Unfortunately, untreated pool water can be extremely dangerous to swim in due to the proliferation of harmful bacteria like E.coli. So, while your hair might not love chlorinated water, the rest of your body is grateful for the protection!

What Chlorine Does to Hair

Think about it, chlorine acts as a disinfectant and bleaching agent, so what will it do to your hair? To start, our hair is full of natural oils, and chlorine (a harsh chemical agent) can strip those oils right out.

According to hairstylist Monica Davis, "Chlorine is a rough chemical, that’s not skin or hair-friendly at all. Of course, the concentrations in pools are pretty low to exclude poisoning, but they are still high enough to suck the life out of your hair. Chlorine dries your hair, splits the ends and makes hair highly prone to breaking. In some cases, it can even change the natural color of your hair by starting chemical reactions in your hair." And it's important to note that color-treated and chemically treated hair can be particularly vulnerable to the dangers of pool water, which can result in brittle hair. 

The bottom line is that chlorine reacts with wet hair and skin, no matter the condition. So after your sessions in the swimming pool, you might not only experience chlorine-damaged hair but also scalp issues due to chlorine's drying effect. "It can dry your scalp and weaken it as well," said Davis. "A sensitive scalp can “achieve” dandruff if exposed to chlorine often."

 See: This Is What a Healthy Scalp Looks Like

Can Chlorine Turn Your Hair Green?

Not exactly. According to Monica Davis, the green color often visible in chlorine damaged hair, especially for enthusiastic swimmers with blonde or lighter hair tones, is actually caused by copper, not chlorine, "Pool water makes your hair green if the water includes copper, which is oxidized by chlorine," she explained. So if you notice green hair after a dip in the pool, copper is likely the culprit.

Don't panic if your hair turns green and takes on a froglike hue post-swim. Instead, try rinsing your hair with lemon juice or tomato juice to help wash out any traces of green. And follow your lemon juice rinse with a restorative conditioning treatment like GRO Revitalizing Conditioner to help repair the hair shaft, as acids can be drying.

GRO Revitalizing Shampoo and Conditioner

How To Protect Your Hair From Chlorine Damage

It's clear that chlorine (and the copper that comes along with it) are not hair-friendly. So how can you promote healthy hair while you swim? Clinical dermatologist Dr. Ailynne Marie Vergara-Wijangco has the answer: "They are ugly and uncomfortable, but swim caps provide the best protection in the pool," she said. "Wet your hair, wear a cap and enjoy swimming with zero hair damage."

It might feel a little silly, but wearing a swim cap means your hair is never exposed to chlorine. There's no more effective way to prevent chlorine damage. However, if wearing a swim cap isn't for you, here are some natural remedies to help prevent chlorine-damaged hair.

Read: 9 Summer Hair Wellness Tips

Rinse Your Hair and Apply a Leave-In Conditioner

Who knew wetting your tresses under tap water could help prevent chlorine damage? "If you wet your hair with clean water before swimming in the pool, you will prevent chlorine water from penetrating deep into your hair and damaging it," said Dr. Vergara-Wijangco. When you rinse your hair, the hair shaft soaks up water, making it harder for chlorinated water to penetrate. This way, any damage stays close to the surface.

Also, apply a leave-in conditioner after rinsing out your hair to coat your strands before they come in contact with chlorine. "A small amount of hair conditioner can protect your hair from absorbing chlorine water longer," Dr. Vergara-Wijangco said.

Also: How to Protect Your Scalp From the Sun

Give Your Hair a Coconut Oil Treatment

An alternative to leave-in conditioner is a coconut oil treatment, which also can help coat the hair shaft, creating a "water barrier" and preventing chlorine damage. Simply comb the oil through with a wide-tooth comb, paying special attention to the fine ends of your hair, which can be the most vulnerable to harsh chemicals.

Not all hair types can take coconut oil, so if you're concerned about the effects of coconut oil for your hair type, other oils, like VEGAMOUR's pure marula oil, can help achieve the same effect. Just make sure to coat your strands to reduce chlorine absorption.

Shop: GRO+ Advanced AGELESS Daily Duo

How To Fix Chlorine-Damaged Hair

If your tresses have already been exposed, don't fret. Here are some tips to help your chlorine-damaged hair:

  • Use a post-swim clarifying shampoo or another hair clarifier after swimming to remove chlorine from the hair. A less harsh revitalizing shampoo can also help strengthen and smooth damaged hair.
  • Make a paste of baking soda and water, using a 3:1 ratio, and apply it to damaged hair. The baking soda will help soak up the chemicals and reset your hair's PH levels. Simply wash your hair with your baking soda solution, and rinse thoroughly.
  • An apple cider vinegar rinse can also help repair damage to your hair. Just make sure to follow it with a nourishing conditioner to reintroduce moisture, as acids can be drying
  • Once you wash your hair after swimming, use a trifecta of deep conditioner, hair oil and hair serum to apply the moisture that you lost back into your hair.

Be Proactive: Take Care of Your Hair

"The bottom line is that you can enjoy summer in the pool to keep your cool, but make sure to keep your hair nourished and hydrated before, during and after swimming so that it can recover fast ..." said Dr. Vergara-Wijangco.

So if you're excited for a summer full of swimming, never fear! There are plenty of simple steps you can take to prevent summer hair damage while enjoying pool time to the max. Just stay moisturized, don't forget the sunscreen and rinse early and often. And hey, maybe invest in a cute swim cap or two if you're really serious about hair wellness. We promise they do actually exist!


Photo credit: Haley Phelps/Unsplash

Disclaimer: Information in this article is intended for general informational and entertainment purposes only. It is not intended to constitute medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek professional medical advice from your physician.