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Chlorine and Hair: What Really Happens


If you’ve gone swimming at all this summer, you might remember dealing with the distinct smell of chlorine on your clothes, skin, and hair. Chlorine is used in swimming pools to kill unwanted bacteria and keep swimmers safe from infections and disease from the water. While there isn’t enough chlorine in swimming pools to cause permanent damage, it can leave your hair dry and your skin irritated and red.

Curious about what chlorine actually does to your hair and skin? Here’s what really happens when you go swimming in chlorine.

girl in swimming pool

What Chlorine Does to Your Hair and Skin

Chlorine sucks the natural oils from your hair and skin, leaving them dry, rough, and damaged. Your hair needs some of its natural oil to remain smooth and healthy, and chlorine removes those oils. Chlorine can also cause chemical reactions in your hair, changing the natural color of your hair, weakening each hair strand, and causing split ends. The oils removed from the skin can leave your skin red and irritated depending on the sensitivity of your skin.

Does Chlorine Turn Your Hair Green?

Some swimmers find that their hair turns green after swimming. The green color is not actually from the chlorine, but instead from copper that has been oxidized by chlorine. The chlorine with the oxidized copper is absorbed in your hair, which can leave your hair looking slightly green.

girl wearing swim cap

4 Ways to Prevent Chlorine Damage

While you can’t completely prevent damage from chlorine, especially if you go swimming often, you can prevent some of the damage by choosing to do one of these things before entering the water.

  1. Wet your hair first
    Your hair soaks in liquid fast, including water with chlorine. If you get your hair wet before you step in the pool, you can prevent some of the water with chlorine or damaging salts from being absorbed.
  2. Wear a swim cap
    The best way to prevent chlorine damage is to prevent your hair from getting wet in the first place. If you wet your hair before putting on the cap, it prevents even more water with chlorine from being absorbed if water does end up getting in under the cap.
  3. girl applying conditioner

  4. Use a leave-in conditioner before entering the pool
    Applying a little conditioner before you enter the pool can help prevent some of the chlorine from being absorbed. Using a leave-in conditioner with a cap can not only help prevent chlorine from being absorbed but can also moisturize your hair while swimming, too!
  5. Apply oil
    Applying an oil like coconut oil before entering the pool and wearing a swim cap to cover the oil is a great way to prevent chlorine from damaging your hair. The oil repels water and prevents your hair from absorbing the chlorine.

3 Ways to Repair Chlorine Damage

Damage from chlorine doesn’t have to be permanent. There are ways to lessen the damage and go back to soft hair in no time. Here are a few ways you can repair damage from chlorine:

woman hanging out in pool

  1. Rinse your hair immediately
    To lessen the damage and get your hair on the road to recovery, rinse your hair immediately after swimming. Don’t let the chlorine, salt, or other contaminants sit in your hair. If you’re really worried about damage, use a special shampoo formulated to remove chlorine from your hair.
  2. Comb gently
    Wet hair has a tendency to tangle and brushing with a brush is more likely to damage your hair. Use a wide-toothed comb to gently detangle and smooth wet hair.
  3. Clarify your hair
    A hair clarifier can remove any harsh chemicals from your hair. While you can buy a clarifying shampoo, you can also use an apple cider vinegar rinse to remove any unwanted chlorine.

Whether you go swimming every week, once a month, or once a year, chlorine can do massive damage to your hair. If you want to learn more about proper hair care, check out our cosmetology program!