How to Protect Hair from Chlorine

Chlorine serves a number of functions in swimming pools. It reduces the growth of microorganisms like viruses and bacteria, making it vital to maintaining healthy water for swimming. Unfortunately, chlorine can also dry out our skin and cause significant damage to hair. Most of us have seen the results of prolonged swimming in a pool without protection - resulting in brittle, dry, dull and sometimes even green tinted hair.


Does Chlorine Damage Your Hair?

Scientific studies show that chlorine actually causes chemical changes to the hair. The cuticle is the outer layer of hair that protects the cortex or inner layer underneath. The natural oils of your hair (sebum) help protect the cuticle and give the hair its shine and healthy appearance. Chlorine strips the hair of its natural oils (sebum), resulting in the hair that is dull, brittle, porous and vulnerable to damage. Stripped of these oils, the cuticle can crack, leaving the inner hair (cortex) susceptible to splitting, creating "split ends." Chlorine can even strip the hair of its natural color or even turn it a greenish color. Many believe the the green hair caused by chlorine is due to the chlorine itself. Actually, it is the chemical's interaction with the natural metals in the water (such as copper) that causes the damage.


What Can I Do To Protect My Hair While Swimming?

Since chlorine is unavoidable in a swimming pool, protecting your hair while also swimming in treated water is your only option. There are a number of things you can do to help protect your hair:

1. Wet Your Hair Before Swimming

It seems counter intuitive that wetting your hair before you swim would help protect your hair. The best way to think about this is that like a sponge, your hair will only absorb so much water. By allowing your hair to absorb fresh water, this will minimize the amount of chemically treated water your hair will absorb. Some swimmers also put a spray in conditioner on their hair before swimming to help provide a layer of protection.


2. Be Gentle With Your Hair

Being gentle with your hair means that your hair will start out in the best possible condition. This means avoiding colors, perms and heated styling tools as much as possible. When drying your hair, squeeze hair in a towel instead of rubbing. When your hair is wet, use only a wide toothed comb instead of a brush to remove tangles. Regular use of a quality conditioner and a protein shampoo is a good idea, especially for dry hair. A protein based shampoo is a good choice because it will help replace the moisture that chlorine leaches from the hair.


3. Wear a Swim Cap

Wearing a swim cap is essential. Swim caps eliminate the swishing or washing of hair through chlorinated water. They have the added benefit of keeping your hair out of your face while swimming. While it is not possible to guarantee a water tight seal, swim caps are very effective in minimizing the damage that comes from washing your hair through chlorinated water. Wearing a "Hair Guard" Headband underneath the swim cap is also recommended as it provides an additional layer of protection. For more information on selecting the right swim cap, see our "Types of Swim Caps" resource and our "Swim Caps for Long Hair" resource.


4. Rinse & Wash Your Hair

If you cannot wash your hair as soon as you step out of the pool, your hair should be rinsed with clean water as soon as possible. It's even a good idea to rinse your hair with clean water in between laps as this will help flush the chemicals from your hair. As soon as possible after your swim, wash your hair with a clarifying shampoo and rinse with clean tap water to remove the chlorine.

How To Repair Chlorine Damaged Hair

As the saying goes, the best cure is prevention. Chlorine damaged hair will be dry, duller in color, frizzy and often has the texture of straw. If your hair has already suffered from chlorine damage, there are a few things you can try:

1. Clarify

Use a clarifying shampoo to help remove chlorine build up.  After shampooing, you can also wash your hair with a mixture of white vinegar and water. This acidic mixture will remove additional chlorine build up, aiding in restoring your hair's shine.

2. Condition

Deep conditioning treatments are a must for replenishing moisture to your hair. Many swear by coconut oil treatments in order to help repair damage.

3. Cut

Sometimes, the only way to remove severe damage is to cut a few inches off the ends of your hair. The ends of your hair often suffer the most damage. Getting a good trim can really make a difference in providing a healthier more lustrous look to your hair. 

4. Prevention

Healthy hair will eventually grow back in. Be sure to employ the measures described above to prevent damage to new hair growth.


Additional Resources


Shop Swim Caps

Types of Swim Caps

How to Put On a Swim Cap

Retro Swimwear & Vintage Swim Caps

Swim Caps for Long Hair



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Comments, Questions & Ratings

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Great tips! Review by How to Protect Hair from Chlorine
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Thanks for these tips. I love your swim caps and have been wearing them for years but I never knew that I should wet my hair first! (Posted on 02/20/2017)

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