While swimming provides good cardiovascular exercise, the chlorine that is added to the water in pools to kill germs isn't healthy for your skin. The American Academy of Dermatology cautions that swimming in a pool treated with high amounts of chlorine can lead to dry skin, which can flake, itch, and crack. Dry skin increases your risk for infections by giving bacteria a way to enter your body. Fortunately, there are practical steps you can take to protect your skin from damage.
Effects of Chlorine On Your Skin
Chlorine is a chemical that bonds to your skin, and that isn't good news. Exposure to the chemical can:
Strip away skin oils that lock in moisture
Dry out the skin
Make skin look chalky in appearance
Cause a red, itchy rash (swimming pool rash)
To prevent dry skin and rashes caused by chlorinated water:
Avoid swimming in pools that chlorinate the water. Pools that use salt water or other methods of purification such as ionization require less chlorine, which means less chlorine exposure. If you do swim in chlorinated pool water, swim in outdoor pools when you can. The outdoor air provides a natural ventilation system that indoor pools don't have.
Rinse before getting into the pool. Keep in mind that skin absorbs water as well as any chemicals in the water. Since the skin acts like a sponge, rinsing with water beforehand keeps your skin from absorbing as much chlorine.
Apply a waterproof sunscreen before you swim. Not only are you protecting your skin against damaging ultraviolet rays, but you also are creating a physical barrier between your skin and the chlorinated water. Lotions that you apply before getting into the pool also are available to help protect your skin against the drying effects of chlorine. If you prefer, you can apply a natural emollient such as coconut oil, which is slightly acidic, to your skin.
Shower after getting out of the pool. Use a mild cleanser or moisturizing body wash. Wash in lukewarm water as taking long, hot showers or baths can dry the skin more. The heat from the hot water opens your pores, allowing more chlorine to absorb into your skin. When you can't shower immediately, rinse off your skin with tap water.
If you use soap, choose a product that contains moisturizing oils or is fragrance free. Antibacterial soaps, deodorant bars and soaps with heavy fragrances dry out the skin by stripping it of natural oils.
Keep your skin well moisturized. Apply more moisturizer to your skin after stepping out of the bath or shower. This helps trap water on the skin to reduce dryness. Use a moisturizing lotion or cream that contains mineral oil, linoleic acid, petroleum jelly, or glycerin as an ingredient. There also are moisturizing lotions available to buy that neutralize the destructive effects of chlorine.
If you have naturally oily skin, wait a few minutes after bathing to moisturize, particularly your face. Apply moisturizer only to areas of your skin that feel tight and dry.
For more information, contact a dermatologist like those at the Billings Clinic.