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How to Protect Hair From Chlorine Damage (for Frequent Swimmers)

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If a swim cap is supposed to protect your hair, why does water get under it so quickly? Although necessary, a swim cap isn’t the be-all and end-all when it comes to protecting your hair from chlorine.

There are other things you can do to keep this corrosive chemical from attaching itself to your hair. Read along as we define chlorine damage, discuss how to protect your hair and offer some product choices that can help.

What is Chlorine Damage?

Chlorine damage for hair

To know how to protect hair from chlorine damage, it’s important to first understand what chlorine damage is and what it can do to your hair. Every time you swim in a pool without properly protecting your hair, chlorine bonds to the protein in the outermost sheath of your hair, the hair cuticle. Chlorine then dissolves this protective layer and damage takes place.

The effects are cumulative and depend on your exposure. So if you spend a long time in the water or swim frequently in a chlorinated pool, you might have more damage than someone who takes an occasional dip. Exposure to chlorine can result in:

  • hair that’s overly porous and from which moisture enters and exits too quickly.
  • dry hair that feels like straw
  • hair that loses its elasticity and easily breaks
  • damaged hair that splits form mid-shaft and at the ends, just by combing and brushing
  • fading hair color
  • chemically treated hair absorbing more chlorine, as it is even more porous than non-chemically treated hair
  • a greenish hue to the hair due to metal residues in swimming pools reacting with chlorine

If you continue to swim unprotected, the chlorine will attach to the protein in the inner sheath and begin to corrode it as well. Once that happens, you could have hair breakage and hair loss. To avoid all these signs of chlorine damage from happening, it’s important to stop the chlorine from bonding to the hair.

How To Protect Hair from Chlorine Damage

Ways to Protect Hair from Chlorine Damage

There are a variety of things you can do to prevent chlorine damage from affecting your hair. Some are:

  1. After swimming, try to rinse your hair right away with freshwater. Avoid allowing chlorine to dry on your hair. Better yet, use a shampoo which washes away chlorine.
  2. Aspirin removes chlorine. So if you don’t have a swimmer’s shampoo on hand, try rinsing your hair in a warm water solution that contains dissolved aspirin. Drop six tablets in a liter container of water. Stir the solution to dissolve the aspirin and pour it through your hair. Wait 10 minutes before rinsing, then use a shampoo.
  3. Don’t brush wet hair. Allow it to air dry first, then use a wide-toothed comb. This helps reduce the risk of breakage.
  4. If you’re a regular swimmer, try to stay away from heat tools which can further dry hair that’s exposed to chlorine.
  5. Wet your hair with cool water before donning a swimming cap. It’s said that hair that’s already wet will repel water to a degree.
  6. Better than wetting your hair, try using a conditioner on hair before putting on a swim cap. Conditioners coat the hair strands to keep in moisture. They also repel moisture from the hair if they contain silicones, as most hair conditioners do.

Shampoos That Remove Chlorine

The shampoo you choose should contain vitamin C or natural ingredients which are high in vitamin C. These help dissolve chlorine so that it can rinse away from your hair. Shampoo that contains chelating agents like citric or ascorbic acids and EDTA can help remove chlorine and metal residues from the pool. Here are three shampoos for damaged hair that can help:

Paul Mitchell Shampoo Three

This shampoo contains the chelating agent EDTA. It helps prevent blond hair from developing a green cast because it removes metal residues as well as chlorine. It also removes product buildup.

UltraSwim Chlorine Removal & Hard Water Treatment Moisturizing Shampoo

UltraSwim removes chlorine and contains baking soda to remove the odor of it. Ultra Swim also removes copper deposits and other oxidized metals that can give the hair a greenish color. This shampoo is for all hair types and you can use it after every swim without stripping your hair.

OUIDAD Water Works Clarifying Shampoo

This shampoo uses citrus extracts to remove chlorine and metal residues. Ouidad is made for curls, so it doesn’t strip the hair. This is a good shampoo for color-treated hair.

Conditioners To Guard Against Chlorine

UltraSwim has an accompanying conditioner, but you can use any conditioner after using a chlorine-fighting shampoo. So we’ll list conditioners that can be used prior to or during swimming to protect the tresses. Here are a few choices:

John Frieda Frizz Ease

In this product, the principal ingredient is silicone. Frizz Ease is normally used to seal the hair prior to heat treatments to protect the hair and reduce frizz. Silicone combats frizz because it provides a layer that doesn’t allow moisture to reach the hair.

For this reason, silicone is excellent to use on your hair prior to swimming to keep the chlorinated water away from your hair. This is a sticky serum that applies best to wet hair.

AquaGuard Pre-Swim Hair Defense

AquaGuard has the texture of a leave-in conditioner. It’s made with silicones and works to seal the hair cuticle to stop the entry of chlorinated water. You need to leave the Pre-Swim on the hair for 10-15 minutes before entering the water.

SoCozy Swim Leave-in Conditioner

Made for kids, this leave-in spray contains beeswax to coat the hair strands and repel water. The SoCozy Leave-in uses activated charcoal to protect the hair against chlorine and metal residues.

How to Use a Swim Cap to Keep Your Hair Dry

Use two Swim Caps to Keep Hair Dry

Back to that swim cap. Yours isn’t defective. Swim caps aren’t meant to keep the hair dry. They are made to either keep the head warm, keep the hair out of the eyes or improve speed using aerodynamics, or rather, hydrodynamics.

If you’re a swimmer, you already know that they are very ineffective at keeping the hair dry. I would even say that they work with the body temperature and chlorine to create more hair damage by making your head into a little chlorinated steam pool.

To keep your hair dry, try using two caps. A neoprene cap on the bottom, followed by a silicone cap that covers the ears. Put all of that on top of your leave-in conditioner, just in case.