Ah, chlorine. Better known as swimmers’ perfume! Every swimmer understands that pesky scent that lingers for hours (or even days) after a swim. And if you’re reading this, you’re likely also concerned about how chlorine is affecting your body as a whole.

From dry skin to straw-like hair, we dug into the science to break down what spending hours in a chlorinated pool does to your body, and how to combat the negative effects!

What is Chlorine?

Chlorine (signified as Cl on the periodic table of elements) is used to keep pools clean. Without chlorine, you’ll see lots of algae growth in your pool, and the water might not be safe to swim in.

You may see chlorine sold in tablet, powder or liquid form.

How Chlorine Works

When added to a pool, chlorine breaks down into hypochlorous acid and hypochlorite ion to clean the water. It breaks down cell walls and destroys the structures inside the cells, rendering them harmless.

  • Kills bacteria like salmonella and E. coli
  • Kills parasites like giardia
  • Kills viruses that cause diarrhea and swimmer’s ear

Hypochlorous acid kills germs in a few seconds. Hypochlorite ion takes up to 30 min to kill germs.

Sunlight speeds up the cleaning process, so outdoor pools may get cleaner more quickly.

When the cleaning is done, the hypochlorous acid and hypochlorite ion break down. This is why you need to replace chlorine regularly to keep your pool clean.

Recommended Chlorine Levels

In the US, the CDC recommends a chlorine concentration of at least 1ppm in pools and a water pH of 7.2-7.8 for maximum comfort and germ killing.

A 7.4 pH is ideal; the same pH of human tears! If your pool’s pH is too high, not enough hypochlorous acid is present and the cleaning will take longer.

A healthy pool should not smell like chlorine – that smell is from buildup of oils, urine and sweat reacting with the sanitizing agents in the water. Test your pool regularly and make sure to add chlorine when needed!

How Chlorine Affects the Body

Related: How to Protect Your Hair & Skin from Chlorine Damage

Now that we know how chlorine works, how does it affect your body?

Hair

When you swim in a chlorinated pool regularly, the water will strip your hair of its natural oils, leaving it dry, brittle and dull. The chlorine may also lighten your hair a bit, and increase the number of split ends you get between haircuts. 

To protect your hair, shower before you swim and wash and condition your hair after you swim to remove the chlorine.

Skin

Just like your hair, your skin can end up dry and damaged with regular swimming. Chlorinated water removes your skin’s natural oils and skin barrier, resulting in red, itchy, dry skin. 

The pre- and post-swim showers you take for your hair are just as beneficial for your skin! Follow up your shower with a layer of body lotion to lock in moisture.

Lungs

Chlorine in the air can irritate your lungs if you have asthma. Most of the time, though, you shouldn’t run into this issue unless the chlorine levels in your pool are way too high. 

You may find it easier to swim outdoors when possible, so that the chlorine can escape more easily than in an indoor pool. 

Ears

Many swimmers suffer from swimmer’s ear, which is a bacterial infection caused by pool water that gets stuck in the ears for too long after swimming. It can be extremely painful, and is made worse when the pool water isn’t clean.

To avoid swimmer’s ear, do your best to remove water from your ears after every swim. For some swimmers, it’s as easy as shaking your head from side to side (and maybe jumping a bit) to dislodge the water. 

Other swimmers use special drying drops to get rid of excess water, and others use a couple drops of rubbing alcohol. If you opt for this route, check with your doctor before trying something new.

Alternatives to Chlorine

If you’re struggling with the effects of chlorine in your pool, try these tips to reduce the issues:

  • Find a different pool: This may not work for everyone, but if there’s another pool in your area, give that one a try to see if your body reacts better to its chlorine levels.
  • Reduce your swimming frequency: Maybe swimming six days per week is too tough on your skin and hair. Try reducing to three or four days per week to see how your body reacts. On your days off from the pool, do a dryland workout at home or in the gym. Check out the MySwimPro app for dryland Training Plans!
  • Try open water swimming: If you simply can’t be out of the water, head to your local lake or beach and try open water swimming! If you’re new to open water, don’t swim alone, and check out these beginner tips

Ultimately, chlorine is a necessary evil in the world of swimming! Most swimmers find a way to manage the effects of chlorine so they can continue to train hard and enjoy the water. Share your tips to combat chlorine in the comments!

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