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Protect your hair from pool chlorine with these expert tips

Swimming is fun, but damaged hair? Not so much.

Person perched on edge of swimming pool next to hair products. Credit: Reviewed / Getty Images / Jun / Malibu C

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Hitting up a pool regularly—whether for sport or leisure time—can be great fun, and swimming is excellent exercise. But unfortunately, chlorine can have negative effects on both your skin and hair. A good slathering of moisturizer or body lotion can quell dry or dehydrated skin, but preserving hair’s color, texture, and strength can be a more complicated matter. We spoke with Lorena M. Valdes, a hair colorist at Maxine Salon in Chicago, for advice on how you can enjoy pool time and healthy, beautiful hair.

How does chlorine damage hair?

Chlorine is a necessary pool chemical to reduce germs in the water that could lead to illness. But in terms of hair health, the chemical can strip oils that keep strands moisturized, resulting in dryness. Dry hair can lead to increased breakage, tangles, and a change in your hair’s texture from soft and smooth to rough and frizzy.

You may also see changes in your hair’s color or tone: “Chlorine is abrasive and a strong oxidizer that will leave a film on the hair that may act like bleach and can affect all hair types and colors,” Valdes says. Chlorine can also mix with copper from the shower or pool’s pipes to create “an erosion that remains on the hair,” which can lead to hair looking brassy or even greenish.

You’re more likely to see these changes in your hair color if you have already chemically bleached or dyed your hair. Lightened hair is more prone to discoloration from chlorine exposure, becoming darker or green-tinged, while color-treated hair may fade faster or become dull.

How can you prevent chlorine damage?

Prior to diving into the pool, there are steps you can take to reduce the effect chlorine has on your hair.

Step 1: Soak your hair in non-chlorinated water

On left, person spraying water bottle onto hair. On right, empty spray bottle.
Credit: Reviewed /Getty Images / triocean / Alpree

If you can't take a pre-swim shower, soak your hair with clear water from a spray bottle to reduce chlorine absorption.

Dry hair is especially porous, so wetting it with regular water before you take a dip can minimize the absorption of chlorinated water once you’re in the pool, Valdes says. If you don’t have immediate access to a sink or shower, consider keeping a spray bottle in your bag to soak your strands. Snag the high-rated Alpree Continuous Spray Bottle to evenly coat your hair with a fine mist.

$10 at Amazon

Step 2: Apply a leave-in conditioner

Leave-in conditioner acts like a protective barrier over your strands to prevent moisture loss. You want to look for a leave-in that includes silicones to “repel” the water. For this, Valdes recommends the It’s A 10 Miracle Leave-In, which contains that ingredient and claims to detangle, eliminate frizz, add shine, and moisturize the hair.

$26 at Amazon

Step 3: Choose your hair accessories wisely

Person perched on edge of swimming pool. On right, Lululemon's multi-colored skinny scrunchies.
Credit: Reviewed / Getty Images / yoh4nn / Lululemon

Keep your hair knot-free in the pool and reduce damage with a fabric hair tie.

Some pools require you wear a swim cap, but latex and silicone caps can tug at the hair (especially when you go to remove them), so if you experience breakage around the hairline, you may prefer to use a fabric-based cap. If you have long hair, whether or not it will go into a cap, you’ll want to tie it back to minimize tangles: ”Choosing between a bun or braid will depend on your hair, but keeping it from moving all over the place will help,” says Valdes. Skip those skinny hair elastics and use a hair tie that reduces damage, such as the Lululemon Skinny Scrunchies, made of smooth, no-snag fabric.

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Step 4: Be smart about after-swim hair care

The most important post-dip tip is to get the chlorine off as much as possible as soon as possible to minimize damage. If you can’t fully shampoo, you should at least rinse hair with clean water upon exiting the pool, if a shower is available. Either way, blot dry with a microfiber towel, like the Aquis Original Hair Towel, which is both gentler and more absorbent than regular terry cloth. Finally, use a wide-toothed comb to gently detangle longer locks, and apply more leave-in conditioner until you can give hair a proper washing—particularly if you’ll be taking another dip before the day’s done.

$22 at Amazon

Step 5: Wash your hair with a clarifying shampoo

On left, person washing their hair in the shower. On left, bottle of Malibue C Swimmers shampoo.
Credit: Reviewed / Getty Images / Moyo Studio / Malibu C

A clarifying shampoo like the Malibu C Swimmers Wellness Shampoo removes chlorine buildup after a pool day.

As soon as possible after your pool time, you’ll want to wash out the chlorine. To do this, use a clarifying or “swimmer” shampoo. “Malibu C has a clarifying shampoo and a swimmer’s shampoo that work fantastically,” Valdes says. If you’re only focused on removing chlorine, try the Malibu C Swimmers Wellness Shampoo, which claims to bring moisture, softness, and shine to your hair post-pool.

$17 at Amazon

If you regularly use products such as gel or styling cream in addition to regular pool trips, another option is Malibu C’s Un-Do-Goo > pH 9 Shampoo. It provides the chlorine removal swimmers need, but can be used year-round to remove product build-up. Follow up with your regular conditioner.

$17 at Amazon

Step 6. Consider a deeper clean

If you haven’t been using a swimmer’s shampoo or you find your hair still show signs of chlorine’s effects, you can give yourself a “Malibu hair treatment,” which removes “build-up and impurities that make the hair brassy,” Valdes says. To do this, purchase the Malibu C Swimmers Wellness Hair Remedy, which comes as a packet containing several ingredients, including ascorbic acid (vitamin C) that claim to remove chlorine and other metals or minerals, eliminate discoloration, prevent and remove green hair from copper buildup, and improve “manageability.”

$12 at Amazon

The brand recommends pouring the packet’s contents into a wet palm, rubbing your hands together and adding water to dissolve its crystals, applying and scrunching it throughout the hair, and allowing it to sit for five minutes. Prior to the treatment, you can shampoo and rinse as normal, and you can follow up the treatment with your conditioner. Valdes recommends doing this treatment periodically—the brand says once a week—to keep on top of buildup.

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