How Chlorine and Salt Water impact skin and hair

Now that summer is getting in full swing odds are you’ll be spending some time in either (or hopefully both!) pools or the ocean. We work hard year-round to preserve our skin and hair health, don’t let it go down the drain because of some dips in the water this summer!
I spoke with RealSelf Contributor Dr. Michele Green to get her advice on exactly what we should do to keep our skin and hair safe when we’re exposed to these two aggressors.

How should someone care for their hair and skin before exposure to salt water and chlorine?
We need to care for our skin and hair before exposure to salt water and chlorine. Proper moisturizers need to be used daily so that your skin is not already dry before going into the pool or salt water because it will further dry out your hair and skin. If you have color treated hair you should also use conditioner and shampoos that are gentle and preferably designed for color treated hair. Pool caps can help a lot in preventing breakage and color changes to your hair.

Are there specific steps someone should take after swimming (i.e. always shower off as soon as possible, use moisturizer, etc.)?
After swimming it is always best to rinse off immediately and shower with water. If possible the same goes for your hair. The salt and harsh chemicals can be damaging. Applying moisturizer or a leave on hair conditioner for 15 minutes would be best. Also I warn patients not to use lemons in their hair since you can further damage the hair from lemon juice in the sun and also hyper pigment or stain your skin.

What’s the best skincare and hair care regimen to follow after a day spent swimming in the ocean or pool, any specific product picks?
Specific products that I would recommend for hair care and skin care – I always recommend our body moisturizer for after the shower as it is easy to go on and provides a great smooth base for you to apply sunscreens. For hair I would recommend Moroccanoil moisture repair conditioner ($25). They have a great line of products as does Redken.

Is there anything one should keep in mind while being exposed to salt water and/or chlorine for long periods of time?
You should keep in mind that being exposed to chlorine and salt water for long periods of time can dry out your skin and make eczema worse. Also if you have any cuts or abrasions or open sores they need to be properly protected. Harsh chemicals like chlorine can really irritate your skin and some patients can actually be allergic as well.

Can being in the water increase your risk of sunburn?
Being in the water increases your risk of sun burn as the water reflects the sun’s rays even more. That is why it is so important to apply an SPF 30 or higher before going in the water and re-applying it several times, especially when you are in the pool or ocean. Suncreens are not described as water resistant – not water proof! since they do come off in the water after a period of time. Increased sun exposure accelerates skin cancer, wrinkles, and age spots – which accounts for a large portion of my practice so best to use as much sunblock and re-apply to avoid.

Model image: Vogue

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