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Any avid swimmer will know that a dip into a swimming pool can wreak havoc on your hair. Exposure to chlorine, fresh water, and salt water can dry out the hair, leaving it brittle and straw-like over time. But did you know you can actually minimize damage done to your hair?

How chlorine affects your hair

Chlorine is great at keeping pool water germ-free for a reason – it’s a pretty harsh chemical. Chlorine, when added to a swimming pool, forms a weak acid called hypochlorous acid that kills bacteria like salmonella and E. coli, as well as germs that cause viruses such as diarrhea and swimmer’s ear.

Great for you, not good for your hair. It can cause significant damage to even the healthiest of locks, which is why it is important to take the proper steps to care for your hair before and after swimming in chlorine.

When exposed to chlorine, hair is stripped of its natural oils and can cause the protective cuticles to break apart. This results in dry, stressed, brittle hair that is easily susceptible to split ends and breakage. Hair isn’t the only part of your head that is vulnerable to chlorine—prolonged exposure to chlorine can also irritate your scalp by stripping it of its natural oils resulting in dryness, irritation, and excessive dandruff. 

Those of us who process and dye our hair—whether it’s highlights, balayage, concealing pesky greys, or regularly using hot tools—need to be extra cautious. Chlorine accelerates fading and strips away hair color, resulting in a dull, lifeless head of hair – so don’t jump into a pool right after your salon session! Pool water can even turn blonde hair green.

How salt water affects your hair

Did you know that salt draws out moisture? That’s why we salt things – to preserve them. It does the same to your hair, so overexposure to salt water can leave your hair damaged, parched, frizzy, and untameable especially if your hair is dyed or processed.

Similar to your skin, when hair is well-hydrated, it is smooth, full of life, and easier to manage. Over time, this loss of moisture leads to flakey scalps, split ends, and breakage—turning your beautiful beach waves into a dull and lifeless mane. Dry and brittle hair can be especially difficult to brush and style.

Before swimming:

1. Protect your hair with products

There are plenty of easy-to-use products formulated for swimmers, but who says you can’t use them to protect your hair when swimming? Leave-in treatments are a simple and convenient way to get UV protection, replenish hair with moisture, and help prevent discoloration and fading. Quickly spritz it some before heading out the door and toss in your bag to apply on your hair again before you take a dip in the pool or ocean. 

2. Skip the flat iron

And any hot tools in general. Using hot tools often can dry out your hair and leave it vulnerable to damage. When using a hair dryer or flat iron, always remember to use a good heat protectant product. Remember, swimming in salt or chlorinated water can accelerate any existing damage.

During your swim:

1. Keep your hair covered

Using a swim cap can be a pain – it’s tight for a reason, as it needs to keep out the water. However, tying your hair into a protective bun can be helpful – remember to use a hair tie that leaves no mark. Avoid letting your hair bake in the sun after getting out of the pool – keeping it covered in a towel will stop your hair from getting further dehydrated.

2. Quickly rinse out your hair

Give your hair a quick rinse before and as soon as you hop out of the water to stop the elements from further stripping your hair of moisture. Re-apply a leave-in treatment after rinsing off and before getting back in the water.   

After your swim:

1. Use a microfiber towel or cotton t-shirt

Beach towels are rough and will encourage hair cuticles to become open, leaving your hair frizzy. Instead, keep a soft t-shirt or microfibre cloth available in your beach bag, and gently pat your hair dry after a swim.

2. Keep that comb or brush away!

Wet hair is more susceptible to breakage, and brushing through it while wet puts tension on the hair strands. Use a wide-tooth comb only when your hair is 90% dry, if you must.

3. Use a hair mask

Replenish your hair’s natural nutrients and put moisture back into it. Hair masks can replenish your hair, re-hydrate, and soothe your scalp.

Taking these extra steps to care for your hair will pay off in the long run. You can swim – and have beautiful hair, at the same time!

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