Can swimming damage your hair?

Woman with long dark hair standing in a swimming pool

Summer’s not summer without swimming in our world but what can it do to your hair?

Woman with long dark hair in a swimming poolAs a mother of three, I’ve found our family summer holidays work best when we can rent a cottage and the children’s top priority in these decisions is whether or not there is a pool.

My eldest daughter, now a teenager, has very long hair and thinks haircuts are the work of the devil, crossing her fingers at me and hissing if ever I try to approach her with a pair of hairdressing scissors. Or maybe it’s a sign of love?

If I can’t trim her hair, here’s the loving advice I give my daughter when it comes to making sure her hair stays in the best possible condition through the swimming season.

I know she’s listening and taking it in. I can tell by the way she rolls her eyes.

Chlorine versus salt

As you may guess, chlorine is the worst part about pool water for your hair. It’s pretty nasty stuff.

It dissolves perfectly in water, allowing the chemical to get into your hair underneath the cuticle. If allowed to dry, chlorine reforms into small sharp crystals. Then, when you brush your hair, those crystals can start moving and cutting your cuticle from within the core of your hair.

This is why frequent swimmers can experience not just split ends, but hair that fractures along its length, becoming brittle.

So perhaps swimming in the sea would be better? Here, of course, we need to look at the effect of salt.

Yes, emerging from the sea, hair loose and wet like an early Bond girl looks sexy. But leaving your hair to dry allows a very fine film of salt to form throughout.

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When salt dries on your hair like this, the natural moisture of your hair is drawn out of the core, drying it out. The salt coating also gives your hair a sort of tacky surface.

This ultimately encourages your hair to tangle, and the friction chips away at the cuticle, reducing shine and affecting the strength of your hair.

Not really the look you were aiming for.

Here’s how to protect your hair:

Wear a swimming cap

Synchronized swimmers wearing pink swimming hats and green costumes putting their heads togetherOkay, it isn’t always the most high-fashion item. But a swimming cap is actually the single best way to protect your hair.

Wash your hair as soon as you get out of the water

If you’re really not a fan of a swimming cap and you swim frequently, the next best alternative is to rinse your hair within 5-10 minutes of getting out of the water.

Shampoo well, condition and rinse thoroughly. You absolutely must not brush your hair until it is dry. After a good wash and dry there shouldn’t be any sharp crystals of salt or chlorine left to dry in your hair.

Try a silicone serum

If you’re unable to wash your hair, this can help. Coating your hair before you get into the water will do an excellent job of protecting it. Silicone, being water resistant, is perfect for coating your hair.

As a general rule, I’m not a fan of hair products containing silicone. For swimmers, however, it’s a good way of protecting your hair from chlorine. And it’s a myth that chlorine turns your blonde hair green – this is down to copper, which is often found in pool water and is oxidised by the chlorine – but a silicone product can also protect you from the green-tinge effect.

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Wear a plait

This is great if you have long hair as it will help reduce tangling until you come to rinse your hair.

Follow these simple steps and you can dramatically improve the health of your hair while still enjoying all the benefits of swimming.

About Melissa Hill

I'm the founder of Stone Bridge Hair Accessories, where I have helped women have great-looking hair every day for the past decade.