How You Can Prevent Chlorine Damage This Summer

Written by Olivia Cefalu

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Summer brings us the best of the best—ice pops, pool days with friends, sizzling tans, and barbecues outside. But with all that activity and swimming, your hair can take some serious damage. The biggest offender? Chlorine. Many of us have never stopped to wonder how chlorine damages our hair before jumping into a pool. But it is something to think about, especially with many of us spending more time in chlorinated water in the near future. We want you to enjoy your pool days but we also want to make sure your hair is in tip-top shape after a dip. Read on to learn how chlorine damages hair, how to practice hair care after swimming, and the best products that can help you as you enjoy the summer weather. We reached out to the experts for their tips on having the summer hair of your dreams without sacrificing your days by the pool.

How to protect hair from chlorine | Mane Addicts
(Image Source: Getty / Hollie Fernando)

About the Experts:

Marnie B. Nussbaum, M.D. FAAD is a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, NY.

Adam Livermore is an Oribe educator and editorial hairstylist.

Andrew Fitzsimons is a celebrity hairstylist (working with clients like Madonna, Khloé Kardashian, Britney Spears, and many more) and a brand founder.

Annagjid “Kee” Taylor is a Philadelphia-based celebrity hairstylist and beauty entrepreneur.

How Chlorine Damages Hair

Chlorine is what keeps swimming pools clean and disinfects water. But, it’s a pretty damaging chemical—it can dry out your skin and there are a number of ways it harms your hair.

It Makes Hair More Vulnerable

“It can slowly eat away at the protective cuticles, which makes the hair tangled and exposes the delicate cortex layer,” Oribe educator Adam Livermore says. “Chlorine can also break down the amino acids in our hair, which can deplete its natural strength and dry it out. It also removes the natural melanin from strands, which is part of why it lightens and turns that green ‘pool hair’ color.”

It Can Dry Out Your Strands

“Excessive chlorine exposure can cause structural impairment to the hair shaft, thus weakening it,” board-certified dermatologist Marnie B. Nussbaum, M.D. FAAD shares. “The chemicals found in chlorine will strip the natural oils from your hair and scalp, and this stripping adversely impacts the hair’s cuticle and protein, which is called keratin.”

It Causes Split Ends and Frizz

Chlorine dissolves hair-protecting lipids and oils that moisturize and keep strands healthy and manageable. “Hair lipids are needed to coat the hair shaft, providing moisture, shine, and manageability. Hair that is devoid of intact lipids is more prone to static electricity, breakage (in the form of split ends), and hair frizz. The result is dull, dry, and brittle-looking hair that is more prone to damage. Chlorine can also lead to itchy, red, tight, dry skin on the scalp,” adds Dr. Nussbaum.

It Actually Bleaches Hair

Ever notice that your bathing suits look less vibrant over time? If you’re swimming in pools, you can blame the chlorine. Places like hot tubs that have even more chemicals will fade your suits even faster. But wait, can it fade hair color if it can fade clothing? Absolutely.

“Anyone with blonde, gray, or color-treated hair is susceptible to chlorine changing their hair color. As chlorine is a bleaching agent, it can lighten darker hair and it actually can penetrate lighter strands with chemicals that can leave blonde hair looking greenish,” says natural hair stylist Annagjid “Kee” Taylor.

It Can Change the Way Your Hair Feels

Sometimes using the wrong products on your hair can alter the texture in a bad way. Certain shampoos with silicones can make your hair feel like it has a waxy coating on it or styling products can make your hair feel dry and brittle due to buildup, making it harder to hydrate without removing all that gunk. Chlorine does a similar thing because it weakens your hair, making it drier and potentially frizzier.

Prolonged exposure to the chemical without removing it from your hair can completely change the texture of your hair. Perhaps you normally have curly hair, but chlorine makes it look straight as it’s not healthy. “Chlorine can strip off the natural oils from your hair, which results in dry and brittle strands. If you have regular exposure to chlorine, it can make your hair extremely porous,” notes celebrity hairstylist Andrew Fitzsimons.

How to Protect Hair From Chlorine

As far as protecting your hair before getting into a chlorinated pool goes, all the experts offer similar advice. The good news? There are tons of products that can help protect against hair damage from chlorine. And extra measures you can take before swimming as well.

Wear a Swim Cap

“Consider wearing a swim cap to protect your hair from chlorine exposure,” Dr. Nussbaum says. There’s a reason professional swimmers always don one on their head before getting into a pool.

Consider Wetting Your Hair Before Swimming

It seems so simple, but think of your hair like a sponge. “You want it to absorb fresh water, not chlorine-riddled pool water. By wetting it beforehand, you can reduce the amount of chlorine your hair intakes. Applying coconut oil or similar oil-based conditioners prior to swimming can also help,” adds Dr. Nussbaum.

If you have curly or coily hair, this method is especially helpful. “For those with natural or curly hair, the best thing to do is wear a swim cap, avoid putting your head underwater, or wear your hair in a protective style. If you are going to be under the water, ensure that you wet your hair and then use a hair oil such as the Deeper Than Hair First Class to Jamaica Castor Oil, or a deep conditioning mask to help prevent chlorine from penetrating the hair as much as it would if you did not apply the product,” says Taylor.

Take Measure Before Going for a Dip

“The easiest thing you can do is get your hair soaking wet with tap water before you get in the pool. For even better protection, I tell all my clients to use the Oribe Pre-Shampoo Intensive Treatment on their dry hair before they get into the pool. It’s an incredible treatment in its own right, but when it comes to the pool, it basically waterproofs your hair so the pool water won’t have much of an effect on it. Apply it very sparingly to your dry hair (repeat, dry hair), tie it up, and then shampoo it out when you’re done swimming. You’ll get all the benefits of the treatment, plus protection from the pool water.”

Leave-In Conditioner Is Essential

Leave-in conditioner is another product that can help protect hair before getting into the pool. “Using a product like this can help prevent chlorine from being absorbed, but can also help moisturize your hair while you are swimming. For best results, use the Andrew Fitzsimons Virgin Repair AF1 Repair Leave-In Conditioner for Damaged Hair with reparative properties designed to replenish and protect from further damage,” says Fitzsimons.

Wash With Sulfate-Free Shampoo

Sulfate-free shampoos help prevent buildup. They may not lather as well as what we grew up using, but they’re better for your hair. Most quality shampoos on the market are sulfate-free now, and if you’re unsure, just check the label. It will tell you.

Exposing your hair to chlorine in the summer is inevitable. The most important step is making sure you cleanse and wash your hair thoroughly after. “After having your hair exposed to chlorine, ensure you are gentle with it, and wash it with a gentle shampoo followed by a conditioning treatment or hair mask as soon as possible to give your strands the extra moisture they need after a pool day,” says Taylor.

Best Products to Protect Against Chlorine Damage

K18 Biomimetic Hairscience PEPTIDE PREP Clarifying Detox Shampoo

K18 Biomimetic Hairscience PEPTIDE PREP Clarifying Detox Shampoo | Mane Addicts
(Image Source: Sephora.com)

This color-safe, non-stripping clarifying shampoo will help break down product buildup like dry shampoo and will repair your strands with K18 bonding technology.

dpHue Apple Cider Vinegar Hair Rinse

dpHue Apple Cider Vinegar Hair Rinse | Mane Addicts
(Image Source: DpHue.com)

This is a gentle apple cider vinegar rinse for a thorough scalp cleanse. If you’ve been hitting the pool a lot, consider using this as a hair treatment before a clarifying shampoo.

Bumble and bumble Sunday Shampoo

Bumble and bumble Sunday Shampoo | Mane Addicts
(Image Source: Ulta.com)

The perfect shampoo for a reset, it helps remove excess oil and chlorine, focusing on your scalp to repair damaged hair.

Andrew Fitzsimons AF1 Restructuring 10-in-1 Leave-In Conditioner

Andrew Fitzsimons AF1 Restructuring 10-in-1 Leave-In Conditioner | Mane Addicts
(Image Source: Ulta.com)

Fitzsimons recommends using this as a pre-swimming treatment to start the chlorine protection process before you even jump in to protect your hair strands as much as possible.

Straand Crown Cleanse Shampoo

Straand Crown Cleanse Shampoo | Mane Addicts
(Image Source: StraandScalpCare.com)

We love this shampoo because it contains panthenol (vitamin B5) to strengthen hair and prevent breakage. It also has hydrolyzed wheat protein to eliminate frizz and tangles.

Looking for more hair health tips? Read all about hair cycling and why it’s the 2023 hair trend to know.