This is what chlorine really does to you
Chlorine is commonly used to keep pool water clean, but it can affect your hair and skin in an unexpected way.
The INSIDER Summary:
- Chlorine is commonly used to keep pool water clean.If can dry out your skin and hair by stripping away natural oils, according to dermatologists.
- However, dermatologists agree that chlorine is effective in cleaning pools to make them safe enough to swim in.
- More research is needed to determine if swimming in chlorinated pools can cause any serious side effects. There are 10.4 million residential swimming pools in the U.S.
The majority of those pools will be cleaned using chlorine, a disinfectant that destroys and deactivates germs. The American Chemistry Council writes that chlorine's disinfectant qualities come from its ability to bond with and destroy the outer surfaces of bacteria and viruses. Chlorine has the power to clean and sterilize swimming pools, along with hospitals and hotels, but it can also affect your body.
INSIDER spoke with dermatologists to determine what chlorine really does to you.
Chlorine is extremely drying to the skin.
Pools are perfect for cooling off and beating the heat. Being in the water doesn't mean your skin is being hydrated, though. Chlorine is known to dry the skin, and some people may also find their skin feeling scratchy or irritated by it, too.
"Chlorine is extremely drying to the skin," Dr. Debra Jaliman, an American Academy of Dermatology Spokesperson with a private practice in New York told INSIDER. "It's especially important to take a shower right after getting out of a chlorine pool." She also advises putting on moisturizer to replace essential oils that chlorine can strip away from skin.
Chlorine can make your hair brittle or fragile.
In the same way that chlorine can dry out hair, it can dry skin. Letting your hair sit in chlorine water can do damage to your locks.
Dr. Adam Friedman, Associate Professor of Dermatology and Director of Supportive Oncodermatology at George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences, says that it can also make hair brittle. On Columbia University's website Go Ask Alice, where health professionals answer anonymous questions, the team answered a question about the impact of chlorine on hair. According to their response, chlorine sucks sebum (oil secreted from your glands) out of your hair. "[This] may cause the cuticle to crack," the team wrote. "This damage causes your hair's natural sheen to diminish, and the unprotected cortex to potentially 'split,' creating split ends."
Those with color-treated hair have often been told to be especially careful when swimming in pools, but Friedman said that it's not chlorine that sometimes turns color-treated hair green. "While swimming in a swimming pool has been known to turn hair green, it is actually the copper in the pool, not the chlorine, that does this," he told INSIDER.
However, doctors agree that chlorine is an effective cleaner.
Although the smell of chlorine is distinct, it's known for its effective cleaning properties.
Dr. Ali Hendi, a board-certified dermatologist who practices in Chevy Chase, Maryland, doesn't think there is any danger in swimming in chlorinated water — but he does believe there are risks in unclean water.
"There's a known and significant danger of swimming in water which is not clean and may have bacteria such as E. coli," he told INSIDER. "In fact patients with chronic and recurrent skin infections are often advised to take dilute bleach baths using one cup of Clorox in a bathtub water to help minimize risk of recurrent infections."
Friedman agrees, and added that not using chlorine can allow pathogens to flourish which could potentially cause infection.
More testing is needed to determine if any serious side effects occur from swimming in chlorinated pools.
Is there any proof that chlorine can be harmful? Besides occasionally irritating the eyes or skin, David J. Leffell, MD Professor and Chief, Dermatologic Surgery, Yale School of Medicine, said he isn't aware of any good scientific studies "that have questioned any meaningful health risk." Leffel also agreed that chlorine is effective in cleaning pools so that they're safe enough to swim in.
However, Friedman explained that because chlorine is meant to kill bacteria in pools, it doesn't discriminate against bacterial types. "It can also kill the normal microbial communities on your skin," he said. "More and more research is emerging speaking to the importance of the skin microbiota and how dysbiosis, an imbalance in the bacterial communities, can result in an array of skin disease from acne to eczema." The science is still out on this claim, and Dr. Friedman is not aware of any studies that evaluate this situation specifically.
While further research needs to be done to determine if swimming in chlorinated pools can cause any serious side effects, it's important to remember that, even though chlorine can dry out skin and hair, it's a necessary evil to keep pools safe and clean.