Itchy, irritated skin caused by swimming? You may be suffering from chlorine itch. Learn how to reduce the effects of pool chemicals (including chlorine) and how to naturally protect swimmers.
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Chlorine itch is a term used for the sensitive itchy skin you sometimes get after swimming in a chlorinated pool or hot tub. The itch may be caused by a sensitivity or allergy to chlorine… or just plain over exposure to chlorine. Luckily there are easy ways to reduce the effects of pool water chemicals (including chlorine) and naturally protect swimmers.
How Chlorine is Used in the United States
Pools and hot tubs in the U.S. are treated with chlorine to prevent illnesses caused by germs and bacteria found in water. Municipal water systems are also treated with chlorine, EPA guidelines allow up to 4 ppm of chlorine in drinking water (tap water).
We are lucky to have a safe water supply in the United States, but it is important to understand the undesirable effects of chlorine in our water as well.
Why You Should Protect Your Skin from Chlorine
My kids swim year round for swim team and recreation. I love that they are interested in a sport they can participate in whether they are 5 or 95. But spending several days a week in the pool can wreak havoc!
- Swimming in a chlorinated pool means exposure to known skin irritants that can cause skin to become dry and itchy.
- Research suggests that chlorine in swimming pools can increase rates of asthma, cancer, and skin/throat irritation.
- When chlorine mixes with water it forms hypochlorite, a bleaching agent that causes fabrics to fade (Ever notice how faded swimsuits get?).
In addition to direct risks, chlorine reacts with organic matter to form chemicals known as trihalomethanes, commonly called “disinfection byproducts.” These dangerous byproducts (including chloroform) are released when chlorinated water reacts with organic matter from swimmers such as sweat or urine. You can read more about trihalomethanes in the EWG 2013 Tap Water Guide.
How to Naturally Protect Swimmers from Chlorine
I hate exposing my kids to dangerous substances but love the enjoyment and exercise they get from swimming. What’s a parent to do?
I’ve decided to reduce chlorine exposure as much as possible and, as Dory might say, “Just keep swimming!”
Five non-toxic ways to naturally protect swimmers from chlorine:
- Wear a swim cap and goggles.
- A tightly fitting swim cap and pair of goggles prevents the chlorinated water from further reaching the hair and eye area.
- Get wet before swimming and rinse off afterward.
- Wetting skin and hair reduces the amount of chlorine you skin and hair can absorb.
- Create a layer of hair protection.
- Spray damp hair with an All-Natural Hair Detangler and Protectant (see my easy recipe at end of post).
- Form a skin barrier.
- Apply a thin layer of natural oil (i.e. avocado, almond, jojoba, argan, or coconut oil) to skin. This light barrier further prevents the amount of chlorinated water your skin and hair can absorb. Smooth the oil on while skin is damp to protect without becoming a greasy blob.
- Use a natural balm to protect lips. My kids use my all natural Healing Dry Skin Balm on their lips, knees, elbows and other dry spots.
- Treat skin, hair and swim gear with a vitamin C solution.
- Vitamin C naturally neutralizes chlorine! I make After Swim Chlorine Neutralizing Spray. See the full recipe below.
Using Vitamin C for Dechlorination
1. Ascorbic Acid – The chemical reaction of ascorbic acid with chlorine is:
- C5H5O5CH2OH + HOCL → C5H3O5CH2OH + HCl + H2O
- Ascorbic acid + Hypochlorous acid → Dehydroascorbic acid + Hydrochloric acid+ water
2. Sodium Ascorbate – The reaction of sodium ascorbate with chlorine is:
- C5H5O5CH2ONa + HOCL → C5H3O5CH2OH + NaCl + H2O
- Sodium ascorbate + Hypochlorous acid → Dehydroascorbic acid + Sodium chloride + water
How to Make After Swim Chlorine Neutralizing Spray
- Directions: Mix 1/2 tsp sodium ascorbate with 4 ounces of distilled water. Use within 24 hours. (The solution breaks down and looses effectiveness after 24 hours.)
- Use: Generously spray After Swim Chlorine Neutralizing Spray all over immediately after swimming. The vitamin C neutralizes the chlorine.
*Tip: Add a teaspoon of sodium ascorbate to an empty 8 oz water bottle and bring it to the pool. After swimming take the bottle to the shower and fill with water, shake to combine then dump over your hair and body.
Vitamin C Shelf Life
Both ascorbic acid and sodium ascorbate are affordable and have a shelf life of at least one year in a dry form (stored in a cool, dark place). However, once it is mixed into a solution, the vitamin C degrades in a day or two. Mix just enough solution to use each day.
After Swim Chlorine Neutralizing Spray Cost
I currently use Source Naturals Vitamin C Sodium Ascorbate Crystals to make my after swim spray. It cost around $15.00 for 16 oz (approximately 189 days of After Swim Chlorine Neutralizing Spray at $0.08 a day). A similar natural product costs $11.95 for 6 ounces (about 12 days of spray).
Our Post Swim Routine
We follow a simple spray and shower routine to naturally protect ourselves from chlorine damage.
- After swimming spray off with After Swim Chlorine Neutralizing Spray then change and come home to bathe.
- Use carbon water filters in all of our home showers to remove chlorine.
- These screw on shower attachments cost around $30.00 and use $12.00 replaceable filters that last for up to 6 months. (We have been very happy with the results. Even my father, who is allergic to chlorine, was able to shower without developing itchy skin.)
- Bonus, the filters help keep my shower mold & mildew free and I have to do less scrubbing when cleaning!
- The shower attachments screw on with no special tools, we even take them with us when we move.
- For extra protection: Mix vitamin C into shampoo or body wash to neutralize chlorine or add a few teaspoons of vitamin C to the bathtub.
Protecting Swim Gear
This routine has helped reduce the amount of fading and breakdown in our swim suits:
- Rinse swim suits in a bucket of water with a teaspoon of sodium ascorbate after each use.
- Pour the whole bucketful (water, suits, and all) into the washing machine, add a scoop of non-toxic detergent, run the washer on the delicate cycle, then hang suits to dry.
- When I'm feeling lazy I toss the suits into the washer with a few teaspoons of sodium ascorbate and detergent then run the delicate cycle.
Protecting Hair From Chlorine
You can protect your hair from chlorine three ways:
- Wet hair before each swim. Wet hair can absorb less pool water.
- Apply a natural product that helps prevent chlorine absorption.
- Wear a tight swim cap.
All-Natural Hair Detangler and Protectant Recipes
- DIY Hair Detangler and Protectant with Essential Oils
- 1 Tbsp Vegetable Glycerin
- 1/2 cup Distilled Water
- 3 drops Argan Oil
- For Rosemary Mint add: 5 drops Peppermint Essential Oil and 5 drops Rosemary Essential Oil
- For Fresh and Floral add: 5 drops Rose Absolute Essential Oil and 3 drops Ylang-Ylang or Lavender Essential Oil
Combine all ingredients in a glass spray bottle. Shake to combine and shake again before applying. Use a few light sprays as a detangling spray after washing or apply generously to damp hair before swimming to protect hair.
2. Easy Hair Detangler and Protectant
Combine 1 oz of natural conditioner (use your favorite non-toxic conditioner) with 8 oz of distilled water. Combine all ingredients in a spray bottle. Shake to combine. Use a few light sprays as a detangling spray after washing or apply generously to damp hair before swimming to protect hair.
I hope these tips and tricks help you naturally protect your hair, skin, and gear so you can keep swimming!
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