As one of the most common elements in our universe, chlorine is found throughout the natural world and in many aspects of modern life. But like so many subjects in science, the compound is widely misunderstood, especially concerning hair health and hair loss prevention.
For swimmers and casual pool enjoyers, chlorine is a pressing topic. While it keeps bacteria at bay, many suggest that it damages hair at a molecular level, among other effects on the skin and follicle roots.
If you’re serious about maintaining your hair for the long haul, you should know the truth behind chlorine and how it impacts your hair’s look, feel, and longevity.
It’s time to examine the realities of chlorine and hair loss, debunk some myths, and outline tips that will help keep your hair long and strong for years to come, even when faced with frequent chlorine exposure.
We usually think of chlorine in the context of hot tubs, swimming pools, and other manufactured water features used for competition or leisure. However, this element has countless more applications in industry, manufacturing, and fun in the sun.
Let’s look at the facts about chlorine and some of the properties that may influence the health of our hair.
In its purest form, chlorine is actually a gas, heavier than air and with a slight yellow-green hue. In fact, the ancient Greek “khloros” translates to “pale green,” which forms the basis of its modern name.
The element was used widely throughout the middle ages in alchemical experiments due to its high reactivity, rapid oxidation, and other mystical properties that took centuries to fully understand.
It wasn’t until 1808 that chlorine earned its place on the periodic table, located in group 17 among halogens such as fluorine, bromine, and iodine.
Once chlorine was successfully isolated and proven relatively safe, inventors and industrialists scrambled to find unique applications and opportunities in many fields.
While the basics like common salt (sodium chloride) and hydrochloric acid were discovered early on, the floodgates were open for new formulations, including beaches, disinfectants, and reagents for many new chemical processes.
More recently, chlorine has been used to create plastics such as polyvinyl chloride, one of the top three mass-produced materials on the planet.
By performing the electrolysis of salt water, pool chlorine is created. Electricity is passed through salt (2NaCL) and water, dissociating the atoms into their fundamental forms, which generates a sanitizing effect that is still safe for prolonged human contact.
Too much of a good thing can turn bad quickly. Chlorine gas is no exception; in high concentrations, it can be used as a chemical weapon.
Thankfully, the amount of chlorine found in the average pool is nothing to worry about for general health, with far lower concentrations. Chlorine in pools and hot tubs is measured on a pH scale between 7.2 and 7.8.
With too much chlorine in water, swimmers may experience eye and skin irritation, while too little chlorine will not get the job done in terms of sanitation. That’s why pool maintenance crews test these concentrations several times daily and make adjustments as needed.
There’s no doubt we need chlorine to keep pools clean and sanitary for everyone, but at what point does all that chlorine start to impact hair health?
We may not have a definitive answer, but certain studies and anecdotal reports can point us in the right direction and offer guidance for swimmers and casual cannon-ballers.
First, the good news. Chlorine does not directly influence the molecular structure of hair or impact the follicle unit in any noticeable way, according to leading dermatologists. Therefore, the occasional dip in the pool or hot tub will likely have little impact on how your hair looks, feels, or grows to its full potential.
On the flip side, chlorine can cause skin and scalp dryness, stripping away the natural oils that help enrich the follicle and allow hair to thrive. As a result, swimmers often find themselves combating dry skin and hair after long bouts of training and take extra precautions to prevent ongoing exposure.
Another concern with chlorine is the bounce-back effect of losing these natural oils over many weeks and months. When the body recognizes this deficiency, it may overcompensate by producing too much oil, causing hair to become slick or greasy.
The overproduction of oil has its own concerns for the health and life cycle of scalp hair, especially for those prone to genetic hair loss or with naturally thin or fine hair.
In summary, chlorine may not directly cause hair to weaken or miniaturize, though it may cause conditions of the scalp to change, by which hair loss may occur if not properly managed.
Like all things in health, results will vary greatly depending on the amount of exposure to and frequency of a particular input. Chlorine is a prime example of this, as one study showed that daily exposure over 12 weeks did result in hair loss for rats.
While this should be a sigh of relief for casual swimmers, who may only swim a handful of times per year, competitive swimmers should take note.
It seems that daily exposure to pool chlorine may lead to hair loss over the long term, though genetic factors will ultimately determine how each individual responds.
If you’re a daily pool swimmer worried about hair loss from chlorine, your concerns are valid. Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to fight against the effects of chlorine and ensure your hair stays healthy, even with a rigorous routine of swimming laps. Here’s what to do.
They may not be the most stylish accessories, but skin caps can save your hair if you’re a frequent swimmer. They are lightweight, affordable, and reasonably comfortable.
Those with longer hair will appreciate how swim caps keep their hair tidier while training hard and performing strenuous strokes for hours. Do yourself a favor before you dive back in for pool season and have a few caps in your rotation.
Some chlorine may come into contact with your scalp, even with a cap. Immediately after leaving the pool, don’t hesitate to hit the showers and scrub away any remaining chemicals.
Shampoo can help here, but rehydration and mineralization will work wonders. Try an essential oil routine with coconut or castor oil, which can help to rebalance your natural oil production and enrich hair at the roots.
Your hair needs moisture when recovering from chlorine exposure, so avoid abrasive heat and styling treatments using tools like blow dryers or curling irons.
Instead, allow your hair to dry slowly and naturally, even if it takes a few more minutes. That extra time will be worth the wait to keep your hair healthy.
It’s important to know how chlorine interacts with hair and to respond appropriately with preparation and restorative methods. In other words, don’t let chlorine keep you from enjoying the pool, staying in great shape, and preserving the hair you love!
If it’s time to consider hair restoration in full, reach out to Jae Pak MD Medical, and let’s make a plan today.
How to Stop Damaging Your Hair | AAD
Chlorine Water Treatment and Testing | CDC
Health Effects from Swimming Training in Chlorinated Pools | NIH
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