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Does swimming lead to rough skin and hair?

Q: I am a regular visitor of your site. I swim four times a week. My question is that due to swimming my hair and skin have become rough. Is chlorinated water harmful? What shall I apply before and after swimming on my skin and hair to avoid any damage? I do wear a cap and apply a moisturiser on my face before going into the pool. What precautions should I take? Swimming is a perfect exercise and I don't want to give it up.

A:First of all, you need to understand that the chlorine isn't what is causing your problem. Being immersed in water for long periods of time is basically taking its toll on your skin and hair. Chlorine may seem harsh, but the amount diluted in a swimming pool doesn't have much of an effect on skin. Water, though, removes the thin layer of surface oil on skin that normally locks in moisture. Without that protective layer, fluid in the skin and surrounding cells evaporates rapidly, drying the skin. Lack of moisture also causes tiny fissures to develop, allowing the skin to become irritated and itchy. Again for hair, chlorine isn't the culprit. Water is responsible for drying out the hair, and copper, which leaches out from pool pipes can cause blond hair to turn green (not in your case; I was merely citing an American study). Swimmers who want to protect their hair should take the following precautions:

  • Wear a rubber bathing cap. Although it doesn't keep all of the water out, it helps.
  • Before putting the bathing cap on, put conditioner in your hair.
  • After swimming, rinse hair with tap water, preferably using shampoo.
  • To dry hair, don't rub. Pat or squeeze gently and/or wrap in a towel.
  • Use a wide-tooth comb, not a brush, to detangle wet hair.
  • Go light on hair colouring, perming, waves, hot curlers/combs, and blow dryers. Blow dryers, if used, should be on medium or cool settings.
  • Treatment would be to replace the lost layer of oil with a lubricating cream or lotion.
  • Lotions, because they are thinner than creams, are easier to apply. But if your skin is extremely dry, a cream will give you more protection. Whichever lubricant you choose, the best time to apply it is after showering, when your skin is still slightly damp. In the winter, when dry air tends to worsen the problem, you may want to smooth on some cream or lotion several times throughout the day.

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