Colin Solves Your Problems 23 – Does Chlorine in Swimming Pool Water Affect the Skin?

Can the chlorine in swimming pool water affect the skin

An interesting question from SuZan who is  a keen swimmer.

Hello Colin- I’m a v keen and impressive swimmer- but I’m worried about the effect of chlorine on my skin- the stuff disintegrates my cossies slowly but surely and gnaws away at my goggles so whatthe heckythump is it doing to my peau ? I would love your opinion on a skin barrier product called GLOVES IN A BOTTLE. I’ve been through 4 bottles of this (I apply b4 swim).. but looked at the ingred including :Isopropyl Myristate ,Dimethicone,Triethanolamine,Hypromellose,VP/Eicosene Copolymer, Steareth-21 , marmite ( put that 1 in to see if u’re still reading !) ,Phenoxyethanol. (I have looked some of these up and seen some scareymongering (?).. I suppose all I’m asking is could this stuff stop the chlorine penetrating/dryin out my skin… or am I just spreading pricey chemicals on pointlessly? *Their website has an impressive vid showing ‘G in a bot’ repelling acid ! Much obliged and x for any info.

Well that is an interesting question, or rather two questions.  (Or three if you count did I notice the Marmite reference.)   First of all, does the chlorine in swimming pool water affect your skin?

I enjoy getting questions like this, because it is not something that has ever crossed my mind before.   A quick google reveals that chlorine is used at levels up to 3ppm in swimming pools, which is not a huge amount.  I don’t think it will have too much of a bad effect on your skin.  Chlorine is very reactive molecule that will break up anything it comes into contact with.  What it is doing to your clothes is making tiny holes in the structure of the clothe.  Over time this weakens the whole thing, a bit like a game of Jenga.

It carries out the same reactions on the surface of your skin.  This sounds alarming, but each chlorine molecule can only hit once.  And given how reactive chlorine is, it won’t get very far.  And as the top surface of your skin is constantly sloughing off, it won’t do any lasting damage. I think your skin is probably more adversely affected by the immersion in the water and the subsequent drying out than from the chlorine.

So I don’t think you particularly need something to protect your skin from chlorine.  But on the other hand, the idea of keeping the water out sounds quite appealing.  Which brings me onto your product.  I have never come across this product, but those ingredients ought to be a a pretty good barrier.  If formulated well, it might well stop your skin drying out.  It might well be worth a try.

11 thoughts on “Colin Solves Your Problems 23 – Does Chlorine in Swimming Pool Water Affect the Skin?”

  1. Hi Colin! Just an observation – I am an eczema sufferer and chlorinated pools have a terrible effect on my skin – irritation and flare up straight after a swim. The product mentioned sounds interesting to me! Cheers, Jo.

  2. I would be more worried about what the chorine would do to my color than my skin, particularly if you color your hair. However, using a good moisturizer before and after your swim is a good idea 🙂

  3. Hi Colin – good topic. However, like Jo, I believe that chlorine is pretty tough on hair and skin. It’s a good idea to treat it accordingly instead of thinking that skin will just slough off over time. Here is a short article I wrote responding to yours:

    I’d love send you some more information about SwimSpray and maybe send you some to try out. Let me know, Andrew

  4. I don’t think they actually add chlorine to pools, do they? They add hypochlorite solution, which can react with molecules in sweat and urine and other organics to form chloramines. Chloramines are what give pools that familiar “chlorine” smell and are what make your eyes sting and what affects the lungs of some asthma sufferers. I’d suspect they could also exacerbate eczema symptoms.

    The lesson is: try to make sure no one pees in the pool and that everyone showers before they dive in.

    1. David – within the context of pools, “chlorine” seems to mean any compound that liberates “free chlorine” when dissolved in water. Yes, calcium hypochlorite is a favorite in the pool community.
      To your point, the “chlorine” reacts with molecules like sweat, urine, and the proteins that make up your hair and skin…. leaving your covered in chlorine (hence the damage to hair and skin).
      Yes, the chlorine also reacts with the sweat, urine, and other molecules to generate chloramines, which get into the air, causing smell an irritation. If you can come up with a way to stop people from peeing and sweating in the pool, we ought to talk because you should patent it 🙂

  5. @Jo that is interesting. I hadn’t thought about eczema. I suppose it is quite likely to trigger off the immune response and trigger an episode. In which case, this product may well help. Let us know how you get on with it if you do give it a try.

    @Andrew and Dave. Thanks for the details on the chemistry. I was being a bit simplistic, so it is good to have chapter and verse on the species involved.

  6. @Phaedra – that is a good point about hair colour. You are effectively swimming in a bleach solution, albeit a very very very very dilute one. A good long shower afterwards is a good idea.

  7. Hi, Mr. Colin. What are your thoughts on applying a thin layer of petroleum jelly on the skin before swimming in a chlorinated pool? Would you have a different opinion if the pool is outdoors? Thank you.

  8. I love swimming in my local pool…last year I took a form of dermatitus from going to the swimming pool several times a week. My doctor said it was an allergic reaction and it affected both my arms for some reason, he gave me a prescription for hydrocortison cream which in due time cleared up the reaction. I went back to the pool and again my arms started to nip and tingle..the skin started taking on a lumpy appearance. I stopped going to the pool for a year. I am now back swimming several times a week in the local pool. I found the answer myself..I found the remedy that worked. I coat my arms and most of my torso in a water resistant sun screen. I have been using the lacura brand that I purchased from Aldi it worked a treat, it puts a thin protective film onto my skin and protects my skin. It is simply wonderful.

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