Updated 7/20/20. If you are someone who swims in a chlorinated pool, you’re probably familiar with how your skin can feel tight or dry when you get out of the water. But is this bad for the skin? Do the chemicals harm the skin’s overall health? As an esthetician (and someone who LOVES swimming), I certainly would never refrain from this activity to avoid chlorine touching my skin. Instead, I follow these five skin tips to prevent any potential problems.
What Does Chlorine Do To the Skin?
To understand chlorine, know that although it’s very important to add to the water to keep it disinfected and safe for swimming, its pH makes it less beneficial to your skin. The pH needed for a pool to stay clean is around 7.3, and the skin’s natural pH is 5.5. This means that exposing your skin to chlorine (for even as little as 5 minutes) will inherently raise its pH and put it in an alkaline state. When you raise the skin’s pH, you are creating an environment in the skin that causes dryness, and this is never beneficial for the skin—particularly for those already prone to dry skin and skin conditions like eczema.
(Note: Even if you’re not a swimmer, using a pH-balanced and sulfate-free cleanser to wash your face and body is so important. This will ensure you don’t cause any disruption in the skin’s moisture barrier.)
Tip #1: When Swimming Outdoors, Apply Sunscreen Formulated For Dry Skin, No Matter Your Skin Type
Most people prefer using a lightweight sunscreen that doesn’t feel heavy or greasy on the skin, especially during the hot summer months. But when swimming in a chlorinated pool, a heavier formula is really better for all skin types. The reason for this is that the oils provide a protective seal over the skin to create a barrier, and when the skin is exposed to chlorinated water, it will prevent the chemicals from getting too far into the skin.
The easiest solution is to look for a sunscreen labeled “water-resistant” as these are formulated with heavier emollients so the water will bead off the skin and the sunscreen will hold up longer. Save your lightweight sunscreen for times when you’re not swimming such as for daytime use under makeup.
Tip #2: When Swimming Indoors Without Exposure to Daylight, Apply a Skin Oil to the Face.
If no sunlight is present (nighttime swimming or little to no windows) then sunscreen is not needed, but you still want to protect your skin from chlorine. A few drops of a treatment oil or even pure jojoba oil massaged into the skin will create a barrier to prevent the chlorine from drying out the skin.
Tip #3: After Swimming, Immediately Shower to Rinse the Chlorine Off Your Skin
The longer the chlorine remains on the skin, the more likely dryness and damage to your moisture barrier are, so getting it off quickly will be very helpful.
Tip #4: Apply an Alcohol-Free Toner to Restore the Skin’s pH Post-Swim
You’ll want to wash your face with a gentle cleanser once you’re out of the pool, but wiping over the skin with an alcohol-free toner is also a great way to restore the correct pH to the skin. Leave it damp on the skin and immediately follow with a moisturizer so the hydrating properties of the toner will be sealed into the skin, providing essential nourishment. (Better yet, apply a skin serum with the ingredient hyaluronic acid after the toner and before the moisturizer to give extra hydration to thirsty skin cells.)
Tip #5: Treat Your Skin to a Post-Swim Mask
Any time you’re exposing your skin to anything that will cause dryness (swimming, air travel, extreme heat, skiing), it’s a great idea to give your skin extra moisture and love by applying a hydrating mask.
If you’re more of an oily/combination and breakout-prone skin type, use an oil-free, water-based gel mask to deliver hydration deep in the skin. If you lean more towards a normal or dry skin type and your skin doesn’t produce very much oil, then using a cream-based mask will be most beneficial for repairing the skin with its deeply moisturizing properties.
Swimming is one of the best forms of exercise for all ages, so keep up this great activity! Just be sure to give a little extra thought to your skin so it can stay protected from chlorine and other minerals. This will ensure it stays moist, supple, and healthy-looking.
Note: A lot of people are now converting to saltwater pools because they have less of a chemical scent and the water feels softer on the skin, but it’s important to know that saltwater pools still use chlorine and can be just as drying for the skin. If you have a saltwater pool, all of the above steps will still apply.
Want to learn more about your skin? Read five skincare mistakes almost EVERYONE makes
Celebrity Esthetician & Skincare Expert
As an esthetician trained in cosmetic chemistry, Renée Rouleau has spent 30 years researching skin, educating her audience, and building an award-winning line of products. Trusted by celebrities, editors, bloggers, and skincare obsessives around the globe, her vast real-world knowledge and constant research are why Marie Claire calls her “the most passionate skin practitioner we know.”