If you’re an avid swimmer it may seem strange that your hair can get so dry from constantly being wet but there’s no denying it, chlorine is not your hair’s best friend.
In fact, the very structure of your hair leaves it vulnerable to drying agents just like chlorine in your local swimming pool.
According to Julie Halkidis, Head of Hairdressing at The Australasian College Broadway, regular exposure to chlorinated swimming pools can cause significant damage to your hair, making it dry and brittle and potentially changing its colour.
"Disinfectants in general are used to break down and remove dirt, oil, and bacteria," says Julie. "Our scalps naturally produce oil to protect hair from damage and daily wear. Stripping the oil from your hair in a pool on a regular basis can cause over drying, increased porosity, and in some cases pretty significant damage if you don't take steps to prevent and treat your hair for chlorine exposure," she says.
Damien Gerard, celeb stylist and colour technician, agrees. "Chlorine tends to bond to the hair and causes the natural oils to strip away," he says . "If your hair is frequently exposed to high amounts of chlorine there’s a great chance that your locks will dry out, frizz, eventually weaken and snap."
This damage is caused by a breakdown of the sebum — the natural lubricant — that protects the cuticle. The chlorine in the pool sucks the sebum out of your hair, causing the cuticle to crack. This then causes the unprotected cortex to break, creating split ends and a loss of your hair’s natural sheen.
So if you’re going to spend a lot of time in the pool is it better to be blonde or brunette? "Brunettes are luckier," says Damien. "Chlorine will only make the hair lighter, whereas blonde hair tends to turn green in chlorine. But both hair types, and especially coloured hair, will experience dry, frizzy and weak ends," he says.
If you are going to get your hair wet but still want luscious locks then it pays to take some preventative measures. Because your hair is porous, giving it a thorough soak with tap water before you jump in the pool can help reduce the amount of chlorine it soaks up. Giving it a coat of conditioner before you swim can also help provide an extra layer of protection.
“Wetting the hair before you swim and wearing it in a tight bun can help to prevent chlorine discolouration," says Damien. "In addition, applying a serum beforehand is a great way to coat the hair to minimise the drying effect of chlorine," he says.
Of course, a swim cap is also a great investment in the health of your hair. Sure, it might not be a fashion statement, but your hair will thank you for it later!
If you’ve been for a swim and you’re worried about your hair drying out then it’s time to get heavy with the moisturiser. "Using a deep moisturising treatment afterwards is a great way to restore hydration to the hair and prevent breakage," says Damien. "Applying a nourishing serum to hair ends after treatment will also give hair an extra boost and beautiful shine," he says.
If you’ve already noticed some damage or discolouration and you don’t have a salon handy, then chances are you can find a quick fix in your very own pantry. A spritz of beer or vinegar can help remove any residual chlorine and for blondes who experience a greenish glow, aspirin may be just what the hair doctor ordered. Simply crush 6–8 tablets in a glass of warm water and lather it into your hair for 15 minutes to restore your former colour.
Remember, prevention really is better than cure so take care of your hair this summer by reducing its exposure to harsh chemicals. Use good quality products, talk to your stylist and remember to rinse after every swim if you want to keep your locks looking lovely.
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