When you hear the word chlorine, chances are your mind goes straight to a swimming pool. Specifically, the local community club pool that is filled with people in the peak of summer.
The CDC states that chlorine can be found in all different types of forms including liquid found in things such as bleach, pesticides, swimming pools, and drinking water. Yes, you read that correctly: Chlorine is used in drinking water to kill harmful bacteria. It can also be found in gas form, which is poisonous and can be identified by its yellow-green color and sharp, pungent smell.
So, what exactly does chlorine do to your hair? And more importantly, how can you protect your hair from chlorine? We turned to trichologist Kerry Yates and hairstylist Clariss Rubenstein to find out; read on for what they had to say.
Meet the Expert
What Chlorine Does to Your Hair
While chlorine does a proper job of keeping things germ-free, Yates says it can quite literally "wreak havoc on our hair and skin." So what exactly does that entail?
Changes Hair Color
If your hairstylist has ever told you that chlorine will turn your hair green, they weren't kidding. "It can also cause the color to oxidize quickly and even cause a green cast in lighter colored hair which can be difficult to reverse," Rubenstein says. This typically rings especially true for color-treated and blonde hair.
"Chlorine is a bleach, and as a result, it can change the hair's natural melanin," Yates explains. "In addition, chlorine helps to push various metals and minerals found in the water into your hair shaft, creating a greenish-yellow cast. This color change is clearly evident on blondes, and people with color-treated hair are especially susceptible to a color change with repeated exposure to chlorine."
The experts agree that chlorine can leave hair dry and dehydrated. "Chlorine can strip away the natural oils that ensure your hair stays pliable and conditioned," Yates says. "As a result, hair will appear dry and brittle and can be more susceptible to breakage and heat styling damage."
If you're looking for shiny supermodel hair chlorine is not your friend. "Hair loses the shine since chlorine strips the hair of its natural oils," says Yates. "Hair will look matte and very unhealthy looking."
How to Protect Your Hair From Chlorine
Pre-Wet Your Hair Before Going to the Pool
Both experts agree that pre-wetting your hair before entering a chlorine pool can help protect your locks.
"The more hydrated and moisturized your hair is the less likely it is to oxidize in chlorine," Rubenstein shares. "The best way to prevent this from happening is to make sure your hair doesn’t absorb the chlorine." Yates adds: "I always suggest pre-wetting the hair before jumping in."
If you aren't looking purchase products, this tip takes the crown. Typically, most pools will have an indoor or outdoor shower accessible for guests, and one solid water rinse before entering the pool is all you need.
Use a Leave-In Conditioner
If you're looking to take the next step in protecting your hair and are willing to purchase products, the experts also agree that a leave-in conditioner is a great shield against chlorine.
"As an added protective layer, apply a leave-in conditioning spray all over the hair," Yates says. "The liquid emulsion will form a protective layer keeping the cuticle closed down, helping to eliminate the total absorption of any chlorinated water."
Given that the experts' top concerns for chlorine exposure to hair are color change and dryness, and leave-in conditioner generally combats both, they agree that if you are going to purchase one product to protect your hair, leave-in conditioner should in fact be that.
Yates personally recommends the Innersense Sweet Spirit Leave-In conditioner to boost moisture. The product is infused with emollient oils, fragrant herbs, flower essences, and a touch of bee-friendly honey.
Apply Nutrients to Your Hair
Rubenstein notes that filling your hair up with nutrients can make a "world of difference" when it comes to protecting it from chlorine.
Natural oils including jojoba and coconut oil are filled with nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E. These ingredients not only help to protect the hair but are also great for treating dry hair, which can be caused by chlorine exposure.
Wash and Rinse Post-Exposure
Just like you must protect and wet your hair pre-chlorine exposure, you must rid the chlorine from your hair as quickly as possible post-exposure.
"Always thoroughly rinse your hair for a good five minutes after exiting the pool, then wash with a gentle shampoo and non-silicone conditioner," Yates shares. This can help you get rid of any chlorine and keep your hair healthy, hydrated, and devoid of the dreaded green tint.
Wear a Swim Cap
The best way to guarantee protection from chlorine is to avoid it altogether. How does one do that? By not letting the hair come in contact with the chlorine to begin with.
It's wise to consider a physical layer of protection to completely avoid wetting the hair. (Particularly if you're looking to take a full dive under.) Enter: Swim caps. They may not be the most glorious, they may not be the most gorgeous, but they are generally the best way to protect your hair from chlorine exposure altogether.
If you're leaving this article wondering how chlorine can simultaneously be a poisonous gas, pool cleaner, and in our drinking water, you're not alone. This multifaceted element serves purposes across the board—but mixing with hair is not one of them.
Experts agree that overall, avoiding chlorine exposure to hair is the safest way to protect your strands. If you know you'll be in a pool and your hair will be exposed to chlorine, always use protection in the form of water, a leave-in conditioner, and a post-swim rinse. Green, be gone.
National Center for Environmental Health. Facts About Chlorine. USA. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. 2018.