It sounds worryingly chemical, yet chlorine is a widely used substance that we’re all likely to come into contact with at some time or another. So what does it do to skin?
Something in the water
Chlorine is a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to skin health or otherwise. It’s obviously a very useful chemical to add to swimming pools; a fantastic antiseptic, it’s effective at killing the harmful bacteria you wouldn’t want in or on your body.
Produced from ordinary salt, chlorine is used to make water safe to drink or swim in. Public swimming pools add chlorine to their water to prevent the proliferation of water-borne pathogens, and reduce the risk of their swimmers getting athlete’s foot, diarrhoea, or other bacterial or fungal rashes. It’s even effective enough at swimming pool dilution to neutralise an enveloped virus like Covid-19.
In fact, it’s probable that public swimming pools wouldn’t be able to function safely without chlorine, so it’s a welcome and necessary addition to the water!
The downside of chlorine
The trouble with something being such an effective antibacterial and antiviral agent is that the same properties that allow it to break apart viral bonds can also damage skin. It’s an irritant substance, one that can damage the skin barrier and trigger an inflammatory response, leading to itchiness, swelling, spots or rashes.
For most people, the dilution of chlorine in swimming pool water won’t be problematic, especially if you shower thoroughly before and after swimming, but if you’ve got sensitive skin chlorine can really sting.
So what’s it doing to the skin?
- Dries out skin by increasing transepidermal water loss
- Triggers an inflammatory response and histamine release, leading to itchiness
- Exacerbates existing skin issues such as eczema or psoriasis
- Can cause burns on the skin if the gases build up in a poorly-ventilated building
If you love swimming but have sensitive skin, there are ways you can mitigate the effects of a necessary dose of chlorine in the water, other than sticking to the sea or building your own pool!
Six steps to manage chlorine rash
- Wash well before getting into the pool; damp skin and hair don’t absorb so much chlorine.
- Apply a thin layer of Skin Salvation barrier balm all over your body, paying particular attention to any especially dry patches (elbows, knees, hands etc.) and the delicate skin around the eyes.
- Wear a swim cap and goggles to minimise exposure to eyes and scalp.
- Wash off pool water very thoroughly afterwards.
- Apply more Skin Salvation or Balmonds Bath & Body Oil straight after showering (within three minutes), to towel-dried but still slightly damp skin.
- Wash your swimming costume or trunks thoroughly to get rid of any lingering chlorinated water.
Balmonds Skin Salvation
with hemp and beeswax
Bath & Body Oil with lavender, hemp and olive
If you require medical advice we recommend you always contact your healthcare professional.
If you or someone you are caring for seems very unwell, is getting worse or you think there's something seriously wrong, call for emergency services straight away. For general medical advice, please contact your healthcare professional, this article does not contain or replace medical advice.
Do not delay getting help if you're worried. Trust your instincts.