I don’t always have time to take a shower after a swim, but is it bad that I sometimes skip it?
Yes, you should always take a shower before and after a swim; let's look at the reason why.
Whether you’re going for a swim in an indoor or outdoor swimming pool, it’s important to consider two things:
- you’re going to be sharing that pool water with other people - sometimes a considerable number of people!
- the chlorine added to public swimming pools to neutralise microbes can be extremely irritating to skin!
As unpleasant as it sounds, even in the cleanest and best maintained swimming pools it’s impossible for anyone to go swimming and not leave various small and microscopic organic parts of themselves behind in the water. This can and does include:
- dead skin cells
- bacteria, fungi, and viruses
- nasal mucous and saliva
- bodily oils
- miniscule traces of urine and fecal matter.
For this reason, it’s definitely advisable to shower before you enter a swimming pool, as doing so will remove as much as possible of these natural bodily secretions and shedders.
It stands to reason that, as negligibly tiny as the individual and collective volume of the above may be in any given swimming pool, some of it will unavoidably adhere to your body and hair while you’re taking a dip. And that's one reason you should always shower after swimming! It’s the right and communally-minded thing to do.
If you think you won’t have time to shower after you’ve been in the pool, be sure to leave the pool a few minutes earlier than planned to ensure that you can! It’s unquestionably in the best interests of your health to shower both before and after your swim.
Doesn’t chlorine do the same job as taking a shower?
Only partly! The distinctive bleachy odour of swimming pools is due to the addition of chlorine, the express purpose of which is to kill germs that people inadvertently introduce to the pool – especially if they’ve not showered before their swim. When added to pool water as an important sanitation measure, chlorine transforms into a highly effective but weak acid (known as hypochlorous acid), which eradicates nasties like E. coli and salmonella.
However, while the chlorine does great work in helping to keep swimmers safer from these and other microbes, when you leave a chlorinated swimming pool some chlorine inevitably comes with you – and you need to get rid of it.
Not showering after a swim means the chlorine stays on your skin, potentially leading to problems such as eczema flare-ups and chlorine rash. Never forget that chlorine is a chemical disinfectant and an irritant, so people whose skin might be more sensitive to it than others can develop itchy, angry red, swollen rashes if it’s not washed off immediately after getting out of a swimming pool.
Always take a bar of your preferred soap or body wash, a container of shampoo, and a clean towel with you to the pool; you’ll not only feel totally refreshed afterwards, but will be taking care of your health in the process.
What about showering after swimming in the sea, a lake, or a river?
Generally speaking you should get into the habit of showering after swimming in any body of water, whether manmade or out in the natural world. The ocean, lakes, and rivers are obviously not chlorinated, so there’s always the potential for them to contain contaminant elements that can cause infections and rashes in humans. The sea contains salt, of course, as well as bacteria and billions of tiny organisms, so a shower after a dip in the ocean is essential.
Even if you’re not actually swimming, therefore not fully immersed in the water, but instead pursuing a watersport such as waterskiing or paddling that’s involved less contact with the water, you should still shower afterwards. It’s even advised that it’s excellent practice to take a shower after boating and fishing (on open water), when contact with the water will have been minimal, and even after having worn a wetsuit for surfing, scuba diving, or snorkelling.
Like automatically signalling in your car when turning left, right, or overtaking, make it your rule of thumb to shower after any water-based activity, whether indoors or outdoors.
Of course, chlorine is not the only possible culprit for a post-dip rash: check out Why Do I Get A Rash When I Go Swimming? for other possible causes, and always check it out with a doctor if you're worried.
For more information about looking after your skin when swimming, see our article on The Best Natural Treatment For Chlorine Rash.
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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.
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