How damaging is chlorine?

Hot fun in the summertime often means your children will want to spend endless hours in the backyard pool. Not only do you have to watch every second of their swim to guard their safety, parents must also guard their children’s hair against an invisible, yet damaging, danger —chlorine.

“It’s hard to get kids to do the right thing, and they swim so much,” says Cozy Friedman, owner of New York’s Cozy Cuts for Kids, which specializes in working with children. “I see my kids in the pool and they go in, they go out, they go in, they go out. I don’t think people realize how damaging chlorine is to the hair.”

Friedman and other stylists warn that a summer of pool parties and swimming lessons can unknowingly turn into a hair-care nightmare. “Chlorine is very damaging to hair, especially to naturally dry textures often found with curly hair,” says Christo, curl expert and Global Artistic Director of New York’s Christo Fifth Avenue salon.

“The cuticle of these textures stays open so it is easy for chlorine to penetrate the cortex,” says Christo, whose product line includes Curlisto Aqualizer, a clarifying shampoo, Curlisto Kids Leave-in Conditioner with sunscreen and the Curlisto Deep Therapy Masque.

“Chlorine eats away the cuticle of the hair, which is like the protective outer layer of the hair,” Friedman explains. “That’s why you see such dry, brittle, and damaged hair, much like straw. It weakens the hair so when you brush or comb it, it ends up cracking off which causes what everyone knows as split ends.”

Chlorine compounds are used in most pools as a bleaching agent to prevent and kill algae. One of the problems, of course, is that it also bleaches the hair into a dry haystack. But experts say, in a few easy steps you can rescue your child from tress trauma.

“Even a simple thing like rinsing your hair with fresh water after you swim can go so far in preventing damage. And if you use a moisturizing shampoo, it will protect the hair against the chlorine and create another layer for the chlorine to have to get through,” says Friedman, whose product line includes a Green Apple Swimmer’s Shampoo that contains moisturizing aloe and orange extract that helps remove chlorine.

Many stylists agree that also leaving conditioner in the hair during the summer will help lock in moisture and block harmful chemicals.

“Don’t rinse out all the conditioner in the shower, put a little extra in your hand and work through your hair to add a protective coating,” Friedman adds. “If you can add conditioner in your hair before you swim that will help prevent the chlorine from being absorbed into it.”

Curl guru Lorraine Massey, of New York’s Devachan Salon, has long recommended that curlies leave in a bit of conditioner year-round — and especially during the summer. Her hair-care philosophy frowns upon traditional shampoos, which have detergents she says can hurt more than help curly locks. For a more intense treatment during the summer, Massey suggests applying conditioner to the hair and then wrapping it in a warm towel to help absorb moisture. Massey, which also manufactures a popular line of Devacurl hair care products, plans to introduce a new product next summer that will be especially helpful for swimmers. The moisturizing product will be chock full of botanical extracts and SPF to protect curly locks from pool water.

While chlorine compounds in pool water strip the hair’s natural moisture, those bleaching chemicals aren’t entirely to blame for yet another damaging side effect — when hair turns green! The buildup of hard metals in your pool water, particularly copper, is the real culprit, according to pool expert Alison Osinski, owner of Aquatic Consulting Services in San Diego, Calif. Chlorine can oxidize the copper in pool water, which then attaches to the hair and casts that awful greenish hue.

“The metals could come from your source water or from products you add to your pool water, such as algaecides with a copper base,” Osinski explains. “You should test your pool water and monitor it for metals like copper (which is most common), brass, iron and manganese. Read the labels on the products you use in your pool. You can buy a test kit or take a water sample to your local pool store and have them test it for you.”

If it’s too late and your child’s hair is already turning green, there are some immediate steps you can take to neutralize it.

“Right when you get out of the pool and before your hair completely dries, if you don’t have a clarifying shampoo, you can rinse your hair in tomato juice, white vinegar, lemon juice or a paste of crushed aspirin and warm water,” Osinski says. “Any of these will work because they are basically citric acid and will cause the metals to drop out of your hair.”

Once they’re out, keep them out, with continuous conditioning and a little tress-loving care!


Expert Tips

  • Immediately after a swim, rinse hair with fresh water, and if possible, use a clarifying shampoo or conditioner.
  • Add conditioner before a swim, then continue to spray a leave-in conditioner every time your curly steps in and out of the pool.
  • Immediately after a swim, rinse hair with fresh water, and if possible, use a clarifying shampoo or conditioner.
  • Wear a bathing cap in the pool.
  • Use a wide-toothed comb, instead of a brush, to reduce breakage.
  • If you must use a blow dryer, use a cooler setting.
  • Test and monitor the hard metals in your pool water.
  • Remove damage with a good haircut at the end of the summer.

Suggested products

Fairy Tales Coco Cabana Leave-in Sun Spray

Fairy Tales Energizing Leave-in Conditioner

Fairy Tales Lifeguard Clarifying Shampoo

Blended Cutie Butter Me Up!

Blended Cutie Tug Me Not Conditioner

Circle of Friends Maya Papaya Leave-in Conditioner

Circle of Friends Summer Fun Kits with Splish Splash Shampoo

Curlisto Kids Leave-in Conditioner

Curlisto Aqualizer

Fuzzy Duck Detangler & Refresher Spray

Fuzzy Duck Kids' Conditioner

Fuzzy Duck Gentle Shampoo

Lovely Child Choco-Coco Hair Milk

Lovely Child Coco Mini

So Cozy Apple Swimmer's Shampoo

So Cozy Sweet Strawberry Conditioner

DevaCurl No Poo

DevaCurl One Condition