If any of you, like me, are around family members who are not swimmers, you may get polite but concerned comments about how much you smell like chlorine after being at the pool. When I was a kid I would lick my skin and sniff as a reminder of the practice coming that afternoon after school, thinking it was a cool sign of being a swimmer. But as an adult it now feels annoying, and I do wonder what the long-term consequences of so much chlorine exposure may be – I don’t know of any scientific longitudinal reports on this.
I teach/coach at several pools, each with slightly different chlorine solutions and smells, with some that are stronger or more irritating to my nose or skin than others. I sometimes teach at the wonderful ‘saline’ pool at Turtles Yoga in Beaverton, but even that special saline solution has some chlorine in it. The saline pool feels so much more gentle on my skin, yet to others I still have a smell about me when I come out.
I gave some recommendations for caring for your feet around the pool and previously I offered a way to remove or at least reduce the chlorine smell on the skin. This post is explaining my best approach for reducing the effects of chlorine on the skin after being in the pool.
Before I explain these recommendations, I admit, because I am in and out of the pools so often during the week, that I don’t always follow my own guidelines because they require time before I immerse and then after I get out – which adds up if I had to do it two or three times a day. But for you who go to the pool just a few times per week, perhaps you will find the benefit of reducing the effects of chlorine on your skin outweighs the time you must put in to protect yourself.
Want some tips from these aquatic skin care experts?
First, Take A Warm Shower
Before getting in the pool (or hot tub), soak in a warm shower for a couple minutes. This will open up the pores in your skin and let fresh water soak in that would otherwise be filled by chlorine water if you jumped into the pool right away.
In most places in the developed world, I imagine most tap water coming out the shower also has a little chlorine in it, but far less than typical pool water!
Don’t Wear Lotion In The Pool
Please, please, do not put lotion on your skin or any scented substance before you get in the water. You may like the smell and hope it blocks some chlorine, but it can be quite irritating to others using the pool with you.
I can tell when certain people – unfortunately, it seems to be older women – get in the pool because I can smell, then taste the lotions coming off their body or hair and drifting around at the surface. It might feel good to them but it comes at the cost of irritating the noses and mouths (and possibly the eyes) of the other people.
After, Sit In Sauna
Afer getting out of the pool, if available, sitting in the sauna or steam room may open up the pores right away and let sweat remove some of the chlorine residue trapped in the skin.
Alternate Hot/Cold Shower
You can get in the shower under hot water for 2 minutes to open up the pores, and then turn it to cold for 30 seconds to cause the muscles around the hair follicles and pores to close. Go back and forth between hot and cold like this a few times to literally get the skin and pores to flex a bit and encourage pool water to squeeze out of your skin.
Wash With Vitamin C Solution
After hot/cold rinse, and before using soap, you may wash your skin with a fairly inexpensive ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) solution. Why buy an expensive specialty product when you can make a solution of the most active and safest ingredient for yourself?
Read my post on removing the chlorine smell to see the recipe for making your own ascorbic acid wash.
Use Mild Lotion
Even though we don’t feel it, we do sweat while swimming with exertion. I have weighed myself and notice that I can lose up to 1/2 kg in weight in an hour-long practice, with no pee breaks to account for it. That must be water, and it must be coming out of my skin, since I do not pee in the pool!
You may notice how your skin feels really dry, almost scaly after swimming. The more time spent in the pool, the worse it can be. Perhaps the undetected sweating and chemical reaction with chlorine water have sucked a lot of the natural oils out of your skin.
For this, you may rub in a mild, hypoallergenic lotion all over your skin before dressing.
Though they feel nice and moist, it is my understanding that most lotions cannot truly restore moisture to the deep layers of skin, and certainly cannot replace natural oils your own body produces. But mild lotions can block moisture from escaping after the shower, and allow your body time to restore natural oil and moisture to the skin from inside out.
I try to follow my policy of putting nothing on my skin I could not also eat – so coconut oil appeals to me.
In USA we have a brand of lotion most recommended by physicians to those with skin conditions, called Cetaphil. That feels pretty good on the skin too.
Drink After Dressing
Obviously, you should hydrate after swimming to replace the fluids you’ve most likely lost through sweat so your body can restore that skin moisture more easily.
Take A Second Shower
And, to avoid social offense with those who seem to really be bothered by the smell of swimmers, take a second shower a few hours later. This seems to remove the last of the smell which suggests that there is still more chlorine residue being released from the skin as the day goes on. A second shower can wash the bulk of that away.
And, as I have learned, chlorine-saturated skin can be unpleasant for the partner in an intimate encounter. My wife has a habit of reminding me to take a shower again on swimming days when she has a sparkle in her eye.