To the right is a swim suit from 1858, I was looking for a different picture but just how funny is that picture!! Anyway on to the Swim Q&A (Thanks Chanel - see her blog here). I am an avid swimmer myself and strange enough I had never researched this before.
How does chlorine damage hair?
Chlorine damage is mainly about the cuticle, the outer scale covering that protects the inner shaft of hair
1. It can soften the cuticles and can change the appearance of hair (Journal of the Society of Cosmetic Chemists, pg 229-242, 1982).
2. The pH of the water matters - with low pH (acid), chlorine can be more aggressive. It can lead to the hair losing weight (likely due to loss of the cuticle) and reduce the strength of hair (therefore stretching a strand leads it to break when it normally wouldn't) (Journal of the Society of Cosmetic Chemists, pg 371-384, 1987)
3.With wool (similar to hair) it has been shown to disrupt amino acids which make up the hair which may explain why the hair can become weaker (Journal of the Society of Cosmetic Chemists,pg 263-286,1987)
What should I do before going for a swim?
From the previous research that I have done
1. Coconut oil protects the hair from protein loss during washing (Journal of Cosmetic Science, pg175-92, 2003). Mineral oil and Sunflower oil in the same study did not have the same effect. It also protects the hair from damage due to swelling by water (hygral fatigue). Both of these seem like great reasons to apply coconut oil prior to swimming.
2. It takes 15 minutes for hair to be saturated with water(Robbins, Chemical and Physical Behaviour of Human Hair, Springer). If you apply ordinary tap water to your hair (yes it has chlorine too but generally at a lower level), then keep it wet for atleast 15 minutes, then the hair will have soaked up as much water as it can before getting into the pool.
3. Reapply the coconut oil, put on a swim cap. Why? Swim caps are generally used to keep hair out of the pool but they are quite useful in protecting hair from the full onslaught of the water. I think some people don't like swim caps but for me, it is a must.
4. Swim away.
5. Kadiane suggested using silicone and beauty brains agree and if you are a regular swimmer then you could benefit from their use
How can I protect my hair from damage from swimming?
1. Protect your hair before swimming as above
2. Protect your hair after swimming by removing the chlorine. Shampoo (always shampoo - it helps to remove the chlorine) and condition your hair. Moisturise and seal with your preferred moisturiser and oil.
I have not found much on salty water and I also have questions on sun damage so these will be coming up shortly :) . I also had an anonymous comment which was to the effect, 'Black people don't swim.' Yes we do and we are quite good at it too. I do all four strokes and my strongest one is the butterfly stroke.
**Edit** Question received - Why not use hair conditioner? Because conditioner is made to be soluble in water therefore it ends up in the pool. It does not act as a barrier and there is little to no benefit of this. A silicone heavy conditioner (silicone listed in one of the first five ingredients) may be helpful.