Swimming Questions

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.


  1. The coconut oil option seems to be a better option for kinky hair. Thanks for the info.

  2. Anonymous clearly hasn't been to the Caribbean, where we all learn to swim at a young age (at least in Bermuda) and swim all summer long. Even women with relaxers make it work! It's even easier now that I'm natural.

  3. So true Moni!! The Caribbean has a huge swimming culture!

  4. Thanks so much for this post! I actually just started back swimming yesterday, forgot my swim cap, (tragic) and THEN didn't even shampoo the conditioner out - just co-washed. Needless to say, this is my first time swimming since going natural and I definetely feel more prepared now! Especially with the coconut oil tip! Thanks! :0)

  5. lol Brittney - Have to have wash with shampoo. You can buy some gentle frequent wash shampoo if you often but you can't skip the shampoo when swimming in chlorinated water. Just condition and moisturise alot. All the best for your next trip!!

  6. Thanks for the swimming info! I have always been told that applying conditioner on your hair before swimming is best - but now I know better!
    My best buddy Coconut Oil is the best!
    I always hated swim caps as a child.they never worked at keeping the water away..especially caue I liked to dunk my head under.lol.

  7. Hi Gillaine - The swim cap will not keep the water of your hair. It will however minimize the amount of water (partial barrier) interracting with your hair and it will also reduce friction as your hair does not have to pull through the water.

    I'm also a dunker!!

  8. thanks Jc! I appreciate the info. Very helpful since I LOVE to swim

  9. black people swim. i was on the swim team in high school!

  10. Thank you for the information. However I do have a question related to this. My daughter is transitioning back to her natural hair. We will be going on a cruise next month and she will be wearing her hair in braids. Getting n the pool of course. What suggestions to do you have for maintaining her hair while away, without having me carry my whole supply of hair products.

  11. You're welcome Latisha. I think as your daughter is wearing braids, this will automatically reduce the need for many products. I would suggest shampoo (used after every swim) and hair conditioner (which can double up as a moisturiser). If your daughter is not allergic, I would suggest some coconut oil too to use before swimming to just help protect the hair cuticle.

  12. I've heard conditioner followed by vaseline was beneficial to preventing damage. The conditioner part you mentioned, but is there any harm in oiling the hair in coconut oil followed by vaseline? I'm thinking those two steps followed by saran wrap and a silicone cap. I'm swimming once a week and I'm planning on utilizing the steam room and washing the stuff out directly after my swim. Your thoughts?

  13. Thanks for the info! Any changes to your suggetions if the pool is a salt water pool instead of a chlorinated pool? I know salt or sodium chloride produces its own chlorine, but it is much less harmful, rigth?

  14. Also.. ACV is a natural clarifier, correct? Is it possible to use a ACV rinse after swimming to remove the chlorine instead of shampoo? If not, do you recommend a swimmer shampoo, or will something milder do? Thanks for the help!

  15. I had to find this post because I've been swimming a lot lately. I suspect that the same guidelines go for salty water, Cl-(chlorine) is a major ion in seawater along with others.

  16. Sorry for the late responses

    Anon- Vaseline or mineral oil is probably a more effective sealant than coconut oil. Coconut oil is more effective at preventing the hair from swelling.

    The chlorine in salt water and in swimming pools is a little bit different. In salt water it is really not active but in swimming pools it is in acid form making it able to interact more effectively.

    Salt water may (I say may) be less damaging if it is rinsed off immediately after with plenty of water. I personally would not change my pre-swimming routine.

    I do not know if ACV clarifies. It is an acid but I do not know if it can actually wash hair like shampoo can.

    In my opinion any shampoo is better than none at all.

  17. About the rinsing the hair before swimming - as I understand it, it's supposed to "fill up" the hair with water and prevent the chlorine-laden pool water to get into the hair and cause chlorine damage. However to me, this logic is lacking, and I'd think that saturated hair would, through simple osmosis, attract chlorine faster, not slower. As a dyer, I know that soaking wool in clear water prior to dyeing makes the fiber take up the dye faster and more evenly. Is there a study that shows that chlorine won't go into saturated hair?

  18. I swim 4-5 times a week and am in the water for close to an hour each time. Wetting my hair completely has never worked. I did just read an article saying it must be fully wet for 15 min before getting in the water. I wet mine just before entering. My hair is ruined by chlorine even though I use swim shampoos and conditioners. I found a pre swim last week but it seems to do nothing. I think I'll get the coconut oil cause that seems to make a world of sense but does it wash out easily? Or will I look oily? I used a paste of baking soda on my hair for 5 minutes (the other day), followed by an acv rinse, followed by a wash with B&B Sunday Shampoo and then a 20 minute deep conditioner. My hair looked a lot better but not 100%. I was a blond (never went green) but am looking to go back to my natural dark. Got a demi done last sat. One swim, with all the pre cautions I took-wet hair, pre swim, cap, immediate wash with a swim shampoo-helped. Colour gone. I'm at a loss now, but will never give up my swim!!!!


Post a Comment

I love comments! All comments are moderated so they will only appear on the blog once I approve them.

Popular Posts