Swimming in chlorine and acne

A question I’ve been asked a fair bit over the years is whether or not swimming in chlorinated pools affects the skin and causes acne.

Although I never had a solid answer, I always had a sneaking suspicion that chlorine wasn’t so great for your skin. After all, I’ve seen from personal experience that my skin feels incredibly dry and flakey after a swim at the pool.

Well, now there is in fact a study that shows that chlorine will harm the skin barrier function. In other words, your skin’s ability to hold water in and bacteria out.

They found that the concentration of chlorine in the water correlated with the amount of damage. So the high amount of chlorine in a pool will obviously be more damaging than the much smaller amount of chlorine in your home water supply.

And exposure in the study was for a 10 minute period. So presumably the longer the exposure (ie. a lengthy trip to the pool), the more damage it will probably do.

Washing your face at home under the tap, on the other hand – probably no big deal, considering the smaller amount and length of exposure.

And showering? Possibly problematic depending on the amount of chlorine your area adds to the water supply, and your penchant for long, hot, luxurious showers

– Quote: me

While the study wasn’t about acne (instead about atopic dermatitis, which is dry, flakey, inflamed skin), the skin’s ability to hold in water is incredibly important for healthy, functioning, acne free skin.

So it’s reasonable to say that if your skin is already in a sensitive, inflamed, acne prone state, that exposure to pool-strength chlorine isn’t going to make it better.

And that if your skin is already healthy, a daily swim at the pool probably won’t help in keeping it that way.

But Swimming is My Life!

Understandably, many of the people who ask me about chlorine are competition swimmers, or people who swim often and absolutely love it.

And for this reason, I hate it that chlorine isn’t so good for the skin because the last thing I want to do is tell you to give up something you truly love because of your skin. Especially if that activity – such as swimming – is healthy in all other ways.

Because being miserable doesn’t make your skin better either!

So all I can do is just gingerly leave these facts here on the table and leave it up to you what to do with them.

I will, of course, also give you some suggestions on how to navigate this!

Tips For Navigating the Chlorine & Acne Issue

  • Following a healthy lifestyle is important for healing the skin, and that includes getting exercise. So if you’re looking to take up a new physical activity to help with your skin, maybe don’t choose swimming (unless you have access to the following alternatives)
  • If you do have access to fresh water lakes or the ocean, swim there instead in the summer. Or if you have a salt treated swimming pool nearby, switch to that one! Salt is much better for the skin
  • If you’re at the pool just to cool off or for some fun (ie. not exercise), then keep your face out of the water as much as possible
  • If you swim daily in a pool and have really problematic skin, take a break from it (or cut back on it) if it won’t be that big a deal to do so. This will help your skin heal and your skin will be able to handle more chlorine exposure once it’s in a better state
  • Pools have a high concentration of chlorine and thus are the most problematic, but if your city or town adds a lot of chlorine to your water supply (like you can smell it in the water), consider getting a shower filter.
  • If you only ever swim once in a while – don’t freak out and just have fun. It’s honestly no big deal if it’s not a regular thing, whether your skin is healthy or not quite there yet!
  • Soaking in a jacuzzi or hot tub (where your face doesn’t go in but you’re soaking up chlorine) probably isn’t wonderful for your health. But I honestly wouldn’t worry about this at all, unless you’re doing it for hours every day or you have a lot of body acne
  • When you do head to the pool, or you’re a swimmer and there is no way you can or want to quit this activity that brings you decided joy… then follow the following tips for reducing impact on your skin!

How to Reduce Impact on Your Skin When You do Head to the Pool

  • Take a shower first – your skin will soak up clean water and this will reduce the amount of chlorine your skin can absorb
  • After your shower and before you head in the pool, apply a layer of protective oil (jojoba or argan or oil of choice), or any oil based moisturizer. This will create something of a barrier between your skin and the chlorine
  • After you’re done, rinse your face with clean water and moisturize again!

Do you have experience with the whole chlorine and acne thing?  Have any tips on how to work around this problem? Share your experiences in the comments below!