If you have ever gone swimming with your natural hair, you may have noticed that your hair appears much curlier afterwards. This article focuses on chlorine from the swimming pool, but the effects of chlorine are similar even when it is found in shampoo or conditioner. We have all heard how damaging chlorinated water is for our hair. It is advisable to wash your hair after swimming to avoid sustained damage. So how come you notice more or even improved curls after swimming in a chlorinated pool? Keep reading to find out some of the reasons you observe this phenomenon.
Chlorine water (chlorinated pool) may make your hair curlier because water accentuates natural curls, chlorine damages the hair cuticles, chlorine damages hair’s molecular structure, and chlorine dries out your hair.
Water Accentuates Your Natural Curls
One reason you will notice that your hair becomes curly after swimming in a chlorinated pool is that water accentuates the natural curls in your hair. Chlorine found in swimming pools will not and does not make your hair curly. However, it can enhance the natural texture of wavy or curly hair, which makes the curls in your hair more pronounced.
When you expose your hair to water, hydrogen bonds form between water molecules and the proteins in your hair. What happens is that each keratin strand bonds with a water molecule.
Because you are immersed in water when swimming, your hair forms several of these hydrogen bonds with water. This means that one strand can form multiple such bonds, causing the hair to fold back on itself at the molecular level. When this happens, your hair appears highly coiled or curled.
Therefore, Keratin molecules will change their shape when wet, but this change is only temporary. Once your hair is dry, it will return to its natural curl format.
If you find this response not to be satisfactory for you, let’s explore another possible reason why your hair is curly after swimming in a chlorinated pool.
Chlorine Damages the Hair Cuticles
The chlorine found in swimming pools tends to damage the hair cuticle, which is the outer protective layer of the hair strand. When the cuticle is damaged, your hair’s texture and structure will change.
Chlorine will strip away the natural oils that keep your hair straight. When the cuticle is damaged, the inner keratin molecules are exposed. The keratin molecule exists in a spiral, spring-like shape. As a result, when it is exposed due to damage from swimming in a chlorinated pool, your natural hair may become curlier.
This damage can make the hair more susceptible to frizz and can sometimes enhance the curl pattern, making the hair appear curlier.
Chlorine Damages Hair’s Molecular Structure
In water, chlorine forms hypochlorous acid, which is highly oxidizing. It is this agent that is responsible for the damaging effects that chlorine water has on your hair. The oxidizing nature of chlorine is also the reason your hair appears lighter after swimming.
Chlorine has a bleaching effect on both dyed and natural hair. Chlorine can also interact with pigments in the hair, especially in colour-treated hair. It can cause the colour to fade or change, resulting in a less vibrant appearance.
Research shows that professional swimmers tend to have bleached hair due to chlorine found in swimming pools. While this study was conducted on elite Japanese swimmers, the results are generalizable to frequent swimmers.
However, there is an even worse form of damage that occurs due to chlorinated water; damage to the molecular structure of your hair. This means that chlorinated water will disrupt the proteins that make up your hair. Hair is made of proteins, several proteins, but keratin is the most dominant.
Once the chlorine has damaged the hair cuticle, the protective outer layer, it has access to the inner contents. It has access to the proteins that give your hair its shape and structure.
The hypochlorous acid interacts with the proteins in hair strands, which causes protein degradation and damage. When this happens, it leads to weakened hair structure, making it more prone to dryness, brittleness, and breakage.
Chlorine causes disulfide bond breakage. Hair proteins have disulfide bonds, which are responsible for the hair’s structural integrity. Exposure to chlorine can break these bonds, leading to further weakening of the hair strands. As a result, the overall texture, elasticity, and strength of the hair are compromised. For this reason, your hair will appear coiled or curly because its structural integrity has been compromised. It’s like steel been that has been scrunched by Supergirl or the Hulk. This damage is often irreversible and occurs after continuous exposure or severe exposure, such as when you use chlorine to bleach your hair.
Research also shows that continuous exposure to chlorinated pools, coupled with exposure to UVs from the sun, leads to complete hair breakdown. You will start to notice that your hair becomes crunchy and breaks down easily.
Chlorine Has a Drying Effect on Your Hair
Chlorine can have a drying effect on the hair, which can cause the hair shaft to swell. This increased moisture absorption, and swelling can lead to a temporary change in the hair’s texture, making it appear more voluminous and potentially enhancing the appearance of curls.
Unfortunately, it also makes your hair feel crunchy. It is important to note that this effect is usually temporary and can be reversed with proper hair care and moisturizing.
If you notice that your hair gets curlier after swimming in a chlorinated pool, this is not a good thing. Make sure to wash your hair immediately after swimming. You do not have to use shampoo every time; you can simply rinse it with clean water.
In the meantime, you can protect your hair from the damage of chlorine in the swimming pool.
How to Protect Your Hair from the Damages of Pool Chlorine
Pre-Wet Your Hair
Before entering a chlorinated pool, wetting your hair with clean water can help reduce the absorption of chlorinated water. This is because wet hair is less likely to absorb as much chlorine as dry hair.
Include Protective Measures
If possible, you can choose to wear a swimming cap to function as a provide a physical barrier between your hair and the chlorinated water. This will reduce direct contact, hence reducing the damage caused.
You can also opt for protective hairstyles such as braids or buns. These styles tend to minimize the hair’s exposure to chlorinated water.
Also, you can apply protective products such as a leave-in conditioner or swim shampoo. If you apply a leave-in conditioner or hair oil before swimming, you can create a barrier between your hair and the chlorinated water. This way, you minimize direct contact and potential damage.
Rinse After Swimming
Even if you love how curly and crunchy your hair feels after swimming, this is not good for your hair. It is essential to rinse your hair thoroughly with clean water to remove chlorine residue. If you fail to wash your hair, the chemicals from the pool will settle and continue to wreak havoc.
You can use a clarifying or chelating shampoo to help remove chlorine buildup.
Deep-condition and Moisturize
Chlorine has a drying effect on your hair; make sure to replenish moisture and nourish the hair. Deep conditioning and moisturizing your hair will help to restore hydration and minimize the drying effects of chlorine.
Chlorine is harsh on your hair. Whether you have natural hair, curly or wavy, exposure to chlorine is damaging to your hair. The effects of chlorine on hair can vary depending on individual factors such as hair type, porosity, and overall hair health. Make sure to take precautions when swimming and after swimming. Also, avoid using chlorine to bleach your hair since the damage can be irreversible.