Swimmers and those who enjoy the occasional dip in the pool are all too familiar with chlorine. One of the most common chemicals produced in the U.S., chlorine is used as a swimming pool disinfectant – killing harmful bacteria like E.coli that can make swimmers ill. But can this chemical that prevents us from getting sick also have adverse effects on our health? Let’s find out.
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Chlorine can take the form of a liquid or a gas and has the potential to be poisonous from misuse or overexposure. In addition to being used in pools, chlorine can also be found in water sanitation systems to disinfect drinking and bathing water. Humans can also be exposed to chlorine from the air, through eating or drinking, and via the inhalation of chlorine fumes.
How does chlorine affect the body?
If you’ve ever emerged from a swimming pool with dry, flakey skin, chlorine is to blame. Chlorine strips the skin of its natural oils, causing it to become dry and cracked. This can lead to damaged skin and premature signs of aging. These effects are more noticeable in the summer due to repeated exposure to pools and water parks.
Chlorine can also affect your respiratory system. If you suffer from allergies, you may develop a sinus problem from inhaling chlorine vapors. This can lead to respiratory complications, chest tightness, and other breathing issues. These problems are especially true for swimmers who suffer from asthma. In addition, if you spend an extended amount of time in swimming pools (with low levels of chlorine), you may experience irritation of the throat, nose and eyes.
Similar to how chlorine strips away the natural oils from our skin, it has the same damaging effects on our hair. Chlorine is meant to break down and remove dirt and oil. Unfortunately, our scalps naturally produce oils to protect our hair from damage. If that oil is stripped from your hair, you may experience over drying, increased porosity, and discoloration. These effects are most common among swimmers who have chemically or color treated hair.
Believe it or not, chlorine also has the ability to erode tooth enamel. Over-chlorination of large swimming pools can produce an excess amount of hydrochloric acid. This lowers the pH balance of the water, making the water more acidic and eventually causing enamel erosion in swimmers.
To avoid the harmful effects of chlorine, follow these tips:
- Use a pre-swimming lotion formulated to protect your skin and block chlorine absorption.
- Saturate your hair with clean water before getting into the pool to reduce chlorine absorption.
- Use a swim cap before diving in. Note: You should still wet your hair with clean water and apply a light conditioner for added moisture.
- Rinse off with water immediately after chlorine exposure to slow down signs of skin or hair damage.
- Wear goggles to reduce eye irritation.
- Make sure the pool you visit has proper ventilation/air circulation to disperse chlorine vapors.
- To disinfect a pool without using chlorine, consider using chemical-free or ionizing systems.
Take extra precaution this summer when looking for your next cool dip in the pool. Use these tips to protect your family and your summer fun.
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