Here’s How Pool Water Affects Your Skin, Says a Cleveland Clinic Dermatologist

Updated: Jun. 18, 2024

It's cool, clear and oh-so inviting—but it's harsh, too. An expert on skin health reveals six secrets to protect summer skin and hair.

There’s something nostalgic about hopping out of the pool on a hot day—your hair a little brittle as it dries in the sun (maybe even a little lighter); that crispy-clean smell on your skin. If you recognize these sensations, Jennifer Lucas, MD, MHCM, a dermatologist with the Cleveland Clinic, confirms that pool water affects your skin and hair in specific ways—including possible damage.

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“Chlorine is a great product for your pool because it helps disinfect it, right?” Dr. Lucas says in a statement to The Healthy by Reader’s Digest. “It keeps bacterial counts down … [chlorine] keeps it looking clear and more sanitary. The problem,” she says, “is that it’s also very drying.”

But, Dr. Lucas adds, the impacts can escalate from there. She explains the chlorine in pools can also cause irritant contact dermatitis, a rash that’s triggered by an irritating substance. According to the Cleveland Clinic, symptoms of a contact dermatitis rash include:

  • A dark, red or purple color
  • Swollen
  • Hive-like texture
  • Bumpy with a small cluster of pimples or blisters
  • Oozing fluid or pus
  • Burning or stinging
  • Flaky
  • Itchy

Dr. Lucas recommends that if you notice a contact dermatitis rash on your body after a dip in the pool, avoid scratching it—breaking the skin could lead to infection. You can treat the rash with over-the-counter medication (talk with a doctor or pharmacist for a recommendation). However if symptoms worsen, or if they persist for several days, you should check in with your primary care doctor.

Chlorine can also strip your hair of natural oils, creating that crackly feeling, and it may affect your eyes and nails in the same way.

To combat these issues, Dr. Lucas recommends a few tips:

  • Getting your skin and hair wet before you enter the pool water can prevent them from absorbing as much chlorine.
  • Using sunscreen can help moisturize and form a protective barrier from the pool water chemicals.
  • A protective hair mask—similar to a leave-in conditioner—can protect you from chlorine’s drying effects.
  • A swimming cap and goggles can also be helpful to protect not only your hair, but your scalp and the thin skin around your eyes, too.
  • Most importantly, Dr. Lucas emphasizes that you should shower when you’re out of the pool: “All that chlorine is on you; you don’t want it to sit and continue to cause irritation,” she says. “So, you want to get in, take a shower, use a gentler cleanser to get that pool water off of you.”
  • Afterward, “moisturizing is really important,” she says. “All of that oil you’ve just stripped off your skin, you want to put it back on.” In particular she recommends products containing ceramides or alpha-hydroxy acids to help your skin recover—and help you hold on to that refreshed feeling from your swim.

About the expert

  • Jennifer Lucas, MD, MHCM is a board-certified dermatologist and dermatologic surgeon with the Cleveland Clinic, and currently serves as the Quality Improvement Officer for the Dermatology and Plastic Surgery Institute as well as Wellness Section Head.