Bleached hair seems to be an ever-growing trend amongst swimmers (those that participate in water sports in general, really). I personally have never fully understood this trend. (I rather love my natural brunette color and would opt to take extra measures to preserve its natural color/health versus damage my hair “on my own terms” just to have control over the damage. I’d rather control the damage by taking care of my hair rather than cause it more harm). But, to each their own.
Nevertheless, maybe you are intrigued by the bleached hair look and are looking to jump on this bandwagon, but you have some questions before going for it. While I [obvisouly] do not personally have experience with bleaching my hair, I have done some research to shed some light on some of the common questions surrounding the topic of bleaching your hair and swimming.
First up, one that is considering bleaching their hair is probably wondering exactly how long they would have to wait before getting back to swimming (the water)- whether it be in a pool or the ocean.
To the dismay of some, the answer is not exactly cut and dry- though, it is pretty simple …
It will depend on factors such as the condition and appearance of one’s hair- both pre-bleaching and shortly after bleaching, whether it was bleached at a salon or at home, and whether one bleached all of their hair or just a few strands (highlights).
(The more damaged and dehydrated one’s hair is- i.e. the worse the condition and appearance of one’s hair- the longer one should wait before returning to swimming after bleaching their hair).
The chemicals used in pool water and the salt in ocean water both dry hair out. Hair is rather sensitive after bleaching. The combination of the drying effect that both pool and ocean water have on one’s hair and the sensitivity of hair after bleaching can potentially result in negative (undesirable) consequences. Thus, it is imperative to wait for the recommended time frame that applies to you and your hair/bleached hair.
Some experts recommend waiting only 24-72 hours before getting back in the water- pool or ocean- to swim while others recommend at least 7 (sometimes 10) days. Ultimately, the exact wait time will depend on the aforementioned conditions and where exactly you and your hair- both pre-bleach and post-bleach- fall on the spectrum.
If you have only bleached highlights (a few strands) and your hair is relatively healthy, you should be safe to return to swimming in 24-72 hours. However, if you have bleached all of your hair and/or your hair was not the healthiest before bleaching you will want to wait closer to 7 to 10 days before returning to the water for swimming- 7 days is recommended when you have had your hair bleached at a salon/by a stylist and 10 days is recommended when you have done it at home.
As was previously mentioned, hair is very sensitive after bleaching. So, these time frames allow one’s hair to come back to equilibrium (recover from the chemicals used in bleaching one’s hair) before coming in contact with another chemical/other elements [that also damage hair].
Here’s a rule of thumb to help you know if you are ready to return to the water/swimming after bleaching your hair… If one’s hair feels soft and moves freely, it is safe to return to swimming in the pool or ocean. On the other hand, if one’s hair feels rough/coarse and is stiff or brittle, one will want to wait for 7 to 10 days before returning to swimming in the pool or ocean. (Source A) (Source B)
Also check out What Happens if You Do Not Wash Your Hair After Swimming?!
What Happens if You Go in Chlorine After Bleaching Your Hair?
Now that you know you should wait 24 hours to 1/1.5 week/s after bleaching your hair before returning to swimming, let’s take a look at what chlorine does to one’s hair- particularly after bleaching it.
Chlorine weakens the hair shaft making it more susceptible to damage. So, swimming in chlorinated water/the pool is not the best thing for your hair (whether it is bleached or not). The damage can be immediate and/or cumulative (occur/compound over time). The longer one spends in the water and/or the more frequently one swims, the more damage there will be to their hair.
Chemically treated hair, including bleached hair, is more porous after bleaching it. Thus, one’s bleached hair is more easily damaged and susceptible to greater damage (than hair that has not been bleached/chemically treated). Another thing that can happen to one’s hair is it can develop a green/green-blue tint.
Many believe this is due to the chlorine itself in pools. However, that is a myth. The true culprit for the green/green-blue tint of hair is copper.
Metals, such as copper, are introduced into pool water through source water (i.e. well water) used to fill the pool, from algaecides or sanitizers, from ionizers, as a result of electrolysis, and/or from maintenance of aggressive water conditions in the pool.
These [hard] metals, particularly copper, oxidize (rust) when they come in contact with chlorine [in the water/on one’s hair]. The hard metals in water are absorbed by one’s hair and stick to the proteins in one’s hair. The chlorine then bonds to the hard metals- particularly copper- and oxidizes them; and, this is what results in that green/green-blue tint to the hair- the oxidation of copper.
This typically does not occur after just one swim, but rather as a result of several swims/constantly being in the water which in turn repeatedly exposes one’s hair to this oxidation process. The green/green-blue tint tends to be more noticeable in lighter color hair (i.e. the lighter one’s hair color, the more noticeable the tint). (Source A) (Source B)
Can I Swim in The Ocean After Bleaching My Hair?
There is not much information out there regarding bleached hair and swimming in the ocean specifically (most of the info out there is geared toward swimming in chlorinated water/the pool and/or returning to swimming in general after bleaching one’s hair). However, bleached hair is considered chemically treated hair- much like dyed hair. Thus, the guidelines for dyed (chemically treated) hair will apply to hair that has been bleached as well.
To that end, as with chlorinated water and bleached hair or dyed hair and ocean water, the hair is still more susceptible to damage having been bleached/chemically treated. So, one will want to wait at least 48 hours and up to 7-10 days before diving into the ocean.
The exact wait time will depend on the same things as was previously mentioned in this article …
- one’s hair condition and appearance (pre and post-bleaching)
- whether one bleached it at home or had it done at a salon
- whether one bleached all of their hair or just some highlights
For those that have only done some highlights/a few strands, you will only need to wait about 48 hours to be on the safe side. Those that bleach all of their hair will need to wait for 7-10 days to be safe. The same factors and guidelines at play for returning to the pool after bleaching one’s hair are at play for returning to the ocean after doing so.
If one’s hair feels soft and moves with ease, then one should be safe to return to their ocean swims. However, if one’s hair feels coarse/dry and stiff, they will want to continue to wait- 7 to 10 days is recommended.
Why Do Swimmers Bleach Their Hair?
With this becoming an evergrowing trend, another question one may be pondering before they jump on this bandwagon is why exactly do swimmers bleach their hair.
There are various reasons swimmers will bleach their hair, but the two most common are that it’s simply something fun to do and provides a competitive edge and some would rather have control over the damage of their hair versus the water/salt/chemicals having the control (since the water will cause damage over time anyway).
So, let’s take a deeper look at these two specific reasons.
1- It’s something fun to do
Some will bleach their hair as a part of team solidarity/bonding prior to a big meet/competition. They do this as a way to have some fun and set themselves apart from the competition. Some also believe it’s a bit of a psychological placebo and can give one a competitive edge (or, at least they feel like they have one) which in turn can result in a better performance (time).
2- They want control over the damage to their hair
On the other hand, some do it simply because when swimming consistently damaged hair is unavoidable due to the chemicals and other elements/substances found in a pool (and ocean) water.
So, for most swimmers that swim competitively, damaged hair is inevitable. Thus, rather than let the pool [or ocean] water completely control the appearance of their precious strands- which are most likely dulling anyways from constantly being in the water, they would rather have control of their hair’s appearance; so, they bleach their hair.
Their thought is that their hair is drying out and losing its natural color anyway so why not just strip the color completely and be done with it. (Source)
Will a Swim Cap Protect Colored Hair?
Though swim caps were designed with the intent of helping reduce drag and, thereby, making one faster in the water (not to protect one’s hair), a swim cap can also help to protect one’s hair- especially chemically treated hair such as colored/dyed or bleached hair.
Because swim caps were not designed to protect hair and that is more an additional benefit of them, there are some steps one will want to take to maximize the protection a swim cap can provide. To maximize the amount of protection a swim cap provides, it is recommended to follow these steps:
- Rinse your hair (with freshwater) prior to putting on your cap/getting in the water to swim
- Apply a leave-in conditioner after rinsing hair and before putting on your swim cap/getting in the water. Check out the Leave-in conditioner we recommend (Amazon Link)
- Put on your swim cap(s) – one can opt for just a silicone cap (most recommended type of swim cap for chemically treated (dyed/bleached) hair) or wear a cap of different material against your head and then a silicone one over that (doubling swim caps can provide extra protection)
The pre-rinse will supersaturate the hair, making it unable to absorb as much of the chlorinated or saltwater. The leave-in conditioner will work to seal the cuticles which in turn will help keep the copper from binding to your hair, and, thus, help prevent that green/green-blue tint.
The swim cap itself will not only help to reduce drag and make a swimmer faster, but it will also serve as a physical barrier between one’s hair and the chlorine or saltwater which in turn helps to protect one’s hair.
So, while swim caps may not have initially been developed to protect one’s hair, they can certainly help do so. For more on swim caps, check out our post; Big Head Swim Caps: Should you Use One? Everything You Need To Know!
For more on protecting swimmer’s hair, check out our post How Long After Dying Hair Can I Swim? How Do Swimmers Protect Their Hair!