What Happens if You Do Not Wash Your Hair After Swimming?!

We’ve [nearly] all heard it time and time again- especially if you’re an avid swimmer- that one should shower (rinse/wash their hair) both before and after their swim. And, though we’ve [nearly] all heard this before, I’m 99.9% sure that at some point or another we have all skipped one or both of these showers on at least one occasion (much as we may not be proud to admit it).

Now, looking back on those days when one may have skipped one (or both) of those showers, or, maybe you’re just still curious about it, you’re wondering what exactly happens if one doesn’t shower (rinse/wash their hair) after swimming? 

Not showering after a swim, whether in chlorinated pool water or salty ocean water, can have harmful effects on one’s overall health/well-being- with regard to their hair and skin in particular. 

Most pools are chlorinated (though there are some saltwater pools). This means, simply, that chlorine is added to the water as a disinfecting agent. This means it will kill various bacteria and parasites that would otherwise be harmful to us. 

As mentioned, there are some saltwater pools and the ocean is [obviously] saltwater. While saltwater is not quite as harmful to the hair or skin as chlorinated water, it can still have adverse effects on one’s hair and skin such as making them feel dry and itchy- much like chlorine. 

Pools (and oceans) are used by many and therefore, contaminants are unavoidable. So, while swimming is a wonderful, refreshing, and low-impact activity that has many benefits for one’s health overall, the contaminants and chlorine used to combat those contaminants (or salt naturally found in oceans) that are both found in the water can have harmful effects- particularly to the hair and skin. 

Furthermore, though chlorine can kill many bacteria and parasites, it cannot possibly kill everything.

Such is the case with Cryptosporidium (“Crypto”), a parasite that has [seemingly] developed a slight resistance to chlorine and when ingested can cause gastrointestinal upset/issues- some of which can be debilitating. 

So, while chlorine is important to keeping pool water sanitary, it also has harsh effects on hair and skin and does not kill all bacteria and parasites. Thus, one should shower as soon as possible after swimming. The salt in ocean water also dries skin out and ocean water can have contaminants as well; so, it’s equally important to shower after swimming in the ocean. (Rinsing off before getting in the water- whether it be a pool or ocean- helps to reduce the number of contaminants being brought into the pool or ocean water- thus, keeping it more sanitary for everyone.) 

Chlorine nor salt discriminate and they will both dry hair and skin out- strip them of their natural oils and moisture- regardless of hair color or skin pigment/hair or skin type. That said, naturally finer hair tends to be more susceptible to damage and lighter color hair is more susceptible to the green/green-blue hue that results from the oxidation of copper when it bonds with chlorine while attached to the proteins of the hair. 

Any amount of exposure to chlorine or salt could cause damage to one’s hair (though the occasional swim isn’t likely to do much harm/cause much damage); however, prolonged or daily exposure will have lasting, potentially detrimental, and even irreversible damaging effects. Thus, and hence, the importance of showering (washing one’s hair) after (and before) swimming. (Source A)(Source B)

Does Swimming Damage Your Hair?

The activity of swimming itself does not damage one’s hair; however, the harsh effects of chlorinated pool water and/or salty ocean water can damage one’s hair. So, in essence, yes- one’s hair can be damaged from swimming/swimming can cause damage to one’s hair. 

Though swimming can damage one’s hair and skin, swimming on occasion will not necessarily do so; or, at least, it won’t have lasting damaging effects. As such, one’s hair and/or scalp may feel dry for a day or two after their swim, but it won’t likely go beyond that.  Also, check out our post Does Swimming Cause Notable Hair Loss? (The Must Know Facts)

On the other hand, regular exposure to chlorinated or saltwater (i.e. swimming or being in a pool or the ocean regularly/consistently) can result in damaged hair and skin- even irreversible damage. 

As was previously stated, chlorine, while great for keeping pools sanitary, is not so great for hair or skin- it doesn’t discriminate either. However, those with naturally thinner, naturally drier, or chemically treated (dyed/bleached/permed) hair are more susceptible to damage. 

When left on the hair and/or skin chlorine and salt, respectively, will strip hair and skin of their natural oils and moisture (as has been a major point in this article thus far). This makes them feel dry and itchy (even more so if you have sensitive skin). Again, this is why it is best to get into a routine of rinsing off before your swim and showering as soon as possible after your swim. 

In addition to the pre-swim rinse some things one can do to prevent damage, particularly to their hair, include 

  1. Apply a leave-in conditioner to your hair (after rinsing) 
  2. Apply oil to your hair- Moroccan, argon, coconut (after conditioner or in place of conditioner) 
  3. Pull your hair up high and tight (if it’s long enough to do so)  
  4. Put on your swim cap. 

Once you’re done with your swim and upon exiting the pool (or ocean) you will want to shower (and moisturize) as soon as possible. For those that swim and/or are in the pool (ocean) regularly, you may want to include a clarifying shampoo and/or deep moisturizer in your post-swim hair care routine as is appropriate for you and your swim-hair (do some research and/or consult a stylist to determine your best products and/or swim-hair care routine). (Source A)(Source B)(Source C)(Source D)

We also highly recommend that you check out our post Different Ways Hard Water Affects Hair: How to Address Them!

Is It Ok to Sleep with Chlorine in Your Hair?

Chlorine has its benefits in keeping pool water sanitary, but regular exposure to chlorine (or salt) will strip one’s hair and skin of its natural oils and moisture- leaving one’s hair dry (coarse) and brittle (weak). This can result in a frizzy appearance and/or split-ends and breakage.  It can also make one’s scalp itchy. 

Also, chlorine likes to bond with other substances- particularly metals such as copper. When chlorine and copper bond together the copper oxidizes leaving behind deposits that are green/green-blue. The lighter one’s hair color is the more noticeable this green/green-blue color. (It is not the chlorine but the oxidized copper that is responsible for the hue.)

With all of that said, NO! It is NOT Okay to sleep with chlorine in your hair.

Said another way, one should avoid going to sleep with chlorine [still] in their hair. And- yet, one more way to say it- sleeping with chlorine in your hair can have detrimental effects.

Chlorine can have several detrimental effects on hair and skin. While the science behind it is pretty interesting, it can be a bit lengthy (lengthier than necessary for this article at least) and essentially boils down to this 

chlorine will, over time, strip one’s hair and skin of its natural oils and moisture (as we have made abundantly clear throughout this article). This will make one’s hair feel (and look)  dry (dull), brittle (split-ends/breakages), and coarse (frizzy)

Ideally, one would be able to plan their swim to include time for a shower immediately after getting out of the water and back to the locker room (post-swim). However, sometimes time (or life) doesn’t allow for that to happen.

In instances where one is not able to shower immediately after their swim, one should at least rinse off and try to keep their hair wet until they can shower, and shower as soon as possible. 

Chlorine (and salt) really begins to cause damage once it dries on the hair (or skin)/the hair (or skin) dries. So, the sooner one can shower after a swim the better. (Source

Why Is It Important to Shower After Swimming?

Though the chlorine in pools (and the salt in oceans) has its benefits none of them apply to our hair or skin. 

Chlorine is used in pools to kill bacteria and parasites. The more of these- bacteria and parasites- that are introduced to the pool water, the more chlorine is needed to maintain sanitation and pH balance (so, when the odor of chlorine is strong, it is not so much an indication that the water is more sanitary, but, in fact, that it has more contaminants in it. Thus, needing greater amounts of chlorine to keep it sanitary and the pH balanced). Thus, why one should rinse off before getting in the pool for their swim- to do their part in reducing the number of contaminants introduced to the pool (or ocean) water.  

While we would like to think that everyone is doing their part to minimize the number of contaminants in the water by showering before they get in the pool (or ocean), the reality is a large number of swimmers don’t. As was mentioned in the introduction, we’ve all been told to shower before and after our swim, but we’ve all neglected to do one or the other, if not both at some point- for whatever our reasons for doing so may have been (or be).

So, because we know that not all swimmers shower/rinse off before their swim (and, thus, introduce contaminants- bacteria and parasites- to the water), this is why it is important to shower after swimming. 

Showering assures bacteria and parasites get left behind. 

The chlorine itself is damaging to hair and skin. It can cause both to feel dry and itchy. In addition to these effects, while chlorine kills many different bacteria and parasites, it cannot kill them all. Lastly, because not everyone heeds the instruction to shower before their swim, pool and ocean water can be teeming with contaminants (bacteria & parasites). Thus, it is important to shower after your swim to cleanse the hair and skin of these contaminants (and the chlorine/salt). (Source A) (Source B)

Does Swimming Count as A Bath?

Apparently, this debate- whether or not swimming counts as a bath- started over a Twitter post in regards to an argument between a husband and wife that raised the question initially- does swimming in the pool (or ocean) constitute a bath? 

Some say it does (the husband’s stance) while others say it does not (the wife’s stance). 

The logic for those that believe it does is that chlorine “kills everything”. This is great, except that chlorine does not in fact kill everything- there are some bacteria and parasites that are resistant to it (such as the previously mentioned “Crypto”). 

So, let’s put an end to the debate, N-O! Swimming Does NOT constitute a bath. Even doctors will tell you- the pool (ocean) is NOT a bath! In fact, one should, at a minimum, rinse off before getting into the pool (or ocean) in an effort of reducing the number of contaminants in the water and the need for excessive amounts of chlorine [in pools]. 

Because pool (and ocean) water can be dirty despite the chlorine (salt) and other inherent properties of water itself that work to keep it sanitary, it is important for one to shower after their swim as well.

Chlorine is a great disinfectant, but, as previously stated, it does not kill everything. Furthermore, it can have detrimental effects on hair and skin- especially once it dries. Thus, swimming should not (does not) constitute a bath.  

One may feel clean because psychologically they know bleach (chlorine) disinfects/cleans and the water evaporating on their skin feels cool (and thereby, clean).

However, one is just the opposite of clean after swimming in the pool (or ocean)

Chlorine (and salt) not only dry out the skin-stripping of its natural oils and moisture, but it can also kill good bacteria needed to maintain a healthy biome. By treating the pool or ocean as a bath you are not only potentially damaging your healthy biome and putting yourself at risk, but you are putting others at risk too. And, you aren’t even truly getting clean. So, again, swimming- whether it be in a pool or the ocean- does not count as a bath. (Source A)(Source B)(Source C)

Melissa Frank

My passion, outside of animals, is helping people and adding value to their lives…I strive to leave the world a little better than I woke to it each day. The first part of my career, for a total of about 15 years, was spent in the public safety field as a Volunteer Firefighter/EMT-B and 9-1-1 Operator. In 2019 I obtained my personal trainer certification (ACE certified) as well as many group fitness certifications and certification as a Corrective Exercise Specialist.

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