As summer comes, we are more likely to enjoy a splash at the pool. While this is all fun and good, you might want to take some protective measures to avoid extensive pool water damage to your hair. Here’s why.
What’s in your swimming pool?
The most important component in swimming pools is chlorine or other chlorine releasing agents. Why? Because chlorine water (hypochlorous acid) is great at sanitizing. Typically, the recommended level of free available chlorine should be between 2-4 ppm to properly fight microorganisms without causing red eyes or other irritations.
Other substances added are:
- cyanuric acid (pool stabilizer helps reduce excess loss of chlorine in water due to the ultraviolet rays of the sun),
- bicarbonate to regulate the pH level (recommended 7.4-7.8),
- Algaecides (kill algaes which give the green color seen in untreated ponds)
- Note that copper is often found in the swimming pools as well. This website best describes the various ways copper finds its way into the pool water. Copper by itself was found to have several damaging effects during hair coloring and was found to accelerate the damaging effects of sunlight. [More on copper ions here.]
Pool water damage to hair
Experiments done by immersing hair in chlorine water (0 to 30 times) for 1 hour each, demonstrated that the hair cuticles gradually get damaged (softer and brittle) under pH conditions of a swimming pool. The levels of chlorine used in these experiments were however about 2.5 x more than actual pool levels. Their results are therefore a little exaggerated for 30 cycles, but they give an overview of the pool water damage that can be expected over longer periods of time. [Reference: J. Soc. Cosmet. Chem., 38, 371-384 (1987) ]
The images from this research are shown below:
Protein degradation occurs from the exposure to chlorine over extended periods of time, causing the hair fibers to gradually collapse in density. Some of the smaller proteins are lost in the water, as well as other important components of hair such as lipids and moisture. Hair that has been too long in pool water will thus feel dry, porous, weak and dull.
In another research, the team investigated the effects of pool water on chemically treated hair. The hair tresses were either bleached, dyed or permed prior to exposure in chlorine water. The results were compared to virgin hair (no chemical treatment) dipped in chlorine water. All the hair samples had suffered damage after 30 cycles in chlorine water but the chemically treated ones were comparable to the virgin hair.
In part 2 of their experiment, they cycled the virgin hair in chlorine water first followed by bleaching, dyeing or perming. They noticed significant damage.
In other words, after hair is weakened by chlorine water, chemical treatments can strip off the cuticles, cause fractures and create more irreversible damage.
On a side note
Pool water damage is caused mostly by chlorine, but another major concern is the effects of copper on hair. People with light colored (eg. blond) hair often notice that their hair turns green from using the pool. The green has been attributed to the binding of the copper ions to the amino acids in hair. In fact research has shown that hair chemically modified through oxidative processes such as bleaching or dyeing were more susceptible to copper intake. This is potentially due to the increased porosity of the hair.
In this post we learn about the various ways that pool water can damage or affect hair. Next we will discuss how we can protect the hair.