Saturday, November 14, 2009

Part 2 of 4 on Innovative Approaches to Hair Care: Swimming and Hair


Swimming pool disinfectant chemicals can bleach hair and chlorine damages hair.

Applying a protective product to hair before swimming is often advised to help reduce chlorine and sea water damage to hair. However, a good argument against this is if the hair gets wet with any unabsorbed oil or product on it, a less than desirable swimming pool water is going to be the result. Conditioners applied to the hair are water soluble and many of the ingredients can be rinsed away, other than ones that cause unwanted build-up. I also think that the oceans are polluted enough as it is.

There are alternatives to the pre-treatment of hair before swimming: a proper swim cap the right size, properly worn, that can keep the hair dry and protected and rinsing hair immediately after swimming to neutralize chlorine, or remove sea water and its minerals.

Fresh water can be used to rinse the hair or certain acidic rinses. However, these are not necessarily the best answers either. Fresh water cannot neutralize chlorine. It can just remove what has not been absorbed by hair. While citric and ascorbic acid rinses can neutralize chlorine, there is some question about the "cure" being worse than the problem. Strong acids that need to be used diluted to neutralize chlorine can react with chlorine and turn into chlorine gas and while the amount of chlorine gas produced may be small, it won't do your hair any good.

What can be used?

The safest, cheapest, easiest thing to buy and use to rinse the hair with just after swimming in a pool or sea water, and requires no mixing, guessing, or experimenting with for a good dilution, is club soda.

Club soda although acidic is a weak acid and more importantly, it is buffered to stay stable at its pH, a very hair friendly pH 5. Other carbonated waters by comparison are much more acidic and not hair friendly at all by virtue of that fact. The pH of most carbonated waters and soft drinks is about pH 2.3, the equivalent of undiluted vinegar. Anything with a pH below 3.5 can be damaging to hair, depending on the amount used and frequency of use.

Some hairstylists and a hair extension company recommend club soda as a rinse after swimming in a pool to neutralize chlorine, or remove seawater mineral build-up, followed by a fresh water rinse. The carbonation is doing some of the removal after swimming in the ocean, by helping to break up the minerals.

Some interesting research on hair and water, states that "It takes 15 minutes for hair to be saturated with water" (Robbins, Chemical and Physical Behaviour of Human Hair, Springer). It has been suggested that pre-soaking hair in such a manner can prevent it from absorbing more water while swimming. If one were to use club soda instead of tap water to saturate the hair for 15 minutes before swimming in a pool, or sea water, that may be even better.

Club soda is harmless to hair and can work quite well in removing chlorine and leave the hair with no undesirable after effects. Club soda is a cost effective way to deal with chlorine and sea water swimming and their effects on hair. It is readily available just about everywhere.

More on chlorine, salt water swimming, and the effects of both on hair can be found here:
1. Clarence R. Robbins, Chemical and Physical Behavior of Human Hair
2. Garland Drake, "Hair Care at the Beach or Pool"
3. Science Toys, "Bleach"
4. How Ultraswim removes chlorine from hair
5. Science Toys, "Table Salt"
6. The Tokyo Foundation, "Sea Salt"