1 lap to go, flip turn, a last little push and then you hit the wall.
Your workout is finally over for the day. Time to stretch and shower off. The same as every day.
Except you’re not looking forward to what comes after the shower… Dry, itchy, irritated skin. Sometimes it happens right afterwards, sometimes it waits until you’ve been sitting around a few hours.
- Swimmer’s Itch
- Chlorine Rash
- Swimmer’s Rash
- Itchy Skin
Whatever you call it all you want to know is: “Do I have a Chlorine Allergy?”
Strictly speaking: No.
Now stop, before you hit that back button, let me explain.
What is a “Chlorine Allergy?”
A chlorine allergy or chlorine sensitivity may feel like an allergic reaction, but medically speaking is closer to a chemical burn. When your skin is in contact with chlorine long term you can develop side effects like itchy dry skin, red rash areas and other potential symptoms (sneezy runny nose, etc.). In short, the chemical reaction of chlorine to your skin, oils, dirt, etc. on you is what’s causing your irritation, not an allergy. It creates a by-product called “chloramines” (more on that later).
You can think of it another way. An allergy is a response by your immune system to something it considers a threat. Deadly peanut coming your way? “NO WAY!” Says your immune system and off you go with an allergic reaction, hives, swelling, coughing and more all caused by your best friend’s lunch.
That would be an example of a peanut allergy.
A “chlorine sensitivity” is a reaction between the chlorine, your skin and or your respiratory system. Your immune system isn’t the culprit so it really isn’t an “allergy” after all. Which is why it is categorized better as a “chemical burn” type of situation.
So It’s a Chemical Burn?
When this reaction occurs on your skin while you’re swimming, a by-product of chlorine is left on your skin called chloramines (I told you I’d get back to it).
Chloramines are actually what produce the “chlorine” smell you are so familiar with. It also has similar kinds of effects on the skin as chlorine causing irritation.
The chlorine and chloramines can linger on your skin for hours after you get out of the pool. Showering, scrubbing and trying your darnedest to get it off by hand usually isn’t effective.
If you’re like me and swim in the morning then run or bike sometimes in the afternoon, you might think you did a good job in the morning washing off after your swim.
Then once you get to your afternoon workout or you’re sweating in the hot sun you start to smell that chlorine again. Oops, you didn’t actually get rid of it.
It’s still hanging around on you even though you showered and tried to make it go away.
Why Do I Have to Have a Reaction to Chlorine?
In a perfect world, you wouldn’t. However, utopia hasn’t arrived yet so we humans do our best to find workarounds.
As you probably know, chlorine is added to pools to disinfect the water. Which otherwise could be home to all kinds of bacteria. Meaning we get to avoid one problem (water born illnesses) and deal with another (chlorine sensitivity).
Ideally the chlorine levels in your pool are kept at optimal levels, used chlorine is filtered out perfectly and the ventilation efficiently whisks away the excess fumes. Theoretically at these levels your reaction to chlorine should be non-existent or minimal.
Did I mention utopia hadn’t arrived yet?
The buildup of excess chlorine in some pools means even more time marinating on your skin. From experience we can probably agree that chlorine levels are going to vary. So is your exposure depending on how much time you spend in the pool.
So what’s the easiest solution to avoid this? I’m sure you can hear a doctor now “Stay out of the pool.”
However, if you’re a competitive swimmer, competitive triathlete (like me), or use the pool for your daily fitness routine then you can’t stay away from the pool. Not training simply isn’t an option. It’s how you and I live.
So are we doomed to be itchy irritated messes? Let’s take a look at what’s going on under the skin to find out.
What is Chlorine?
Chlorine is the common base of your mom’s favorite household whitener: bleach.
Chlorine is known also as an oxidant.
“Okay, great” you tell me. “So what?”
Oxidants are a group of substances that can pull electrons from other substances.
“Fine fine” you say. “Get to the point.”
This process of removing electrons, called oxidation, creates particles called “free radicals.” It’s this process of oxidation creating free radicals that can cause damage and aging to skin over time.
So not only is chlorine causing a chemical reaction resulting in itching and irritation, the oxidizing effects of chlorine on your skin can also make it age faster. Yikes.
How Do I Stop the Itching?
We have to go back to the point our imaginary doctor made earlier “Stay out of the pool.”
What was the point of that suggestion to us?
To limit exposure to chlorine.
Of course we can stay out of the pool… or not for most of us with competitive swimming in mind. So what’s to be done?
The solution to oxidants like chlorine is a bunch of substances called anti-oxidants. Anti-oxidants are just like they sound, the opposite of oxidants. They react with oxidants and prevent a lot of the damage that occurs when we’re exposed to the oxidization process.
Anti-oxidants are found everywhere and there’s three of them you are probably already familiar with, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E.
In particular, we’re interested in Vitamin C. Why? Because Vitamin C has anti-oxidant properties, but is also has a chemical reaction with chlorine: effectively neutralizing it instantly.
You can read more about how Vitamin C is used to neutralize chlorine in river systems instead of chemical alternatives (which are common in a lot of anti-chlorine shampoos) here.
What is Vitamin C?
Vitamin C, found in a lot of fruits and vegetables (in particular citrus fruits) is a water soluble vitamin that helps the body maintain connective tissue: bones, blood vessels and skin. A water soluble vitamin means that your body doesn’t store excess amounts of it, the excess goes down the toilet if you get my drift.
Dr. Andrew Weil says “Vitamin C helps to repair and regenerate tissues, protect against heart disease, aid in the absorption of iron, prevent scurvy, and decrease total and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and triglycerides.”
Vitamin C is an essential ingredient in improving collagen production in the skin. Collagen is the protein in your skin that provides strength to the skin (making it smooth and strong).
Great, so now you know that Vitamin C does a lot of cool things, but how can you use it to deal with chlorine?
Should you bring a bunch of oranges to the pool?
I can picture you now. Squeezing fresh ripe oranges into a glass then pouring them over your head and down your shoulders to eliminate all the chlorine in your hair and on your skin. Only to realize that you’re now also a sticky mess and wasted a bunch of good oranges.
Drink the orange juice, don’t use it as a chlorine killing tonic.
Using Vitamin C to Treat a “Chlorine Allergy” After Swimming
When I first started looking for a solution to my itchy chlorine problem I stumbled upon a Vitamin C spray marketed to swimmers. It wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, but I thought I would give it a try.
In all honesty, it worked better for me than the major “swim shampoo” that comes in a blue bottle. I’d tried almost all of the swim products out there at this point. That blue bottle and a lot of other companies use sodium thiosulphate to neutralize chlorine. Which unfortunately is actually timed delayed so it isn’t as effective as Vitamin C.
I was using this Vitamin C spray and it seemed to be working, but I had two big problems. 1. I was going through cans much faster than I was “supposed to” and 2. the quality of my skin and hair wasn’t improving. Meaning the chlorine was being neutralized, but I had to use a lot of product to do it and it wasn’t actually fixing the damage that was already done.
After time spent researching a better solution; it took getting into contact with a cosmetics lab to find what I was looking for : a body wash and shampoo that contained vitamin C. I could use it (without wasting it) to neutralize chlorine after the pool. Then when I got done with my other workouts I could use it for normal showers to get the added benefits of Vitamin C on the skin on a daily basis.
So my skin was set to improve, what about my hair? Vitamin C will still neutralize the chlorine, but hair is a whole different ballgame. Hair is made up of dead cells whereas skin is still living and easier to repair.
What about my hair?
Not to fail, the lab helped me find the solution to that plight too. A conditioner that used protein and amino acids to reconstruct and strengthen hair while using lots of great vegetable oils to retain moisture.
I tried out what they sent me for a week and I was really happy with it. My skin and hair were both getting softer. “Is it a fluke?” I thought. So I got some more from the lab and sent it to my fellow triathlete friends. I also gave some to my coach to give to some of his athletes that I didn’t know. I know sometimes people want to be polite if they know you and I needed the hard truth: was I crazy or did it actually work?
As surveys came back to me in the mail I started to smile: everyone seems to be happy with the results.
So Solpri was born.
Where Do I Get It?
You can order Solpri straight from us in our shop – click me.