When my daughter started taking swimming lessons earlier this year, I had no idea that I needed to be protecting her from chlorine hair damage. She wore a swim cap, and though it still got wet around her hairline when I take her to the pool (And whenever my husband takes her the whole thing comes back soaked, don’t ask me how), I didn’t recognize it was that big of an issue until it was far too late.
Partly because what I now know to be the problem was initially delayed. Also, I can’t swim, so I didn’t figure it out for myself in all my years alive.
As a Caribbean national, I know to avoid the beach water like the plaque and to get rid of it as soon as possible, but chlorine on an ongoing basis? This is new to me. I feel bad because I feel like the more I think about it, the more I realize I should have known.
Anyway, since I don’t have any experienced mom friends to give me a heads up. As always, I’ll be yours.
The thing is, the first few weeks (months) we didn’t have an issue because she was wearing her swim cap and wasn’t going underwater. In fact, she took great pains to avoid getting her face wet at all, happy though she was to learn. It took a while for her to feel comfortable enough to submerge her face in the water, so after most lessons during those earlier months, her hair was dry beneath the swim cap.
Chlorine Damaged Hair!
By the second school term, she’d advanced enough in her lessons for floating, swimming underwater (she was super proud of her ‘unders’ since started out scared of that part) and breaststrokes to be a part of each class. This was where the problem started.
I should have been protecting her hair from chlorine since she was more than likely to come home with it partially or fully soaked, but I hadn’t known. I’d been focused on making sure it was dry enough that she didn’t get sick.
My Daughter Has Folliculitis
I noticed her hair was unusually dry and felt course, so I was furiously moisturizing it all the time. Changing around products, shampoos, conditioners, moisturizers. Trying really hard to locate the culprit.
How to Treat Folliculitis in Children at Home
At the same time, she has an issue with folliculitis, which causes follicles around her hairline to be inflamed and pus-filled.
The condition started when she was two or three years old. It seems to be seasonal, flaring up in the first half of the year and disappearing completely in the second.
One of the things I have to do to manage it when she has flare-ups is to wash her hairline twice a day with antibacterial soap (paediatrician instructions) and apply a sulphur based lemongrass product that has worked amazingly for it.
To manage the condition during her flareups, I also avoid;
1. Tension of Any Kind
Tension of any kind (however minimal) is a no-go. This means cornrows are a no-no unless I do them myself, so they can be extremely loose. Even when I do them that way sometimes, she wakes up the next day and the hair seems to have contracted into the cornrows on its own, resulting in some pulling on the follicles.
She (my daughter) will say it’s not tight (I’ve always been naturally careful for it not to be), but that’s not how it will look. So I always have to check her the next day and remove or loosen the style even more based on whether the follicles seem to be under strain.
Before she started school, she was always in twists and beads. I redid them every two weeks for this reason. But she can’t wear the beads to school, and by the second week, the style, having to had to have been loose from the get-go, looks much older than it is much more quickly. Plus, her natural texture just doesn’t keep styles neat for very long under the best of circumstances.
So given all this, I felt I needed to be a bit more creative than just twists hanging and shrinking week after week. So every few weeks I throw some cornrows into the mix.
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2. Avoid Heat
For a four year old, avoiding hear isn’t really hard. I just have to ensure I wash her hair with perfectly adjusted room temperature or cool water. Never warm, not even luke warm.
I also have to blow her out on cool settings with the dryer. This means her hair is most often unstretched before styling.
It’s tedious, but I manage.
Black Kids in Swimming Need Protection From Chlorine Hair Damage
Her hair continued to be dry for a few weeks, and then it all started to break off at the same length. I sat down really pondering what was different in the last few months. It’s one thing that that hair was gone, but what was stressful was not knowing the cause. How could I stop the loss if I didn’t know what was causing it?
Her hair is thick, but with finer strands. It behaves a lot like mine, so she’s always had hair I knew how to comb. Now I had short, thick hair of about two inches, I had trouble doing anything with it after it got into a ponytail. It was harder to detangle, so wash days became a crying fest.
I mentioned before that I didn’t immediately connect the swimming since like I said, she’d started months earlier, and the start of the problem didn’t coincide with the start of her lessons.
Eventually, it was the only scenario I had left, so I plugged the words ‘does chlorine damage hair’ into Google and nearly fainted from the shock.
Why Does Chlorine Damage Hair?
The simple answer is that chlorine is a bleach, so it strips the hair of its natural oils. It does the same to your skin, but our focus today is hair. With repeated exposure, the chlorine also builds up, on the shaft. Individuals with finer hair strands may notice damage more quickly.
Apparently, if the hair isn’t coated prior to swimming in chlorine, the shaft was in danger of being absorbed into the hair and drying it out. The harsh chemicals (as one might expect) was a serious issue. Now, all the sources I found talked of single pool days and showed little Caucasian girls, I immediately knew that for a child who was swimming twice a week, every week like clockwork with 4c texture, it was a wonder she had any hair left at all.
So I read quite a few blogs, but from what I can tell, the information is scant.
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Protecting Hair from Chlorine Damage (4c)
Here’s what I learned from what I read and have been able to do since finding out.
1. Coat the Hair Shaft
Before swimming, coat the hair with a generous amount of oil or a cream leave-in conditioner. I prefer the oil option and haven’t tried the leave-in. So I don’t know from personal experience whether the leave-in conditioner works. I don’t see why it wouldn’t though.
I used carrot, olive and/or coconut oil.
UPDATE: It’s several months after writing this post and the cream leave-in with a coat of oil has been working very well.
2. Wash Chlorine from the Hair as soon as possible
Ironically, I initially thought about washing my daughter’s hair every day she had swimming, but decided against it because I didn’t want to… wait for it… dry her hair out! (right?) Now though, that’s exactly what I do. When she is having a shower, I’ll go for a quick once wash, and rinse with lots of conditioner with the style in to;
- One, remove the excess oil and residue out, and two
- Get this chlorine out. Stat!
Then I rinse like nobody’s business. Even with these two light washes with her hair styled, I wash her properly every two weeks and try to keep her moisturized as needed without product buildup as I did before.
3. Doubled up Her Swim Caps
This is just me being extra in light of what’s happened, but I stand by it. Most of the water stays out of the cap (when I put it on, only the Lord knows why it’s still soaked when hubby does it), but even so, it’s oiled pre-swimming and washed post swimming now.
How it’s Going Now?
Well. It’s only been a few weeks but it’s already better.
It’s definitely not as dry as it was and had even retained its growth over the last several weeks. She’s had August off from the pool but will be back in the thick of it for the new year. I’m confident that the progress is a result of protecting the hair from chlorine damage with the above-mentioned efforts.
I feel a bit (or a lot) guilty that I should have known her hair needed protection beyond a cap for the chlorine, but I would have felt infinitely worse stopping her swimming. She just enjoys it so much that wasn’t an option. But, you live and you learn.
I’m a little anxious feeling like her hair requires so much special handling, that I might give myself a heart attack if I’m not able to do it for her just so.
Ahh, the joys of motherhood. This thing has to be sorcery! Anyway, I’m figuring it out, one lesson at a time.
Did you know Chlorine hair damage was a thing for kids who swim as an extracurricular activity? How did you find out? Let me know in the comments!