Chlorine is used in the form of Hypochlorous Acid in order to kill bacteria and other microbes in public and holiday swimming pools and in very small quantities, along with Fluoride, in drinking water. Waterborne pathogens can cause many different types of illnesses, such as diarrhoea, swimmer’s ear and skin rashes, including athlete’s foot so Chlorine is added to control these. Fluoride is added to help protect teeth.
However, as chlorine is a chemical with toxic properties it may also cause irritation to our skin and hair, eyes, even the nose when the chlorine reacts with the proteins in our skin. The distinctive ‘chlorine aroma’ associated with swimming pools is not the result of chlorine itself, but of chloramine, a chemical compound produced by the reaction of free dissolved chlorine with amines in organic substances.
In recent years, the chlorine used to treat swimming pools may have been given a negative reputation. Individuals who are aware of chlorine's adverse effects upon the body in large doses, have assumed that swimming in waters treated with chlorine can have a negative impact on the skin. Recreational pool problems such as amebiasis (an infection of the intestines, caused by the microscopic parasite Entamoeba histolytica). cholera, diarrhoea, gastroenteritis, typhoid, and hepatitis can be found in poorly maintained swimming pools and spas, so make sure any pool you are proposing to use looks well looked after. Look around at the general area. Is it maintained? No loose tiles? Does the pool area look like it is cared for? ASK, even!
Although chlorine can damage skin and wounds if too concentrated, chlorine is also known to have a healing effect when it contacts the skin via pool water in controlled doses; the drying action of chlorine may help those with acne and oily skin issues.
As nearly half of us go swimming, it is important to try and make best efforts to protect our skin. Whereas Chlorine controls the wide range of very nasty things that can get into swimming pools - especially ones that are not as well maintained as they should be - there are things we can do to protect our skin.
Avoid pre-swim lotions or barrier products. Most of these wear off in the pool, providing only a limited amount of protection for a short time. Additionally, with lotions that have washed off, these later react with the chlorine in the pool to create more irritating molecules like chloramines and add generally to the pudding of rubbish, though hidden from the eye, is floating about in the pool water.
Shower before swimming. Wear a swimming hat and wear swimming goggles. Try not to spend any longer than an hour in the water, especially if there is a strong sun. Shower again as soon as you can after coming out and shower thoroughly. Apply a good quality body moisturiser and then (if in sunny climes) a good quality SPF30 moisturiser (or greater).