Swimming is one of the great pleasures of summer, especially if you’re a kid and/or live in a hot and humid climate. However, the chlorine used to treat most public and private swimming pools is a harmful chemical. This leaves us in a bit of a quandary: do you risk it for the sake of good exercise and summertime fun? Or go the very unpopular route and avoid chlorinated pools altogether? If you and your family enjoy swimming and socializing, chances are you’ll risk it and swim in a chlorinated pool at least a few times this summer. Which makes learning how to protect yourself from the effects of chlorine a must for healthy summertime fun.
THE LITTLE-KNOWN HEALTH IMPACTS OF CHLORINATED POOLS
There are several reasons we recommend taking steps to limit your chlorine exposure as much as possible. The biggest reason is that chlorine is especially dangerous if absorbed in large amounts. Now, if you frequent a pool where the staff is very conscious of the chlorine levels this may not pose a huge threat. However, not every pool’s staff is perfect at monitoring chlorine levels, and this can lead to a variety of short-term and long-term health consequences. Since the skin is our biggest organ and it absorbs about 64% of the contaminant dose it comes into contact with when you swim in a chlorinated pool your skin absorbs the chlorine. Unfortunately, chlorine competes with iodine in the body and displaces iodine uptake in the thyroid gland which can lead to thyroid issues such as hypothyroidism. 1 Chlorine is also a lung irritant due to the toxic gases it emits, such as nitrogen trichloride2. And while chlorine does disinfect the water, it also creates other harmful compounds called disinfection by-products (DBPs). Research has shown that DBPs are carcinogenic3 and negatively impact a variety of organs and systems, most notably your skin, eyes, and liver4.
We share these facts not to rain on your summer fun, rather to increase awareness about why it’s so important to protect yourself from frequent chlorine exposure.
HOW TO MINIMIZE CHLORINE ABSORPTION AT THE POOL
While only a full body wetsuit can prevent all chlorine absorption at the pool (while seriously cramping your swimtime fashion), there are some simple steps you can take to reduce your exposure to chlorine and other harmful disinfectant byproducts (DBPs).
- Shower before entering the pool. This prevents chlorine from reacting with organic matter in your skin and hair, which studies have shown can create potentially cancerous by-products5.
- Swim in outdoor pools to minimize lung irritation from trapped gases in enclosed area.
- Talk to the staff to ensure they’re trained on how to administer and monitor chlorine levels. This is especially important if you visit one pool frequently, like your community pool or gym.
- Hydrate well before and during your swim. This will help your body absorb less pool water.
- Wear a goggles to protect your eyes.
- Shower in warm (not hot) water immediately after leaving the pool. (You can even use Branch Basics Foaming Wash as your body wash). This will remove as much chlorine from your skin as possible, while the warm water prevents your pores from opening up, exposing you to more chlorine.
OUR FAVORITE CHLORINE POOL ALTERNATIVES
- Salt water pools—most cities and towns have at least one athletic club or hotel with a salt water pool. And while some may add a bit of chlorine, it will be a lot less than a traditional chlorinated pool.
- Natural bodies of water—it goes without saying (but we will) that clean lakes, rivers, ponds, creeks, oceans, waterfalls, etc. are an ideal way to cool off, naturally.
- Pools treated with chlorine alternatives—such as: Wailani, a swimming pool ionizer and sanitizer; and Spectralight’s system which uses UV light and hydrogen peroxide to disinfect.
Like with all things health-related, when it comes to swimming, it’s important to strike a balance that aligns with your health needs and goals. While in a perfect world all pools would be chlorine-free, swimming is also excellent exercise and getting out in the sun does wonders for your vitamin D levels and your emotional health. So, stay aware, follow these tips, and enjoy your summer!