How to Minimize Chlorine Exposure When Swimming

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We go to great lengths to remove chlorine (and other contaminants) in our drinking water and shower water, and it made me think about the effect of this common chemical in swimming pools and how much that exposure can affect us.

The Problem With Chlorine

You don’t even have to swim in the pool to be affected by some of the health risks. Chlorinated pools and other water sources also release chloramines.

Chloramine is a gas that smells like chlorine and you’ve probably smelled this in hotels with indoor pools.

Sweat, sunscreens, urine, and other chemicals and waste combine with chlorine to create chloramines. This oxidized chlorine gas and is present in the air around chlorinated pools and other water sources. As you can imagine, this is especially a concern in indoor pools without ventilation but can also be problematic in outdoor pools.

Negative Effects of Chloramines

A strong smell of chlorine is a pretty good indication that there are chloramines in a pool. This potent gas can also cause symptoms like coughing and sinus irritation. On the more serious end, it can cause symptoms like wheezing and even increasing asthma symptoms.

The CDC reports that:

Breathing of irritants may increase sensitivity to other types of irritants such as fungi and bacteria.

Even the American Academy of Pediatrics acknowledges the dangers of Chlorine. Their study of over 800 children revealed that chlorine exposure had a noticeable effect on children with allergies or asthma. They also found that even children without allergies or asthma were affected by prolonged or regular chlorine exposure.

What to Do?

Our whole family loves the water, so while not swimming and filtering our home water would eliminate chlorine exposure, I’m not quite ready to throw the baby out with the pool water!

Thankfully, there are a few things that can be done to help minimize chlorine exposure:

  1. Avoid chlorinated pools whenever possible. In many places there are options that use salt filters (though these still contain chlorine but in smaller amounts) or UV filters. There are often great places to swim outdoors in some places. Obviously, not swimming in water sources that use chlorine is an easy way to reduce exposure. Thankfully, our local indoor pool uses salt and UV filters and no chlorine.
  2. Use Vitamin C: Check out this great article and the attached lectures for a great background on how vitamin C helps neutralize chlorine and undo the damage of chlorine exposure. Turns out taking vitamin C (ascorbic acid) internally and making some type of solution to rub on the skin can reduce a lot of exposure. Turns out they even make vitamin C shower filters that are pretty inexpensive and which dechlorinate shower water. Since vitamin C is often used in anti-aging serums, this is a win-win solution!
  3. Protect the skin: Providing a physical barrier on the skin with an oil can also help reduce exposure. I like using my homemade lotion and adding vitamin C. It is great for skin and protects from chlorine exposure (recipe below!). A commenter pointed out that many public pools do not allow lotions on the skin before using the pool so check with the rules if you use a public pool and check with your pool instructions if using your own pool.

Do You Have a Pool?

If you have a pool and swim regularly, the effects of chlorine exposure can be even more pronounced. Thankfully, if you own a pool, you also have the ability to control the methods used and limit your chlorine exposure.

There are many great chlorine-free filtration options available now. If you are building a pool, you can start with one of these for about the same price as a regular chlorine pump and system. If you already have a pool, you can convert it relatively easily to a chlorine-free system.

Chlorine-Free Systems

Many places now offer UV based systems that require minimal or no chlorine to operate. These systems kill over 99% of bacteria on their own, so trace amounts of other chemicals can be used. Our method is to use a UV filter and pump system and use food grade hydrogen peroxide as a safety net.

The goal with hydrogen peroxide is to keep it at about 50 ppm. We use simple test strips to test and add about 2 cups of hydrogen peroxide per 1000 gallons of water every couple of weeks.

The important note here is to use food grade 35% hydrogen peroxide. The stuff from the drugstore is only 3% and you’d need a whole to shock a pool. 35% hydrogen peroxide is super concentrated, so use caution when handling it, but it is completely safe once in the pool because it is diluted so much.

Not only is this the most natural method I’ve found, it has been really simple to use and the only other factor we have to look at is balancing the pH. It is also pretty comparable cost-wise to other methods.

If you swim in a pool that isn’t your own or can’t convert to a chlorine-free system, something as simple as a de-chlorinating lotion can help. It can also be helpful to shower in a shower with a vitamin C filter before and after swimming.

How to Make a DIY Dechlorinating Lotion

When we are going to swim, we apply a quick lotion barrier to the skin. (Skip to the end of this post to find a simple sunscreen recipe that will do double duty.)

How to Make Lotion

  1. Combine oils and beeswax in a pint sized or larger glass jar. I have a mason jar that I keep just for making lotions and lotion bars, or you can even reuse a glass jar from pickles, olives or other foods.
  2. In another small jar or bowl, add the vitamin c powder to the warm water and stir until dissolved.
  3. Fill a medium saucepan with a couple inches of water and place the jar with the oils inside the saucepan and turn on medium heat.
  4. As the water heats, the ingredients in the jar will start to melt. Shake or stir occasionally to incorporate. When all ingredients are completely melted, pour into a small blender or food processor. (Keep in the jar if using an immersion blender that will fit in the top of the jar.)
  5. With blender or food processor on, slowly add the water/vitamin C mixture until blended and emulsified.
  6. Store in an air-tight glass jar.
  7. Use before swimming (preferably after rinsing skin) to minimize chlorine exposure. This is purposefully a small batch since no preservatives are used and it will only last one swim season.
  8. Enjoy and be chlorine free!

Other Options (No DIY required)

Those who use sunscreen can add vitamin C powder to pre-made sunscreen to get the benefits of chlorine reduction and sun protection at the same time.

This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Shani Muhammad, MD, board certified in family medicine and has been practicing for over ten years. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor or work with a doctor at SteadyMD.

Do you worry about chlorine exposure? How do you avoid it?