How to avoid green swimming pool hair
Trying to avoid your hair going green after being in the swimming pool? It’s a common issue, especially for regular swimmers and as the summer holidays roll around.
Even a short summer break spent in and out of a swimming pool can leave post-holiday tresses with a distinctly greenish tinge. Hairdressers often nod sagely and say “see how the chlorine has turned your hair green” but this is not actually the case. It isn’t the chlorine that turns hair luminous lime, but traces of metals in a swimming pool purification system. The better pools have a well-balanced pool pH, but some are overloaded with heavy metals. The chief culprit is copper. Used as an algicide to prevent green slime forming in a pool, it unfortunately often results in green swimming pool hair instead.
Chlorine does play a part by oxidizing metals (such as copper) in purified pool water, causing a kind of rusting and turning these minerals green. It’s the constant immersion in the pool water itself that damages hair. It dries out the protective cuticle shaft wrapped around each hair strand. This protective sheath is made up of lots of tiny scales and when they dry they start to peel apart. This allows copper deposits to lodge in the cracks of the scaly outer coating of each strand. The resulting green tinge is most noticeable in blonde hair, but all hair colours take up the copper deposits – they’re just less visible on darker hair.
How to prevent green swimming pool hair
The good news is we don’t need to buy expensive ‘swimmer’ shampoos to cure the problem. Wetting hair with (clean) water before swimming helps. It saturates the hair so it doesn’t absorb as much pool water – so don’t dive in with dry hair. The next single most useful thing we can do is to rinse hair thoroughly with a pool-side shower as soon as we get out of the pool. Follow this with a proper shampoo as soon as is practical. This goes a long way to removing the oxidized metal deposits before they have much chance to fix themselves into damaged hair cuticles. Keeping hair well conditioned also helps by sealing and protecting hair cuticles. This in turn makes them less likely to peel apart and harder for molecules of metals to penetrate.
Another simple tip is to comb through a dab of hair conditioner before each swim to give hair a light waterproof coating. Leave-in conditioners are useful for this and you can easily make your own by mixing a small amount of regular hair conditioner with water in a spray bottle and keeping this in your poolside bag. Want additional protection? We love Phillip Kingsley’s Swimcap Mask to protect hair before swimming.
Use a wide-toothed comb and work gently into wet hair to prevent damaging the hair cuticles you’re aiming to protect. You can also sport a tightly fitting swimming cap – perhaps not the most stylish option, unless you can carry off a wonderfully retro floral version! A swimming cap is actually a very useful barrier and something for all blondes to consider – especially bleached blondes who already have damaged hair cuticles.
Use a gentle SLS-free shampoo (avoid sodium lauryl and laureate sulphates, especially important if washing hair daily), followed by plenty of conditioner. Comb with a wide-tooth comb, pat dry instead of scrunching in a towel and minimise the use of hot hairdryers. Leave to air-dry naturally whenever possible.
How to treat green swimming pool hair
Finally, if all else fails and you end up going green, a treatment using citric acid will help release the copper compounds from hair shafts. The old wives tales of a vinegar or lemon juice hair rinse can help here. Alternatively, try a tomato puree hair-pack left on for twenty minutes to help remove copper oxide.
Professional hair colourists can use more sophisticated chemicals to reduce a green tinge, but keep in mind it’s likely to return if you swim again in the same pool. Lastly, at least a green hue is only a temporary tinge – and the shade soon fades