Hair SOS: How to avoid green swimming pool hair

Holidays are a time for heavenly rest and rejuvenation, but can also spell hell for hair. Hair hang-ups include straw-like split ends, coloured highlights lifting or fading and hair that quite literally goes green. So how best to prevent these holiday hair disasters? In this article from our Hair SOS series, Liz looks at how and why post-pool hair goes green…

Liz writes:

green swimming pool hairRegular swimmers will know that a common hair hazard is grass-green hair. 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 for the Incredible Hulk hue is copper (witness how a copper band turns skin green). 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 by drying 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

So now we know why our hair turns green, how do we prevent it? 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 as 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, followed by 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. 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.

After swimming, 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.

green swimming pool hair treatment

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, or try a tomato puree hair-pack left on for twenty minutes to help remove copper oxides (usefully popular with children!).

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

More in the Hair SOS series

Hair SOS: How to have healthy hair free from split ends: Liz shares her advice on how to treat and prevent split ends, and how to have healthy hair which looks shiny and feels beautifully smooth.

Hair SOS: How to best care for coloured hair: Liz looks at one of the most commonly quoted beauty dilemmas – how to stop dyed hair from fading, so it stays looking salon-fresh for longer.

Plus, keep your hair healthy and tangle-free, with this deliciously scented, homemade leave-in conditioner and detangling spray.

Wellbeing Wisdom

  • Make your own leave-in conditioner by mixing a dab of conditioner with water in a spray bottle, then apply to damp hair before swimming to help protect against the pool water
  • Citric acid will help to removed the copper compounds from hair shafts, so try a lemon juice hair rinse to combat any green tinges