How to Minimize Chlorine Exposure When Swimming

How to Minimize Chlorine Exposure When Swimming

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:

According to this article:

Swimming in a chlorinated pool may increase your risk of developing cancer, suggest a new suite of studies, which identified more than 100 chemical byproducts in pools that use chlorine as a disinfectant.

Another article elaborates:

The first health risk doesn’t even require you to be in the pool. Chloramines are a gas you have probably smelled before (smells like chlorine). This gas is produced by chlorine combining with sweat, sunscreens, germs and urine or other waste in the pool. Chlorine oxidizes as it sanitizes into a gas, and it is especially dangerous for indoor pools with poor ventilation.

Chloramines can cause symptoms such as coughing, and more serious symptoms like wheezing and aggravating asthma. According to the CDC (center for disease control): “breathing of irritants may increase sensitivity to other types of irritants such as fungi and bacteria.

Another study: Increased Asthma cases based on hours spent in chlorine swimming pool. Article: Impact of Chlorinated Swimming Pool Attendance on the Respiratory Health of Adolescents

I have read a number of studies that link the use of Chlorine to sanitize drinking water to increased risk of bladder cancer. In this study by the Oxford Journal Of Medicine they also speak about swimming pool use as a risk factor.

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 uses 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.

Dechlorinating Lotion

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, or 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.

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

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Reader Comments

  1. Just the other day I couldn’t bear to get in a chlorinated pool because of the smell, now I KNOW that it’s bad for me! I have a question though, I thought most ascorbic acid/vitamin c supplements are genetically modified. Do you know that this brand isn’t? Or aren’t you worried about it?

    • I wondered this also, I have it in my cabinet. Did some searching and found out NOW does use gmo corn for vitamin c. The O is suppose to stand for organic, guess ill be tossing this out.

      • We have been using Native American Nutritionals Vitamin C and I’m pretty sure it’s non-GMO.

        Might give them a try 🙂

  2. Unfortunately I don’t have salted pools around me and due to my bad knees,i get a good workout in the pool in the gym 🙁 my question is,i heard that you’re not suppose to use oils I’m the pool cause it combines with the chlorine? Is that true? If it’s how can you use this lotion before swimming? I also heard you should shower in cold water before getting in the pool to hydrate your skin and it absorb less of the chlorinated water and drink plenty of water, which is hard to do right before cause than you end up leaving the pool alot to go to the bathroom 🙂

  3. Oh, this has me worried to anxiety. I do everything possible to keep my kids healthy which includes weekly swim lessons. Sigh.

  4. Most public pools will not let you in if they know you’ve spread oil and wax on your skin. It clogs up their filters. That’s why they ask you to shower before entering the pool. Just hydrate your skin and hair in the shower before entering the pool then shower again after and you should be fine.

    • Totally agree, and as an ex-lifeguard cleaning the scum off the pool this is definely not a good idea in my books.

  5. Any tips for hair that is damaged by chlorinated pools? I recently was in a heavily chlorinated pool for diving lessons all day and came out with hair like straw. Usually coconut oil seems to do the trick but not this time!

  6. This is quite depressing for me to read. After 7 years of swimming competitively, I worked 30+ hrs a week in an indoor, chlorinated, swimming pool for 5 years. I spent about 2/3 of my time teaching lessons in the water (usually 4-5 hrs at a time) and the other 1/3 life guarding and breathing the very poorly ventilated air. I spent another 2 hrs as an aquatic director, so not as closely exposed but still–everyday–even my office smelled like chlorine! Hopefully I won’t see any severe adverse effects but I guess it’s too late for prevention at this point! Yikes!

  7. This is perfect timing as we are moving into a house with a chlorine pool. It does have the option to switch back to salt water, which I really want to do. Is there still some chlorine present in salt pools? Is there anything to watch out for with salt pools and does it need to also have a UV filter? Thanks!!

    • Also isn’t salt water just the same as chlorine since by the time the salt gets to the pool it is chlorine? I’ve heard salt water is the same as chlorine just a cheaper option. I think we’ll wait till we can get a UV filter with it as this would reduce the overall need for salt/chlorine.

    • salt pools..sodium cl….add an electron to the water and there you have it…you have made sodium hypochlorite…bleach….thats all there is to a salt pool…you have made bleach…the chlorine gas is used to kill bacteria…and revert back to salt…and the process begins again…so yes there is chlorine in a salt pool

  8. I feel like chlorine is a moot point with all the fluoride in our pool water. Fluoride has a lower relative atomic weight (or mass) than chlorine, so it will displace chlorine (and bromine and iodine). Therefore that is my real concern and I don’t think there is much I can do about fluoride in my water. I wish I only had to worry about chlorine!

    • hi



  9. The review on that shower filter was terrible. Everyone said it leaked. I wonder if there is a homemade option or how one would go about making one…

    • My family uses the following shower head and we think it does a great job…

    • Vitamin C is very sensitive to heat and oxidation and is readily denatured especially when exposed to water. I wonder if instead of straight vitamin C we might not use the fat-soluble form of Vitamin C which is Ascorbyl Palmitate. This is a food industry preservative whose components are, C which is ascorbic acid and palmitic acid. Our bodies convert excess carbs into palmitic acid.
      In the above formula, 2 tsp of vitamin C may be 10 grams of straight ascorbic acid. Whereas, 1 gram of Ascorbyl Palmitate would contain 400 mg. of Ascorbic Acid. An equivalent amount of Vitamin C in the lotion would mean adding 25 grams of Ascorbyl Palmitate. @ $18 per 8oz bottle, it’s affordable and interesting. I will see how the lotion looks as I slowly add the Ascorbyl Palmitate.

  10. We have some pools sterilized with ozone here in BC, Canada, which apparently does not eliminate but reduces the amount of chlorine used. I am sure your UV and salt water pools are the thing of the future. How great!

    I used to use ascorbic acid in the bath, then became concerned when I heard GMOs. By googling I came across a few brands that is non corn dervied and guarantee no GMOs. Have not tried any yet but they are out there if the NOW brand makes people uneasy. This is what NOW says on their site….

    For example, pure natural vitamin C is produced from corn by only five production facilities in the world. None are in the United States, where GMO corn is all too common. All are from Europe and the Far East, situated in countries that (to date) have restrictions that do not allow GMO food corn to be grown there. Our producers have given us statements to confirm that their corn sources are non-GMO, but the documentation doesn’t extend back to the farm level. Testing for GMOs has not found that any is detectable in vitamin C. We have done all that is currently possible to assure that our vitamin C is non-GMO, and continue to monitor the situation to ensure this is maintained in the future.

  11. In response to Ghada629 – yes, oil will combine with chlorine in the pool, reduce the active chlorine in the water, increase the amount of disinfection byproducts in the water and in the air. The pool operator will need to counter this input of extra bather pollution by further increasing the volume of chlorine being added to the pool.
    The best way of reducing smells in chlorinated pools… is to wash thoroughly before getting in. Operators can only reduce chlorine concentrations as part of a combined effort with the general public. Cleaner swimmers equate to lower pool disinfectant requirements… Eg. less chlorine.
    If all the swimmers at a pool coat themselves with oil prior to bathing, the pool water quality will deteriorate rapidly. It wont be a very pleasant place to swim at all.

  12. I have felt frustrated with this very subject lately and
    wondered what I could do to protect my two year old daughter. My family thinks
    I’m crazy already, but I swear this dermatitis covering her wasn’t there until
    she took swimming lessons and swam in my in laws pool. Keep thinking since the
    skin is such a detoxifying organ and she is so clean that this is the reason
    for the reaction. I’ve been covering her in coconut oil which seems to really
    be helping, but all ears for anything else I can do.

    • if coconut oil isn’t doing the trick as rapidly as you’d like, i found jojoba oil to be extremely effective in treating my dishidrotic eczema and seabuckthorn oil helps to combat redness.

        • I use almond oil on my skin after swimming, works amazingly! Though for extra sensitive dry spots (I have a pretty bad reaction to chlorine, but have no other options for swimming where I live) I have to use cetaphil on those areas. Only thing that works for me. :/

          Don’t tell our gym, but for those very small patches I cover them with a thin film of straight lanolin before swimming for a good layer of protection, it’s amazing! Those spots are also covered by my swimsuit, so I assume very, very little would make it into the pool. Unlike a lotion would, because it’s soooo thick and doesn’t wash off easily.

          Also, to get the chlorine smell off, I use vitamin c powder mixed in water and spray on my and my husband’s body immediately after swimming, and then shower. I use it in my hair as well, works like a charm!

          I use about 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoon vitamin c to 1 spray bottle of water.

    • Have you tried an iodine supplement or kelp (kombu)? Iodine is a helpful halogen that will displace the other ones in the body: fluorine, chlorine, bromine.

      Dr. Jorge Flechas recommend about 12000 mcg daily. This is just under the 13000 mcg/day that Japanese usually consume on a daily basis. Might need to be on the watch for a detox reaction, but these levels are very safe.

  13. As my middle daughter’s swimming lessons are about to start back up (in a chlorinated pool I’m afraid), this post was well timed for me. Thanks for the lotion recipe, I will be making some up. And, thanks for the tip of making it right in a jar – I’ve never done that before. Awesome!

  14. The thing is, don’t be fooled by the salt systems, they are simply a chlorine generator. They use electrodes to break the bond between sodium and chlorine. So, chlorine is still present and it actually is, in some cases, at a higher level than in a normally chlorinated pool. The REAL solution is to use a couple systems together like the UV system, an OZONE system and something to give the water residual fighting power like a copper ionizer. I’m using OZONE Joes, a UV system and a Go Chemless on my pool and I am chlorine-free! 🙂

    Great article, I agree, chlorine has GOT TO GO!

    • Thank you for the advice. I am an active athletic 51 year old former competitive track athlete, Power Lifter and Jiu-Jitsu wrestler. I now have a hip implant (a BHR resurfacing) and I am having terrible problems with it since I bought my new house with its own pool. I am beginning to suspect it is due to the chlorine in my new pool dehydrating my body. My hip implant relies on a natural fluid barrier for the metal “ball” to “glide” in the metal socket, without this fluid barrier, my hip grinds during movement. I began to notice a correlation between my hip worsening and my time in or exposure to my chlorinated pool. I then read a doctors article stating that dehydration is the most likely cause of my implant grinding. I tried staying out of the pool for a few days and my hip returned to normal. It would be a major bummer if I could not use the new pool. I love swimming in it. Hopefully these alternative systems you mentioned will not dry out my body like the Chlorine. Thank you again for the advice.

  15. Hi Kathie,

    Thanks for this recipe.i’ve tried this. I have few questions, it is like body butter consistency after you put the vit c mixture. Is there anyway to dissolve the vit c without water because i’ve tried to dissolve it with oil but it dies not dilute. I would like to make it as lotion bar. And can you please suggest me how to combine this recipe with zinc oxide so that i can have de-chlorine bar and uv protection as well?

    • I second this request. A lotion bar style decolorinator WITH added zinc oxide as UV protection would be brilliant. Especially on the kids who will generally only tolerate one lotion application, particularly while waiting to jump in the water!!

  16. Katie,
    I see you link to NOW ascorbic acid here and Camu pwdr in your Vit C face serum. I would like to order just one for both, which do you recommend. Obviously there is a large price difference but if the Camu is worth the money, I would buy it.

  17. Could you please share a substitute for the Vitamin C and Coconut Oil? My son has sensitivities to both. Thanks so much!

  18. This is a general question. I just made your sunscreen and bug-off lotion bars and am very happy with them so far, so I will continue to use them. My question is do you have a quick and dirty way to clean the bowls, pots, utensils, etc.? I found the cleanup was messy and took a while, and I’m just wondering if I did it the hard way. Love your blog BTW!

    • Use liquid Castile soap straight from the bottle. I used to loathe the cleanup job until I discovered this. It makes cleaning the oils and waxes off quick and easy. I keep an unscented bottle of castile soap around specifically for cleanup.

  19. As Ryan said, a salt water pool is a chlorine pool. It manufactures the chlorine in your pool system so you don’t need to buy or handle chlorine.

    This appears to be a good alternative freshwater system with good reviews and it is available in the US.

  20. Thanks for the recipe. Is it ok to add carrot seed oil for sun protection? And how many teaspoons to add? I can’t get zinc oxide where I’m from. TIA

  21. I use shea butter before swimming in our local pool, it works great! Never thought I could add vitamin C, need to try that 😉 Thank you for the article 🙂

  22. Those that are paranoid and/or skeptical can listen to my podcast episode with Olympic Swimmer Catherine Garceau as she discusses her depression that stemmed from hours and hours spent in a chlorinated pool.

  23. This is a horrible and misinformative article. All public pools require the use of a sanitizer. Either chlorine or bromine. So when you say a salt pool with UV doesn’t have chlorine in it, that’s a lie. The salt in the pool is converted to chlorine by electrolysis. It makes the exact same chlorine that you would buy in a bottle. Same chlorine levels as a normal pool too since the health departed regulates this.

    If you go into a pool that isn’t properly sanitized you are asking for a far worse parasit or baterial infection than anything the chlorine could ever cause.

    Fun fact. The average person have .1 grams of fecal matter, up in their you know where,when entering a pool. You should thank the chlorine in the pool, not make it a villain. And if there is no chlorine in the pool, get out.

    • Agreed. Yours is one of the most accurate comments here.
      I’m a Florida native and have been swimming (i.e. laps, not just standing in the water to cool off) my whole life. In the Atlantic, the Gulf, and many outdoor pools. I also have a B.S. degree in science.

      I would rather rinse off immediately after swimming – including washing my hair asap in order to wash off chlorine than swim in green slimy pools or pools where the ppm (parts per million) of fecal matter is off the charts. Pools must use something to keep the ppm of feces, urine, algae and the like at a very low level. We have our own pool and every time it rains, or just every 5-6 days, the pool must be majorly adjusted.

      I second the suggestions to shower hair & body just before entering. Lastly, due to my extended-wear contact lenses, I always wear a full snorkeling mask, and I think it might possibly help in that my face, eyes, & nose never contact the water at all.

      All the scientific studies I have seen indicate that the chlorine problem is most often seen in indoor, public pools.
      And the individuals affected have been competitive swimmers and employees — both of whom spend much more time exposed in the pool, breathing the recirculated air (& applying chemicals, in the case of employees) than most of us ever will. The amount of time of exposure must be figured in. (i.e. 365 days a year, or, at the other extreme: 7- 30 days a year for only 1 hour per day if one accounts for swimming lessons, summer camp, and a beach vacation for most children) I hope this last comparison calms some mothers as it has calmed me.

      • Thank you for your comment Marie. I grew up swimming in a Lake. I now go to a local community pool that does use chlorine, but is very clean and well ventilated. I rinse off before I go in, and after. The pool/swimming has saved my life. At 50 years old, only a few months ago I was in agonizing pain and was limping due to Sciatica. The exercises and swimming in the pool has greatly improved my life. I am a person that HAS to have-be in the water. I am in the pool one hour 3x week minimum. Hopefully all the other natural things I do will help with detoxing from being subjected to chlorine. I personally use spirulina to help.

  24. Hi! Thank you so much for the useful info! Can I use coconut oil on my daughters hair before entering the pool to protect it from chlorine? It remains greasy even after shampooing… And is vitamin c safe on children’s skin?
    Thank you!

    • A hair dresser told me that by wetting your hair before going into a pool you saturate the follicles with water so they’re less likely to saturate the chlorine.

  25. A friend asked that I comment on this. For full disclosure, my company makes a complete alternative to chlorine in pools. To be clear Salt is Chlorine. The same negative effects of chlorine exist with salt systems. The key is to have complete disinfection. In pools it comes in the form of both oxidation and residual sanitation. Chlorine does this at a cost to our health, environment and personal enjoyment of our pools. Good sanitation systems like ours can perform the complete disinfection needed without exposing your family to negative impacts while enjoying your swimming more.

  26. saltwater pools are not the same as chlorine. My daughter is extremely sensitive to chlorine. after just one swim in a chlorine pool her skin is horribly irritated and I don’t let her go in again for at least a week. Thankfully, our neighbors have a saltwater pool and she has no problem going in as often as she wants.

    • I will only point out the basics. Salt in a pool is converted into chlorine. NaCl is salt. Na is Sodium. Cl in Chlorine. I am happy that your daughter enjoys swimming in salt pools. Just know that the slat is converted into Chlorine through a device called a salt CHLORINATOR. It puts an electric charge across plate to separate the NaCl into Chlorine.

  27. My daughters and I go in the pool daily right now since the fla heat can be miserable and I’ve tried looking up a spray recipe. I don’t think the ascorbic acid would dissolve in water completely and have thought about rose water which is what I spray on our skin and hair now. Is there a better idea?

  28. Unfortunately its not always possible to avoid the chlorinated pools but definitely wash straight after and use a natural product like the almond oil on the skin.

  29. I have some Sodium Ascorbate powder (the one recommended by Dr. Suzanne Humphries) but no Ascorbic Acid. Do you think that would work in this recipe?

  30. Thanks for sharing about this topic i was really concerned about it from last few month, have heard about this issue from my friends, the pool i go weekly, they have some rule to enter into the pool without applying any oil or other skin product on your body, they say it cause some damage to their pool filters. but i think quick shower after swimming & use of any body lotion or oil will help to reduce the effect of chlorine on my body

  31. Please make a note at the top of this blog post or take this post down. Lotions, oils or other skin applications put on before swimming is not allowed in most, if not all, public pools! You are encouraging something that is against most public pool policy. I agree with most of your wonderful blog post but this one is a big disappointment! Adults and children who are recreational swimmers for a short amount if time every week are fine! Exercise benifits far outweighs the negative affects if short-term chlorine exposure!

    • I added a note to the post, and am certainly not suggesting that anyone break any rules, however I would have to disagree that the benefits outweigh the risks and some individuals (including me) react very strongly to chlorine and will have negative effects for weeks. For me, even showering in most hotels is enough to affect me.

  32. I keep getting UTI’s and wonder if you know of any protective garment I might be able to wear while in the pool. I am soon to be 82 and feel that the pool walking I do helps me in many ways. I have also had knees and hips replaced. It does not hurt my body to walk in the pool. I walk about an hour. I really hate to quit. Do you have any suggestions?

    Thank You very much for any help you might be able to give me.

  33. I am with you, Wellness Mama! People say that the benefits of exercising, being in water, etc outweigh the risks for them until they are the ones diagnosed with cancer, heart disease, etc. Then it’s “poor me/I did everything right/I guess this is just bad luck/etc” and those of us who chose more responsibly have to provide support and pretend that we don’t see or understand what really is going on.

    I eat organically, take no meds, and filter my shower and drinking water. I definitely, as much as it sucks, will not swim in chlorine. If I even have to take a shower without a filter, my skin is dry and itchy and burns for days. I think for most people to understand and care, they would have to have their skin peel off upon entering the water. Otherwise, they just believe what they’re told and go on their way.

    Also, what makes people think that they can completely submerge their skin, the body’s largest organ, in a bath of chemicals and not absorb them? Rinsing off after (in more chlorinated/fluoridated/toxic water) is not going to change things. Maybe all of the chemicals have affected their brain cells?

    The only way this will all change is if we all come together and demand it. First, though, we have to wake up…
    …thanks for a good article, and for having the courage to do what you do!

  34. wanting to make something for my son to use in the showers after swimming in the pool. He’s a swimmer and is in the pool or pool area 6 days a week for 2-3 hours a day. I made some spray that was just water and vit c but thats only good for 1 or 2 days max due to oxidations. can’t find anything online, but do you think if I put the vit c in a bar of soap it would last longer? also do you know how long it would last in the lotion recipe you have? LOVE your site and your podcasts!!! please make more podcasts! haha! (like you aren’t busy?!) LOL!! take care!! thanks for all you do to spread the word and make it easy to find great info!!! 🙂

  35. I’ve been swimming competitively for years now and I have to say I’ve tried everything out there. At one point I had so many bottles of oils, vitaC, lotion I felt like I was going to a picnic. VitaC and oils are a huge hassle and do not work that well. And no lifeguard in their right mind will let you into the pool if you’re oiled. Over my long exposure to the pool chlorine, my skin has become more sensitive to the point of eczema, severe itch, and blotchy skin. I’ve just started using Swimmer Soap bar soap, I’ve only used it for a few of months. It was getting rid of the chlorine and the itch, and at first it wasn’t really doing much for the eczema but its actually going down on it’s own. I’m not on any oral or topical medication for it. Hope this helps.

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