You’ve probably noticed that spending hours in the pool can leave your skin feeling dry and itchy. Luckily, you can enjoy a dip in the pool *without* diving into skin distress. It just requires a little planning ahead, and committing to good moisturizing habits afterwards.
There’s nothing particularly special about pools: Your skin also dries out after a long bath, for example.
Long hours submerged in water can strip away the skin’s sebum oil, which is your body’s natural moisturizer. Sebum oil is a waxy substance released by the sebaceous glands, and it moisturizes your skin and hair. After coming out of the pool, that dry skin signals that your sebum oil has been flushed away.
Experts even have a name for this phenomenon: swimmer’s xerosis. It’s a type of dermatitis caused by long hours in the water. Swimmer’s xerosis causes dry, scaly, and itchy skin.
Chlorine may further dry out skin, but it’s not the main culprit. For people with eczema, chlorine may also flare up symptoms. (Confusingly, some people with eczema may find that chlorine actually helps their symptoms, so it depends on personal triggers.)
You can love swimming without having dry and itchy skin. Try these skincare tips to keep skin hydrated.
Long, hot showers are common after a pool day, since you might feel chilly after stepping out of the pool. Unfortunately, this can further dry out skin. (Here are other shower mistakes that can dry out skin.)
After swimming, keep your showers short and lukewarm. Use a mild, oil-based soap to be gentle on skin, and pat yourself dry with a towel (instead of rubbing dry).
After showering (or after swimming if you won’t be showering for a while), rehydrate the skin with a moisturizer. It may also help to moisturize your skin about an hour before swimming as well.
Look for thicker creams and ointments instead of lotions; the latter has a higher water content, which can evaporate and dry skin out more. Learn more about picking out moisturizers for dermatitis here.
Swimming can be misleading: It feels refreshing, but you’re actually still sweating. For this reason, dehydration is common when people are swimming because they don’t realize how much fluid they’re losing.
Dehydration has many effects on the body, and it can even be a health emergency, but one of the effects is drying out the skin. In other words, hydrating your body may help hydrate your skin. If you know you’re going to be spending the day at the pool, amp up your water intake.
Struggling with dry skin—even when you haven’t been swimming in months? These tips may help:
Freiman A, Barankin B, Elpern DJ. Sports dermatology part 2: swimming and other aquatic sports. CMAJ. 2004 Nov 23;171(11):1339-41.