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How to treat and manage chlorine-damaged hair — plus the biggest mistake you can make

We found products you'll want to have on-hand before you hit the pool this summer.
Rear View Of Female Taking Shower And Washing Hair
AleksandarGeorgiev/ Getty Images

Taking a dip and cooling off in a refreshing pool is one of the many joys that we look forward to each summer. But a day of swimming laps or floating around in chlorine-filled water can often wreak havoc on your hair.

While one of the tell-tale signs of chlorine damage is a green hue on blonde hair, you may even notice dryness or a waxy feel, making it hard to run a brush through your locks. That's why we asked a hair expert to help break down the damaging effects of chlorine on hair and how to help manage and prevent it.

How does chlorine affect your hair?

"It will affect your hair color — from yellow to green — and a lot of people can associate green with it but yellow can be a factor too, it can look almost orange. And you’re going to start to feel a build-up on it, so it’s going to feel dry. It can feel a little waxy," says Tiffanie Richards, Master Colorist at Louise O'Connor Salon in New York City. She even refers to it as "Barbie hair" since it will feel like plastic doll hair that is hard to comb.

While everyone can be affected by chlorine damage, there are certain hair types that are more susceptible to changes in color and dryness. While Richards says blondes will most often experience obvious changes in color, brunettes and redheads can be affected, too. In fact, any hair texture that is more porous, such as curly hair that's already naturally dry, will feel the effects.

"If you color your hair, have highlights or anything like that, that’s also a really big game-changer ... basically the thing with chlorine, it is a gas form, so it has the potential to get into your cuticle and open and deposit the green tone," says Richards. Once the chlorine absorbs into your hair, she says anything that you use product-wise will be difficult and take and longer to process, including shampoos and color-processing.

How can you protect your hair against chlorine?

If you're not up to wearing a shower or swim cap in the pool (we understand!), Richards suggests pouring bottled or filtered tap water on your hair, which she says will help fill the hair cuticle with clean water, so not as much chlorine will be absorbed.

Another trick worth trying? Richards recommends, "Leave-in conditioning treatments, which are also going to fill in your cuticle, so anything you can put into your hair that is healthy for your hair or clean for your hair before you jump into the pool, that’s gonna be beneficial."

If you're wondering if there's anything that you shouldn't be using in your hair prior to getting in the water, Richards says you'll want to avoid any styling products where one of the first ingredients contains alcohol. "Alcohol is going to open your cuticle and make it more porous and susceptive to taking in anything else," she explains. "You typically want to use stuff that is moisturizing ... so that's going to keep that cuticle nice and hydrated and closed."

How can you fix chlorine-damaged hair?

If you have blonde hair, the first thing you don't want to do is reach for the purple shampoo. Richards says this is the biggest mistake that blondes can make and it will turn their hair even more brassy and metallic-like. In fact, blondes will want to stay steer clear of toners altogether, she says, and the best way to counteract chlorine damage is to get an in-salon or at-home treatment.

If you are looking to treat your locks at home and the damage hasn't gotten too bad, Richards suggests washing your hair with a clarifying shampoo. And the good news is, you don't have to spend a lot of money on them, she says the drugstore brands such as Pantene, will do the trick. "Clarifying shampoos are pretty standard. They’re not meant to hydrate at all they’re meant to remove," says Richards.

As for conditioners, she mentions you'll want to invest in a good leave-in option or even opt for a hair mask since it's heavy enough to keep your hair cuticle closed and hydrated.

Once the chlorine is out, the last step you'll want to take to maintain your hair treatments is to install a shower filter. "It's really important to keep fresh water on your hair, especially since once you remove the chlorine, your hair can be more susceptive to copper in our shower water," Richard explains. "So you're typically going to want to reach for a shower head that has a filter in it and that's gonna protect against further chlorine deposit and anything else that can potentially get into your hair."

Best products to prevent and treat chlorine-damaged hair

Malibu C Swimmers Wellness Shampoo

Richards says Malibu C is one of the best brands that you can use to treat and prevent chlorine damage. She says this shampoo from the Swimmers Wellness line is great to use right after swimming to prevent it from settling in. According to the brand, this formula will help remove chlorine and copper, as well as help retain your hair's moisture and prevent it from feeling brittle.

Malibu C Swimmers Wellness Hair Remedy

"If you’re wanting something at home, Malibu C also makes an at-home crystal remedy and that removes any kind of mineral deposit as well," says Richards. According to the brand, by leaving this in your hair for five minutes (before shampooing), it will help remove and prevent that green tint and any chemicals your hair may have absorbed from the water.

Malibu C Swimmers Wellness Hair Collection

The brand also sells the entire kit, which includes the shampoo, conditioner, and four packs of the crystal remedy.

Rahua Hydration Detangler + UV Barrier

Richards says she likes carrying around and using the Rahua leave-in conditioner, and says it's especially great for pool days because it contains a UV protectant. Containing hydrating ingredients to lock in moisture, the brand says it will repair weak and damaged strands and will help your hair feel overall smoother.

L'Oreal Paris EverPure Signature Pro Color Care Mask

If you're looking for a hair mask, Richards says this color care mask from L'Oreal can help keep your cuticle closed without weighing down your hair — she even says you can use a mask instead of a normal conditioner to help treat the damage.

More products to treat and prevent chlorine-damaged hair

Suave Daily Clarifying Shampoo

Richards says a clarifying shampoo is meant to remove buildup and thankfully you can just grab one from a local store. According to the brand, this highly-rated and affordable find is meant to provide a deep clean while maintaining your hair's moisture — plus it's suitable for all hair types.

Pantene Pro-V Pure Clean & Clarify Shampoo

Another affordable option is from Pantene, which often sells out on drugstore websites! According to the brand, this shampoo is unscented and will remove any buildup and excess oil.

Kristin Ess Hair Deep Clean Clarifying Shampoo

This clarifying shampoo has over 4,000 ratings on the Ulta website. The brand says it will remove mineral deposits and silicones from your hair and contains "Zip-Up Technology" that is meant to strengthen split ends and damaged cuticles.

Sun Bum Revitalizing 3-in-1 Leave-In Conditioner

According to the brand, this leave-in conditioner contains UV protection, will restore hydration to help detangle and condition your hair and even help with color fading. One reviewer says she loves using this after the pool, "I washed my hair with a basic clarifying shampoo after my swim, towel dried, and sprayed this in and it INSTANTLY made my hair easier to brush through."

It's a 10 Miracle Leave-In Conditioner

This leave-in conditioner also contains UV protection making it perfect for sunny pool days and contains ingredients such as aloe vera for natural moisture and vitamin C as an antioxidant. With over 13,000 five-star ratings, many of the reviewers wrote that this saved their hair and helped restore their locks from damage.

AquaBliss Revitalizing Shower Filter

Richards says it's important to keep fresh water on your hair and a good way to do so is by investing in a shower filter. According to the brand, this option has over 46.000 Amazon ratings and is meant to block chlorine, pesticides and other chemicals that can cause damage to your hair and skin.

Aquasana Shower Water Filter System

According to the brand, this filtration system, which includes a shower head, will filter over 90% of chlorine from your shower water. One reviewer says there was a noticeable difference, "Right away I could feel (and smell) the difference, my hair feels softer and there is no stink of chlorine when I'm done showering."

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