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Dermatologist’s Guide to Skincare for Swimmers

Updated: Nov 15


As an avid swimmer myself, I know firsthand how frequent swimming can cause the skin to become dry and irritated. As a dermatologist, I have years of experience removing skin cancers and precancerous growths from longtime swimmers who did not take the proper preventative measures to protect their skin.

I put together this skincare guide to help my fellow swimmers understand how they can prevent chlorine and sun exposure from damaging their skin.



Protect

  • ALWAYS apply sunscreen at least 15 minutes before swimming.

  • Use an SPF 50 mineral sunscreen with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide on your face.

  • Opt for “very water-resistant” sunscreens with a rating of 80 minutes.


Sun protection is the most crucial step you can take to protect your skin. Without sun protection, ultraviolet light (UVA & UVB) can damage your skin and cause wrinkling, hyper-pigmentation, sun spots, and skin cancer.


The effects of UV on the skin are cumulative, so it is never too late to start taking more precautions. Our skin thins as we age, making us more susceptible to sun damage in our later years.


Make a habit of always putting on facial sunscreen before swimming. The ingredients that make the sunscreen water-resistant create a hydrophobic barrier between the skin and water. This barrier protects your skin from pool chemicals and other irritants that cause dry skin.



Cleanse

  • Use a gentle cleanser to remove chlorine and sunscreen residue from your skin after swimming.

  • Avoid soaps and cleansers that can strip away your skin’s protective layers and make you more susceptible to sunburns.

  • Opt for a pH-balanced cleanser to help maintain your skin’s normal barrier function.


Your skin has a protective layer of naturally occurring oils that protect you from unwanted substances. Pool chemicals, such as chlorine, can strip away these oils and break down your skin’s natural barrier protection, leading to dryness and irritation.


Your skin’s natural pH balance can also be adversely affected by prolonged exposure to these pool chemicals, leading to further dryness and irritation.


After swimming, your skin will need to recover. The first step towards a successful recovery is the removal of chemical irritants with a cleanser suitable for sensitive skin.



Moisturize

  • After cleansing, use a moisturizer with alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and botanicals such as aloe to soothe and hydrate the skin naturally.

  • Moisturize daily, even when you are not swimming, to get the best results.


A good moisturizer will help rehydrate your skin and repair its natural barrier function, which is critical for moisture retention.


Our skin thins as we get older and makes us more susceptible to damage from chlorine and other pool chemicals. Well-hydrated skin offers the best protection against these chemicals drying out your skin.



If you are going to be a regular swimmer for many years you want to make sure that it does not become an unhealthy activity. Following these tips should help keep you in the pool and out of my office.


 

References


Adamson AS, Shinkai K. Systemic Absorption of Sunscreen: Balancing Benefits With Unknown Harms. JAMA. 2020;323(3):223–224. doi:10.1001/jama.2019.20143


Food and Drug Administration. Sunscreen: How to Help Protect Your Skin from the Sun. Accessed March 2022.


Hughes MC, Williams GM, Baker P, Green AC. Sunscreen and prevention of skin aging: a randomized trial. Ann Intern Med. 2013 Jun 4;158(11):781-90.


Sander M, Sander M, Burbidge T, Beecker J. The efficacy and safety of sunscreen use for the prevention of skin cancer. CMAJ. 2020 Dec 14;192(50):E1802-E1808. doi: 10.1503/cmaj.201085


Stern RS. Prevalence of a History of Skin Cancer in 2007: Results of an Incidence-Based Model. Arch Dermatol. 2010;146(3):279–282. doi:10.1001/archdermatol.2010.4


Sunscreen FAQs.” American Academy of Dermatology, Accessed June 2022


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