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Chlorine and Hair Loss

Q: I've experienced an unusual amount of hair loss in the last month. My thick hair looks much thinner and the part appears wider. My scalp also feels sensitive, but I'm not sure if that's psychosomatic because I'm so freaked out about the hair loss. My diet hasn't changed in the last few months, but I did take up swimming on a regular basis. I suspect my sudden hair loss is due to not taking proper care of my hair after swimming, but I'm not sure. If this is true and chlorine is the culprit, will my hair ever grow back? What can I do to treat it? Is it possible I have an allergy to chlorine?

Thanks, H.S.

Dr. Donnica:
I am answering your question more as a former competitive swimmer (for more than 10 years!) than as a physician. Yes, chlorine allergies and sensitivities are possible, but chlorine is also harmful to all people, even if they don't have allergies. The most important thing is to make sure that the pool you're using checks their chlorine levels properly and has good ventilation. "Swimmers' hair" is classically bleached in color (blondes can even turn greenish!), brittle, and dry.  Scalp tingling or discomfort is not uncommon. I recommend that you take a soap shower immediately after using the pool and to wash your hair with a special shampoo for swimmers and follow that with a good conditioner. Bathing caps help a lot. Some women also put conditioner in their hair before swimming and they say that this helps; I don't have any proof of this though. 

I hope this helps! The good news is that swimming is great exercise. The bad news is that if you're using a Jacuzzi/hot tub afterwards, it often contains much higher levels of chlorine.

Best regards,
Donnica L. Moore, MD
President, DrDonnica.com

Created: 9/15/2002  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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