The distinctive smell of chlorine wafting through the air is something most people can identify with. Usually originating from a nearby swimming pool, the sharp scent of chlorine cuts through the air, conjuring images of sparkling, clear pools of water that are just too tempting not to take a dip in, especially in hot summer days, but as much as chlorine works in our favour to keep water clean and even aid the overall function of the human body, it also has adverse effects on our skin and health.
The Benefits of Chlorine
So what is chlorine exactly? Produced from naturally occurring ordinary salt minerals, chlorine is a chemical element that sustains plants and animals with essential nutrients. Besides playing a key role in supporting the environment, chlorine is also responsible for providing clean water for millions of people around the world. The chemical is apt at disinfecting water and eliminating water borne diseases that can kill us. Swimming pools aren’t the only public places that use chlorine. Hospitals, restaurants, hotels and other public places utilise chlorine to combat a wide range of life-threatening germs and bacteria. Restaurants for instance, depend on chlorine bleach and chlorine-based products to fight potentially lethal bacteria including the dreaded Salmonella and E.coli by using it when processing food and to clean surfaces used to prep food. Additionally, chlorine has also been used to produce life-saving drugs.
Benefits for the Human Body
One interesting fact that you might not be aware of is that chlorine is also found in the human body, more specifically, in our blood, bones and skin. It upkeeps our digestive and immune systems and maintains the peak function of our central nervous system. Chloride is the main building block of hydrochloric acid, or more commonly known as stomach acid. Hydrochloric acid is essential for aiding the enzyme pepsin to the breakdown proteins and destroy germs that bind themselves to the food we consume. In our immune system, chlorine fights off infections in the body. Typically, when an infection rises in the body, white blood cells get activated and combat the infection. Hypochlorite, a chlorine-containing compound is a disinfectant found in white blood cells, they work to either attack the germs or aid in the activation of other germ fighting agents in the body to counter the infection.
Drawbacks of Chlorine
With so many positive attributes, it must come as a surprise that prolonged exposure to this life-saving chemical compound can give rise to a number of skin conditions. If you have sensitive skin, keep your contact with places or products steeped in chlorine to a minimum as it could easily lead to dry and flaky skin. This could mean shorter trips to the public pool, limited (bare skin) contact with household cleaning products. Exposure to chlorine products have a higher chance of exacerbating predisposed skin conditions like eczema and other skin conditions. If that’s not troubling enough, many experts claim that chlorine can lead to premature ageing over a period of time. Skin pores open up when it comes in contact with water, so if you are submerged in a public pool long enough, chlorine will strip away your natural oils (sebum), leaving your skin to dry and crack. This, in turn, will cause wrinkling in the skin.
In addition to dry skin, your skin also becomes susceptible to chlorine rashes, which appear on sensitive skin when exposed to chlorine. Pools with a higher chlorine content have the potential to cause eye irritations and even trigger asthma. The vapours of newly or highly chlorinated water can escape from the water and as you inhale the air, cause irritation in the nose and lungs.
Protection Against Chlorine
Protecting your skin from chlorine is not that complicated. For one, hit the showers right after getting out of the pool. Avoid using harsh soaps on your face as this will only worsen dry skin. Use a mild cleanser on your face instead, this will gently remove any remaining chlorine residue on your skin. After patting dry, moisturise yourself with a lotion or a serum; applying a moisturising agent on slightly damp skin will keep the moisture sealed in the skin. If you are already suffering from skin issues, avoid all contact with chlorine. The last thing you would want is for your eczema, psoriasis or acne to flare up.
If your skin is sensitive enough to suffer from chlorine rash, try applying petroleum jelly, like Vaseline on areas that get affected by chlorine before entering the water. This is essentially create a barrier between your skin and the chlorine coming in contact with your skin.
Under the Surface
In a sense, chlorine is a double-edged sword, it keeps us safe from microscopic threats, but at the same time it has adverse effects on our skin, hair and eyes. If your skin is sensitive to chlorine, ensure that you are taking pre-emptive measures to prevent and protect yourself from prolonged exposure to the harsh chemical.