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Should You Swim When You Have Acne?

Who can deny our love for swimming, especially when the successes of Joseph Schooling at the Olympics have strengthened our country as a nation? The popularity of swimming is now at an absolute high; visit the neighbourhood swimming complex for yourself and you will be persuaded to think likewise — that is, if you can find an empty lane for yourself. Not to mention the tropical heat beating down on our heads, even for those who have yet to perfect the elementary strokes, they would find it hard to resist diving in for a dip in the cool waters.

But with the pool teeming with people, dirt, grime and all of the nasty stuff may just enter the pool altogether. To counter that, chlorine has been added to keep the pool free of those bacteria lurking in the open waters that are ready to pounce on anyone with a frail immune system. But with the addition of chlorine, there is a downside, since those with skin and acne issues would be exposed to skin irritants, which may cause the skin to turn itchy and dry. We can’t fault the pool maintenance crew, since the addition of chlorine does have its uses. How then should you navigate the chlorine-infested waters?


The Fact About Chlorine

Chlorine has had a spotty reputation, since there have been suggestions that chlorine is harmful to human health. Hear us out — when inhaled, chlorine is a respiratory irritant that may cause breathing difficulties and when humans come into contact with it, chlorine may indeed cause eye and skin irritation. However, this risk is much greater when chlorine is in its natural gas form, unlike in the different forms that we encounter chlorine. Why then should this detrimental compound be used in areas of our daily lives?

To begin with, chlorine is the most straightforward way to eliminate bacteria living within our water. When it is found in public pools or in the water supply that drips from our taps and faucets, the level of chlorine is within the comfortable range for human use. If chlorine is removed from our tap water, harmful bacteria like E. coli would flourish and this would create a devastating wave of death and sickness, each time citizens unknowingly brew a cup of tea or take a shower with the infectious water. This was the case in Ontario, Canada, when seven deaths and over 2,300 cases of sickness were reported after the chlorine levels had dipped below the required benchmark.

With the understanding that chlorine is an essential towards accessible clean water for all, there are some minor side effects to consider. That is why those who are a tad more health-conscious are paying more attention to removing chlorine from our water. I am sure you would have noticed households who practise the habit of boiling the water for 15 minutes or the attachment of a charcoal or carbon filter to their water supply at home. These help remove chlorination from the tap water before consumption, but this is not something that can be done on a larger scale, like a public pool.


How Does Chlorine in the Pool Affect Our Skin?

Ever came out of a swim and felt itchy all over? This tingling experience is what swimmers call a ‘chlorine itch’ and it is the result of a sensitivity or allergy to chlorine or an over-exposure of chlorine in some pools.

Earlier, we understood the guardian-like role of chlorine to remove the nasty bacteria from our pools, but with that said, what was originally outlined to protect us, may end up hurting us — since chlorine is unable to make the distinction between good and bad bacteria, it wipes out the good bacteria that our skin depends on. Based on published research, chlorinated water is known to strip away essential nutrients, like vitamin E and polyunsaturated fatty acids, that the skin relies on for good skin health.

It also begs the question, what about those natural oils that swimming in chlorinated water seems to displace? When the skin lacks those oils, the outer surface of our body gets dry and itchy fast, which in turn, causes the sebaceous glands to overcompensate and overproduce sebum, clogging pores and contributing to a buildup of acne in the process. For those currently coping with skin irritations, like eczema and rashes on the skin, this would be a cause for concern.


Should I Continue Swimming?

But that is not to say the idea of swimming in a public pool should be scrapped entirely. Instead, practise good skincare habits before each pool visit, like the application of natural oil (almond, argan or coconut oil) on your skin, or lip balm on your lips as a protective layer to prevent the absorption of chlorinated water. It is always recommended to put on a comfortable pair of swimming goggles as well, to prevent those bloodshot eyes from the harsh chlorinated water and put an end to dark eye circles when you start kneading your eyes. After your dip in the pool, do as the other swimmers do and head to the shower to immediately wash off any residual chlorine after exposure. As a final touch, dab on a moisturiser or lotion prescribed by your dermatologist to rehydrate your dry skin.

There is nothing wrong with swimming in chlorinated water, since chlorine is quite literally all around us. For swimmers with severe facial acne, limit the number of times you go for a dip in the public pool. If the sport of swimming is your pick to a healthy lifestyle, how about navigating the waters with a swimming stroke that doesn’t require you to fully immerse your face when gliding in the blue lagoon?

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