Swimming is great exercise and can be an enjoyable way to spend time with others, but for some people with psoriasis, the chlorine in swimming pools may irritate sensitive skin.
One MyPsoriasisTeam member said, “My psoriasis seems to be clearing up lately. I do have some itching, which I attribute to chlorine. But it’s a minor annoyance defeated by moisturizer.”
Chlorine occurs naturally and is a dense yellow-green gas with a strong odor. It’s an element that’s found in the periodic table. In nature, chlorine is found in combination with other substances — usually salt. Chlorine is often used to kill bacteria and to treat drinking water, swimming pools, and hot tubs.
Psoriasis is a chronic (ongoing) disease of the immune system that causes skin cells to rapidly build up and flake off. Symptoms of psoriasis include painful and itchy patches of discolored skin. Skin with psoriasis can be sensitive to different environmental factors, including chlorine.
Read on for more information about chlorine and tips for swimming if you have psoriasis.
Skin care can be challenging with psoriasis when ordinary activities — such as swimming in a chlorinated pool — expose skin to substances that may aggravate psoriasis symptoms.
“Hot and sticky. Overchlorinated water set off a flare-up,” a MyPsoriasisTeam member wrote.
Another member said, “When I was on prednisone, I had problems with the sun, and I had a few issues with chlorine when the pools were overchlorinated.”
Although research on the effect of chlorine specifically for people with psoriasis is not readily available, studies have shown that chlorinated water in swimming pools can cause dryness and irritation even in healthy skin. Chlorination causes a chemical reaction in which disinfectant byproducts (DBPs) are produced. In a study with rats, this effect was shown to cause disease symptoms in the skin, eyes, and organs such as the kidneys and liver.
In a small study with 58 athletes, 33 of whom were competitive swimmers with two-hour training sessions, exposure to chlorinated water in swimming pools was found to affect the skin barrier and cause significant moisture loss in the skin as compared to nonswimming athletes. A loss of moisture can cause dry skin, itchiness, and flaky skin, and it may damage the skin barrier.
People with skin conditions like psoriasis may be vulnerable to the effects of chlorinated water because their skin is particularly sensitive. If your psoriasis reacts poorly to chlorine, talk to your dermatologist for medical advice.
For people with psoriasis who enjoy swimming, or are considering taking up swimming, here are some tips for skin care before and after swimming in chlorinated water. These tips are helpful for chlorinated hot tubs as well.
Some pools may require showering before swimming to keep the pool clean. But showering can also protect your skin from some of the effects of chlorine. A shower will remove organic substances that can accumulate on the skin such as dead skin, sweat, or sebum, an oily substance that can make skin feel greasy and is produced by sebaceous glands.
When chlorine comes in contact with organic substances, it forms chloramine, which is toxic and is linked to irritation, inflammation, dryness, and damage to skin cells. A shower before swimming can help minimize chloramine production.
After you shower and before you swim in chlorinated water, be sure to apply an ointment, which can provide extra protection against the drying effects on skin from chlorine. Ointments are skin products that contain oils, like petroleum jelly or coconut oil. They are thicker than lotions and can help keep your skin moisturized. They may also protect your skin from substances that can cause irritation, such as chlorine. Lotions are water-soluble and can dissolve in a swimming pool and lose their effectiveness, so anything thicker and greasier is better.
Being in the sun for too long can lead to sunburn, which can make any skin irritation caused by chlorine exposure even worse. If you swim outside, make sure to wear sunscreen that is SPF 30 or higher. When applying sunscreen, avoid areas of inflamed skin, or any open lesions.
To protect inflamed skin, one MyPsoriasisTeam member had this suggestion: “Look up long-sleeve swim shirts with 50-plus sun protection. I got that in a very large size for roominess and swim capris that also have sun protection. I have a pool in my backyard and did not want to put sunscreen on my spots. Works great and is quite comfortable.”
Look for sunscreen that contains titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, which can be especially effective in blocking harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun (and helping prevent skin cancer). Avoid sunscreens that have fragrance, and look for products that provide broad-spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB (ultraviolet A and B) radiation from the sun.
If you have scalp psoriasis, a swim cap can help protect your scalp from chlorine. You can apply ointment to your scalp before putting on a swim cap. If psoriasis affects your ears, earplugs may help prevent chlorine from getting into your ears. Make sure to choose a swim cap that fits well and is made from a soft material to avoid damaging your hair.
A cool or lukewarm shower shortly after swimming can help remove chlorine from the skin. Use a gentle body wash and shampoo that is recommended for people with psoriasis, rather than the soap that may be available in a pool shower. Many soaps contain fragrances, dyes, and other irritating chemicals that may not be appropriate for people with psoriasis.
Gently pat your skin dry, and reapply an ointment or other moisturizer to the skin immediately after showering.
“I swim too, and I notice that my psoriasis flares up afterward. I smother myself in moisturizer and shower as soon as I get out of the pool to keep it under control. Love my swimming,” a MyPsoriasisTeam member shared.
Some swimming pools and hot tubs use saltwater instead of chlorine to kill bacteria. Studies have shown that saltwater baths may help reduce plaque psoriasis symptoms. If you have your own swimming pool and find that chlorine irritates your skin, you may want to consider switching to a saltwater treatment for your pool.
“Chlorine hurts me and makes my psoriasis worse,” a MyPsoriasisTeam member wrote. “Saltwater totally helps, it’s natural.”
“Since most public pools are heavily chlorinated, and chlorine is awfully harsh on the skin, if you have access to a saltwater pool, that would definitely be preferable,” someone else advised.
Keep in mind that some people with psoriasis have no problems with chlorinated water. “I was told a long time ago chlorine would make my psoriasis flare. I swim every day except Sunday, and my psoriasis is disappearing,” a MyPsoriasisTeam member shared.
Although some people may be able to swim in chlorinated water without any problems, others may be more sensitive and experience skin irritation, or their symptoms may become worse. The effect of chlorine on psoriasis can be different for each person and may depend on how severe their psoriasis is. So, if you have psoriasis, be aware of how your skin reacts to chlorine and take steps to protect it before going for a swim.
MyPsoriasisTeam is the social network for people with psoriasis and their loved ones. On MyPsoriasisTeam, more than 116,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with psoriasis.
How does chlorine affect your psoriasis? Do you have any tips for managing the effects of chlorine on your skin? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.