As the temperatures rise in the northern hemisphere, off we head, swimsuit (and hopefully sunscreen) in hand, to the closest beach, pool or lake we can find. No harm in a quick dip right? Well, not exactly!
An Ocean Swim
Rich in trace elements and minerals, and with a composition not dissimilar to human blood plasma, seawater, arguably, has many unique healing properties for the skin. Many skin health benefits are specifically attributed to the Dead Sea, such as treatment for eczema, psoriasis and other extreme, dry skin conditions. Yet it is important to note that these benefits do not come from “salt” or sodium chloride, but from the high magnesium levels found in this body of water.
Nonetheless, it’s not all good news. Salts in high quantities can be the skin-drying scourge of the summer flesh baring masses. Diluted salt is almost impossible to remove from the skin with lye based soap or non-foaming wash, so even after showering, traces of salt deposits may remain on the skin, absorbing essential moisture. Couple this with excessive sun exposure and you have a dehydrated skin with an impaired barrier function – never a great combination!
A Day at the Pool
Chlorine is a toxic chemical; it has been used in water systems to combat disease for over 100 years. It is a necessary component of swimming pools and hot tubs, due to its disinfectant qualities. Chlorine’s harsh composition strips the skin of its natural lipids, therefore exacerbating moisture loss in the skin that leads to dehydration. Showering immediately after exposure can help to reduce the moisture loss by ensuring the skin does not suffer prolonged contact.
Another potential risk of chlorine exposure is skin irritation. While technically water proof, our skin has the capacity to absorb chemicals from water sources. This means that low level exposure to chlorine, as found in swimming pools, can cause skin irritation in the form of contact dermatitis. Wetting the skin with non-chlorinated water prior to exposure can lessen the amount that can be absorbed and lower the risk of irritation.
Secure your sunscreen
Aside from the skin challenges both chlorine and salt water can cause, a quick outdoor dip can also increase the risk of sun damage. Chlorinated water especially, is incredibly reflective, accelerating the power of those UV rays by around 10%. Ocean water not proving much better, with the abrasive salt and sand mixture quickly wearing away sunscreen. The key is preparation, making sure to apply your sunscreen at least 20/30 minutes prior to swimming will allow for maximum absorption and sun protection. We can’t however escape the reflection of those powerful UV rays. Monitor your time of exposure; it’s recommended to re-apply sunscreen every 40-80 minutes whilst swimming.
Proactive Post-Dip Tips
- Shower as soon as possible after swimming
- Reapply sunscreen after swimming if you staying outdoors
- Cleanse your face with a soap-free cleanser that won't strip moisture from your skin
- Slough off chemicals and salts with an exfoliant
- Fortify, moisturise and calm skin with a hydrating moisturiser
- Visit your local professional skin therapist for a skin treatment
Final tip about swimming this summer - don’t swallow the water!