Chlorine In Swimming Pools Causes Acne?

By Seppo | Acne basics

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As I was reading some studies at PubMed I came across this study on the effect of chlorine on the skin barrier function.

Skin barrier function is one measure of skin health. One of the thing the skin does is regulates what goes in and out of your body. For example it adjusts the water content of the skin in response to environmental humidity. It also keeps bacteria and other pathogens out of the body.

Compromised skin barrier function is a common feature in many skin conditions, acne included. As a result the skin becomes more vulnerable to breakouts.

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So what this study found was that exposure to chlorine in bathing water decreased the water-holding capacity of the skin, i.e. more water escaped through the skin. The effect was dose-dependent; the more chlorine in the water the higher the water loss. The concentrations of chlorine that caused the damage were similar to what it used in swimming pools. In this study the exposure was limited to 10 minutes. Longer exposure to chlorine probably leads to more severe damage.

This study was done with atopic dermatitis (AD) patients, but my guess is that the same study with acne patients would find similar results. The study also found that chlorine damaged the skin of AD patients more than it did healthy controls. Not surprising and it just goes on to show that problem skin is more sensitive to environmental toxins and chemicals.

So, what to make of this? This is one more example of why you need to be careful with what you expose your skin to. There’s no reason to be paranoid, but it pays to be careful. Also, do use moisturizer (shown to repair skin barrier function) after any such exposures.

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About the Author

Seppo Puusa, a.k.a. AcneEinstein shares rational advice about natural and alternative acne treatments. Read more about me and my acne struggles at the page.

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(7) comments

T August 20, 2012

Hi Seppo – I found your site when looking into a possible link with Chlorine in swimming pools and acne. I have been swimming regularly in a pool for the last year and a half (distance swimming so I wld swim anything from 6 -3 days a week, ave abt 50min of straight swimming) Before starting to swim again my acne was mild – moderate depending on my monthly cycle, but nothing I considered to be a problem. Since starting to swim so regularly in a chlorinated swimming pool, i developed moderately severe and at times cystic acne on my checks and chin. I never realized the correlating until over a year later. I went through may lifestyle and diet changes, all that have left me being a much healthier and happier individual. But still something I was doing daily was aggravating my face and stopping my body from healing. I am convinced its the chlorine, I know it didn’t start my acne, but its helped take it to another level. I have been working for 3 months to resort my gut flora and kill off candida, everything I was doing hasn’t been having proper affect because every second day I had been swallowing varying amounts of chlorine whilst training. Chlorine kills your gut bacteria, good/bad, besides the internal damage my skin lacked luster and my hair was dry and damaged. All the vitamins and healthy diet had minimal effect whilst i continued to regularly expose myself to those chemicals. I have stopped swimming a week ago, and now continue with other exercise to help with stress :D I have noticed in that short space of time already my skin heals faster and is no longer as red and aggravated as before, cysts that hung around are healed and fading. I am still breaking out but they are smaller papules and pustules. I know this will take time to heal, its just been a big step in finally seeing some results that resemble a path towards healing. Sorry for the long story but I think its important to look at all factors and environments we are exposing ourselves too. Thank you for the great site and all the info, I am learning to see my experience as a gift because its making me a healthier, fitter and more balanced human being :D

Reply
    Seppo August 20, 2012

    Hi T! Thanks for sharing your story. No need to apologize for the length, details are helpful :)

    I’m not sure how much of a factor it is that you swallowed some pool water. It’s true that chlorine kills bacteria, but by the time it reaches your gut it’s highly diluted. Poisons are all about the dosage and the concentration in swimming pools is good for killing most bacteria. But diluting it from there quickly cuts down on its effectiveness.

    My thinking is that it’s more the fact that you expose your skin to chlorinated water. As I mentioned in the post exposure to chlorine can damage the skin barrier function and irritate the skin. This just perpetuates acne.

    I used to think that curing acne is all about being healthy internally and that external stuff doesn’t matter as long as you are healthy inside. Now I think it’s more 50/50, both matter a lot.

    Thanks for sharing your experience and happy to hear you’ve found something that works for you.

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T August 20, 2012

Seppo, thank you for the reply! What you mentioned about the dilution defiantly makes me feel better – the past week Ive had horror stories going round my head about voluntarily ingesting the stuff ;) In the past I have reacted badly to chlorine too, it brought on facial eczema – so perhaps I am also just very sensitive to it! Thank you for the advice, about balancing treatment both internally and externally! All the best :D

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Cat October 30, 2012

Hm. Interesting. I wonder what your thoughts are on salt water. When I would go to the beach as a teen, my face would clear up and I would be all rosy cheeked and feel all good looking and with my salty beach hair curls. lol

I know from my microbiology class (just the one) in college that chlorine shouldn’t work in clearing up acne, and my biology/chemistry classes say that chlorine is less than good for humans simply for wanting to steal electrons. But salt should be good (hypothetically) since most common bacteria on the human aren’t halophiles.

ps. I want to clarify. I mean chlorine for non physiological consumption. We do have Cl- ions (commonly ingested with NaCl–table salt or food ingredient) in our bodies assisting with cell function.

By the way, T, the little bit of swallowed pool water is no match for the corrosive HCl in your stomach. Just don’t go filling up your water bottles with it or boiling your spaghetti in it. ;)

Reply
    Seppo October 31, 2012

    I’m not quite sure what you mean with your comments. I got a little confused by the last bit of your p.s. Whether you are asking as drinking of topical contant to chlorine and sea water.

    This post is about the damage chlorine in swimming pools might do to your skin as your skin becomes in contact with it, so nothing to do with drinking pool water, which hopefully nobody is going ;)

    Honestly, I can’t really comment about how sea water would affect the skin. My personal experience is that salt and sea water irritates my skin. If I don’t take a shower soon after swimming in a sea I start to feel a mild burning in my skin.

    There are many reasons your skin could get better as you go to the beach, like more sunshine, less stress and generally positive mood. So it may not have anythig to do with sea water as such.

    Reply
Lukas June 29, 2013

Chlorine can definitely exacerbate acne growth, but it can also help clear breakouts and blemishes. It is important to take the proper precautions before and after swimming in order to avoid acne worsening. I found this article super helpful on the subject, check it out: http://theclearskinproject.com/acne-article/swimming-and-acne/

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