Skin irritation after swimming: Eczema, chlorine or something else?

Chlorine in the pool can sometimes spoil the fun if you like to swim to relax and stay active. Not everyone gets out of the water as happy as they dove in, especially if they experience skin irritation. If you feel irritation after swimming, you might wonder what the culprit is: is it a reaction to chlorine, a symptom of eczema, or something else entirely? It is important to understand the causes of these skin problems so that you can enjoy your time in the water without any worries. What happens to your skin after you go into the pool?

Chlorine, a common chemical disinfectant in swimming pools, plays a crucial role in eliminating bacteria and maintaining sanitary water. However, this powerful compound may have a less desirable interaction with your skin, especially for those with sensitive skin. Let’s delve deeper into what happens when it comes into contact with the skin.

When your skin is exposed to chlorinated water, it can react with the natural lipids present on the skin’s surface. These lipids are an essential component of the skin barrier and help retain moisture and protect against external irritants.

Chlorine tends to break down these lipids, resulting in disruption of this protective barrier. The result? The skin loses its natural moisture and becomes prone to dryness and irritation, resulting in that uncomfortable, itchy feeling.

In addition, the interaction of chlorine with the skin can lead to increased production of free radicals, molecules that can damage cells and accelerate the aging process. This chemical process can further contribute to skin irritation and even cause long-term damage if the skin is exposed to chlorinated water repeatedly and for long periods.


Swimming pool water contains various chemicals, of which chlorine is most commonly used to disinfect the water. Although chlorine is effective at killing germs, it also has disadvantages for our skin and body.

Chloramines are formed when chlorine reacts with ammonia, which comes from swimmers’ urine and sweat. These compounds are the main cause of unpleasant odors in swimming pools and have an adverse effect on the performance of the residual free chlorine, making the elimination of pathogens more difficult. Chloramines can cause irritation to the skin, eyes and respiratory tract, which can significantly reduce the pleasure of swimming.

Trichloramine, a specific type of chloramine, is responsible for the characteristic “swimming pool odor” and can lead to an itchy, red rash upon exposure.

In addition, when chlorine comes into contact with water, it forms hypochlorous acid, which effectively breaks down pathogens, but can also be irritating to the skin and cause dryness with prolonged exposure.

In addition, the interaction of chlorine with organic matter in the water, such as swimmers’ sweat, urine and skin care products, can create other byproducts. These vary in composition and can also contribute to skin and respiratory irritation, in addition to causing dry skin and eye irritation.

Sometimes it is difficult to know why your skin is irritated after swimming. Is it eczema or just irritation from chlorine? Eczema is a long-term skin problem that can get worse when you swim in pool water because chlorine can dry out and irritate the skin. This can cause your skin to become drier, itchy, and inflamed, similar to eczema.

But not every irritation after swimming means you have eczema. Chlorine irritation is usually noticeable immediately after swimming, especially in areas that came into direct contact with the chlorinated water. This type of irritation causes redness, dryness, and itching, but without the lasting symptoms or flaky patches you see with eczema.

So, eczema requires ongoing care, while chlorine irritation is usually temporary and can improve if you spend less time in swimming water and take good care of your skin after swimming.

The pH level is a crucial aspect of water quality in swimming pools, as it not only affects the effectiveness of chlorine, but also ensures overall balance in the water. Pool water must meet strict quality requirements to ensure a healthy swimming experience, including protection against chlorine-resistant pathogens such as Cryptosporidium.

The ideal pH value for eye comfort and to prevent corrosion or limescale formation is slightly alkaline between 7.2 and 7.4. The skin normally has a pH value that ranges from 4.1 to 5.8. This acid mantle of the skin helps retain moisture and essential lipids and provides a barrier against pathogens, irritants and allergens. If the skin becomes too alkaline, it can lead to dryness and irritation, possibly leading to atopic dermatitis (eczema).

Chlorine, Microbiome, Sebum, Sebum, Skin Barrier Formic Acid Acidity And Iconic Elements Products

Learn more about the ideal acidity of your skin

To optimally protect your skin against the potentially irritating and drying effects of chlorine, there are several steps you can take. Good preparation and aftercare can make the difference in how your skin responds to a swimming session.

Pre-swim shower: Start by rinsing your skin before entering the pool. This not only helps to remove sweat, oils and cosmetics, so you keep your swimming water cleaner.

Vaseline barrier: An effective strategy is to apply petroleum jelly to your skin before swimming. Vaseline forms a protective layer that acts as a barrier between your skin and the chlorinated water, reducing the direct impact of the chlorine on your skin.

Post-swim shower: After swimming, it is crucial to rinse your skin thoroughly with clean, fresh water to remove any chlorine residue. This helps minimize long-term exposure to chlorine and prevents further dryness and irritation.

Intense hydration: Immediately after showering, while your skin is still damp, apply a rich moisturizer to help lock in moisture and repair the skin barrier. This helps prevent dehydration and promotes the overall health of your skin.

Use of protective creams: Consider a specialized barrier cream designed to protect the skin from chlorine and other irritants, especially if you know your skin is sensitive to chlorine.

Consistently applying these measures will make a big difference in maintaining healthy skin conditions, even with regular exposure to chlorinated pool water. If you still experience skin problems after swimming, do not hesitate to seek professional advice from a dermatologist.

Do you experience flaking, unusually dry skin and intense itching? Then you may be wondering: do I suffer from eczema or is my skin simply extremely dry? Fortunately, there are several clues that can help us distinguish between these two skin conditions. By zooming in on specific characteristics and symptoms, you can gain a better understanding of what your skin may be going through. On our next page, find out how to recognize and distinguish between eczema and extreme dryness, and what steps you can take for relief. For more click here

Picture of Dr. Francis Wu

Dr. Francis Wu

Dr. Francis Wu, een vooraanstaande dermatoloog, is de drijvende kracht achter Iconic Elements. Hij heeft sinds 2004 zijn expertise ingezet om een veilige en effectieve huidverzorgingslijn te creëren, geschikt voor zowel gezonde huid als huidproblemen. Iconic Elements, opgericht in 2016, is de eerste brede skincare lijn in Nederland ontwikkeld door een dermatoloog. Als medisch specialist streeft Dr. Wu naar het bevorderen van het welzijn van mensen door hoogwaardige en effectieve huidverzorgingsproducten te bieden. De proefdiervrije en vegan producten vermijden schadelijke chemicaliën en bevatten natuurlijke ingrediënten.
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