If I Swim In A Pool Will It Harm My Acne-Prone Skin?



If you suffer from acne, you may be afraid of going swimming in a pool.

However, there’s nothing to be too concerned about. Yes, the disinfectants and chlorine in the water could dry or irritate your skin, but those chemicals could have positive benefits too.

If your skin becomes too dry or irritate, the acne cycle can be perpetuated, so keeping your skin properly hydrated and balanced is important.

You will need to take when drying yourself to be as gentle as possible, drying rather than rubbing your skin. You should also try to choose the right time to go swimming – try to fit it in before your evening or morning anti-acne regime after your swim. You should also always moisturize after going swimming.

Here is your guide to pool swimming without damaging your acne-prone skin.

Pool Chemicals – The Lowdown

Pool water contains a number of chemicals and compounds, although these will vary depending on how many people are in the pool, how they behave, and the environmental climate as well as the contaminants in the pool.

Pool water will contain organic matter which comes from the bodies of the swimmers like sweat, saliva, body cells, personal care products, dirt and urine.

This is why pools are disinfected with chemical disinfectants to destroy the microorganisms in the water and filtered to remove particles which drift in the water. These two methods together purify the pool water and remove unwanted substances.

In order to meet the required safety standards, chemical disinfection methods must remove at least 99.99% of the “indicator organism” within thirty seconds of the treatment being applied.

Chemicals based on chlorine are usually used since they’re capable of achieving this kind of disinfection. Chlorine-based chemicals react in the water to form an acid called hypochlorous acid. This kills microorganisms.

The disinfectants also react with the organic matter contained in the water. This results in several smaller compounds which are collectively known as DBPs or disinfection byproducts.

Some common DBPs include nitrates, trihalomethanes, chloramines and chlorates. When these DBPs are found alongside chlorine-based chemicals, the skin’s barrier function can be damaged, resulting in irritation and dryness. Nevertheless, those chemicals could actually help you with your acne problem.

The chemicals used in pools are designed to kill microorganisms and bacteria, and since acne is partially a bacterial condition, those chemicals may also help to kill the bacteria which causes acne, potentially relieving the symptoms. As yet, there is no research to prove this, but it is a possibility.

Be Aware Of Sun Protection

If you’re going to be swimming in an outdoor pool, make sure you use adequate sun protection to guard against excessive UV exposure.

Choose a non-pore-clogging sunscreen to avoid sunburn, since sunburn leads to acne while the skin works to repair itself during the weeks after sun over-exposure.

woman sunbathing

Interestingly, though, if you’re swimming outdoors, your skin will be naturally exposed to sunlight. While UV rays are damaging, sunlight itself promotes vitamin D synthesis in the body, and this benefits skin health and therefore, in turn, acne.

As long as you take care to avoid getting burned, sun exposure in this way could be helpful for your skin.

Will Pool Water Impede Skin Barrier Function?

The outer layer of your skin provides a barrier function, protecting your body from the external environment while keeping water inside your skin. The cell layers inside the skin barrier and the cholesterol, ceramides and fatty acids (lipids), which surround those cells protect you from microorganisms and irritants.

If you spend a long time in a swimming pool, however, this structure may be eroded, reducing its protective abilities. If you have acne, your skin’s barrier function will already be impaired, and therefore swimming for extended periods could keep you trapped in an acne cycle pattern.

Although no direct research has been carried out on the effect of pool water on skin which is prone to acne, investigations have been carried out into the way in which swimming pool water impairs the barrier function of the skin.

Therefore, you should always keep this in mind when swimming and avoid staying in the pool for extended periods. You should also always moisturize your skin thoroughly after swimming to restore your skin’s barrier function.

Dry Skin From Swimming

Many swimmers suffer from excessive skin dryness. This is officially known as “swimmer’s xerosis”. This is a particular problem for acne sufferers since people who suffer from acne already have impaired skin barrier function.

Swimmer’s xerosis occurs when the stratum corneum, or outermost skin layer, is stripped of its natural oils. Pool water strips away the skin’s oils if you spend too long in the water.

If you apply a good moisturizer after swimming, this will help to mitigate the problem. Applying it before and after swimming can be even more beneficial.

Another reason why swimming can be problematic for acne sufferers is because swimmers tend to shower after every swim. This can worsen symptoms associated with swimmer’s xerosis.

Chlorinated water reduces your skin’s ability to retain moisture. This is also a problem for acne sufferers, since they naturally have drier skin in the first place.

What Is Aquagenic Acne?

There is a specific form of acne known as Aquagenic acne which specifically affects swimmers. Caused when the skin comes into contact with water, this disorder is really just another form of common acne and has the same treatments.

People with usually clear skin may develop a case of aquagenic acne, but if you already suffer from acne, it could exacerbate the problem.

Aquagenic acne is caused by two processes.

One is overcompensation of the skin oil sebum. When you swim, skin oil is lost from the skin’s top layer. The skin’s oil producing glands then overreact, producing more sebum at a faster rate in an attempt to replace the sebum which has been lost. More sebum tends to result in increased acne.

The other process which contributes to aquagenic acne is pore-clogging. When the skin barrier is damaged by pool water, the skin cells may begin to over-produce. This can cause clogging of the pores. Secondly, if you use a pore-clogging sunscreen before, after or during swimming, this could also clog the pores further.

In order to prevent the development of aquagenic acne, you should pay close attention to the condition of your skin every time you come out of the water.

If necessary, you should apply a good quality moisturizer. You should also make sure that if you’re applying a sunscreen, you select one which is designed for use on sensitive skin and one which isn’t comedogenic.

Should I Go Swimming If I Have Acne?

Although there have been no direct studies carried out into whether acne-prone skin is damaged by swimming pool water, research has been carried out into how chlorinated swimming pools affect other skin conditions.

These studies have revealed that the chemicals used to disinfect swimming pools can have a negative impact on the skin.

Some people who swim frequently suffer from dermatitis – an inflamed, red and itchy rash which is evidence that the skin barrier is unhealthy.

It’s important to remember that anything which causes damage to the skin barrier could potentially be very bad for your acne-prone skin.

Nevertheless, as long as you’re aware of the potential problems that a swimming pool could cause your skin, it’s perfectly fine to go in the water. You just need to make sure that you take appropriate precautions.

Always make sure to moisturize well after swimming, and preferably before too. Wear a non pore-clogging sunscreen if you’ll be swimming outdoors. Avoid staying in the water too long and avoid over-washing when you get our of the water. Also, take care to stay gentle when you dry yourself after swimming, always patting the skin rather than rubbing it.

Follow this expert advice and you should be able to enjoy having fun in the swimming pool without worrying about your acne-prone skin. So, what are you waiting for? Get in the water and enjoy yourself!


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