If you’re a dedicated swimmer, you almost certainly use a swimming cap. But how does that affect dandruff?
Every swimmer has some idea of the dangers that public and gym pools can pose for hair. Thanks to the cocktail of chemicals used to keep the water clear, your hair and scalp can easily become damaged.
Some people try to combat this with a swimming cap. The idea is simply to put a barrier between your scalp and the harsher environment around it. But can this affect dandruff?
To find out, we’ll look first at what causes dandruff before considering the pros and cons of swimming caps.
What causes dandruff?
Our scalps are little ecosystems, home to a variety of microbes. One of these is called malassezia globosa. This typically harmless fungus make its way through life by feeding off the natural oils on your scalp, leaving oleic acid as a by-product of this process.
Unfortunately, some people are sensitive to oleic acid, which causes symptoms that include:
- White flakes in the hair
- A red, irritated scalp
This is dandruff, and it’s important to note that dandruff is only caused by malassezia – pool chemicals alone won’t do it.
That being the case, what’s happening to your scalp in the pool?
Hair care for swimmers
A big culprit for damage in the pool is one we all know: chlorine.
Chlorine is a very effective disinfectant, so its use in pools is important for health reasons. Unfortunately, it is also an irritant, affecting your eyes, skin and your scalp. Chlorine also degrades proteins in the hair fibre, making it rougher and more prone to damage (sound familiar?).
Swimming often has the effect of not only irritating the scalp, but also drying it out, leading to dandruff-like symptoms. It could also make existing dandruff symptoms worse, since dandruff skin is weaker and easily aggravated.
A common solution to these problems is a swimming cap. But it doesn’t keep the water out very well, and it might not be enough on its own.
Swimmers hair protection guide
Swimming caps bring the same problems for dandruff sufferers as hats do. Covering the hair – especially in the midst of exercise – creates a warm, humid environment that’s ideal for malassezia to proliferate and cause problems.
So what’s a swimmer to do? Before swimming, thoroughly wet your hair with ordinary tap water- NOT pool water. Your hair will absorb this water, and be less likely to absorb the chlorinated water. Apply a leave-in conditioner over top for added protection, and to help with post-swim detangling. Then apply the swim cap- it will help prevent tangling and minimise exposure to chlorine.
Follow up your swim by washing your hair with a good dandruff shampoo to make sure any chlorine is washed out, and to help keep your scalp protected from dandruff triggers. Finally, use a conditioner, to keep your hair and scalp feeling moisturised.