Swimming in Chlorinated Pools? Here’s how to Detox

March 15, 2024

It takes a lot of chemicals to make pool water safe, but this comes with a trade-off. While these chemicals help disinfect harmful pathogens, they also form toxic compounds. If you are a regular swimmer or even an occasional one, it’s crucial to know what you are soaking your body in. Thankfully, even if you don’t have an option to escape a chlorinated pool, you can always take steps to mitigate any damage.

It is not just about pool water, chlorine is also used as a primary disinfectant in drinking water treatment plants, it is also frequently used in finished water to prevent microbial regrowth to sustain water quality in water distribution systems. The Indian standards for chlorine limit in water is 0.2 mg/L to 1 mg/L, however, it can be tough for the common man to ascertain whether these standards are being followed or not. For instance, it was found that residual chlorine in water supplied by Chennai Metro is 10 times higher than the limit. 

This makes it all the more necessary to secure yourself with water filters and take other steps to keep detoxing your body from harmful chemicals. 

What’s in the pool? 

Untreated water can accumulate harmful bacteria like the deadly Escherichia coli and Salmonella and protozoans such as Cryptosporidium parvum and Giardia lamblia. The disinfectant chemicals are a must for wiping them out. 

Chlorination is the most popular method for disinfecting pool water. But, the disinfectants react with organic material in the water like dirt, sweat, urine and even skin moisturizers to form disinfection by-products (DPBs). 

There are more than hundred different types of DPBs in swimming pools, and they are found not just in water but also in the air around swimming pools. Typically, the most abundant ones are trihalomethanes and thichloramines that are linked to adverse human health effects. 

If you must have noticed the heavy corrosion of stainless steel and other metals around pools, it is due to the presence of trichloramine. It’s also the reason why some researchers speculate if it is aggressive enough to corrode stainless steel, then the kind of damage it could do when absorbed by our bodies. 

DPB-induced toxicity comes from 4 reactive compounds, HCLO (Hypochlorous acid), COCL2 (Cobalt(II) chloride), HCL (Hydrochloric acid), and NH3 (ammonia). They can be inhaled, ingested during swimming and absorbed dermally. 

They are toxic to cells and can attack cells directly or indirectly by reacting with amino acids, destroying cell membranes, altering the structure and function of proteins and lipids, disrupting the acid-base balance, and blocking metabolism.

Several studies have linked chlorination with asthma, skin rashes, eye irritation, sinus problems, fatigue and more. In fact, a study found that after just 40 minutes of swimming, people showed a notable rise in markers of DNA damage that can lead to cancer. 

However, we need more toxicological studies in the area of swimming exposure and health to get a better idea on the stress reactions that occur in our bodies. 

Steps to reduce the damage

The chlorine by-products that are formed are mostly oxidants that cause a natural chemical reaction that damages cells in the body. It can affect our skin, lungs, gut barrier and sinuses as they are made up of epithelial cells and even a small amount of toxins can potentially disrupt the barrier of these cells. For this reason, most studies have connected DPBs to lung issues and asthma.

Let’s look at some ways in which we can mitigate this damage from the inside out!

  1. Aim to optimise nutrients such as vitamin D, Zinc, and omega 3-fats that are important for lung barrier function against the assault of these oxidants. One can also add glycine to the list as it forms a lot of the connective tissue in the lungs. 
  2. Several antioxidant rich foods and supplements can also be included such as vitamin A, vitamin C, resveratrol, melatonin, and NAC that can reverse chlorine mediated damages.
  3. Vitamin C has proven the most effective to neutralise the damage caused by chlorine. You can increase your intake through vitamin C supplements and also apply it topically by mixing it to your sunscreen or lotion to act as a barrier. Here’s a good do-it-yourself lotion formula with vitamin C that can help you reduce the damage from a swim. In fact, vitamin C or ascorbic acid is also the main ingredient in commercial chlorine removers. 
  4. Optimal iodine levels in the body can prevent chlorine and bromine from settling in the thyroid and leading to health issues. Once can get their iodine levels checked and accordingly include more fish, eggs and sea vegetables to increase their iodine intake.
  5. Taurine is an amino acid that supports immune health and nervous system function. It can play a key role in reducing stress reactions induced by DPBs. It has antioxidant properties but has also been specially shown to be a scavenger of hypochlorous acid (HOCl) that is the active form of chlorine in water. Take 1 capsule of high-quality taurine in the morning before swimming. It remains in your system for 48 hours and may help to bind and detoxify chlorine. 
  6. Post your swim you can use certain essential oils like grapeseed oil infused with detoxing and protective properties. Some other oils include frankincense, myrrh, helichrysum, rosemary, arborvitae, and peppermint. 

Practices that you need to follow

1. Take a shower before and after

If you’ve gone swimming even occasionally, you must have seen the sign indicating you need to shower before jumping in the pool. The logic behind that is to reduce the formation of DBPs.

This won’t eliminate all the DBPs but taking a shower can help rinse off leftover sweat and urea compounds on the skin. This way, you would be rinsing off things that would otherwise be rinsed off when you hop in the pool. 

2. Wash Your Hair

Chlorine can cause severe hair breakage after long-term exposure. Do not forget to wash your hair after swimming and using a good-quality organic shampoo. 

3. Cover your body

Another way to protect your body from chlorine is by covering up as much skin and hair as you can. Make sure to wear a swimming cap, goggles and clothes that cover as much skin as possible. Covered skin will hinder the direct absorption of chemicals. 

We live in a world where most of the activities we engage in expose us to toxins, this includes the food we eat and the air we breathe. But there’s no need to become a hermit and not indulge in your favourite activities like swimming. Functional nutrition takes into account your lifestyle and aims to introduce holistic healthcare practices to control and reduce the damage. So, this summer, have fun swimming while not forgetting to protect yourself from the pool water!


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Priyanka Gulati

Priyanka is a journalism graduate with a passion for truth-seeking. She is a conspiracy realist and developed an interest in nutrition science after waking up to the war on health. She is also an activist and has worked in the social sector and rural journalism. In her free time, you will find her getting into rabbit holes and drowning in books to understand the matrix!

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