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Why Do Swimmers Get Green Hair?

Have you ever wondered why frequent swimmers, especially those with blonde hair, occasionally develop green highlights?

Growing up, I always thought that it was caused by chlorine used in swimming pools, or worse yet, by algae in the water that had somehow started to grow in my hair - yuck! But actually, it is caused by the stuff they put in swimming pools to prevent the growth of algae! Copper algicides can bind to hair, especially hair that has already been damaged by overexposure to UV rays and chlorine. And just like on an old penny or the Statue of Liberty, when that copper is exposed to oxygen from either water or air, it turns green!

So what can you do to prevent the development of green locks? The easiest fix is to wear a swimming cap, but unless you are a competitive swimmer who is worried more about split times than fashion, that’s probably not going to happen! Applying a light conditioner or simply saturating your hair with tap water prior to diving into the pool can help protect the hair, leaving fewer chinks in the armor of the hair’s protective outer layer (the cuticle). This means there are fewer areas where copper can actually attach to the hair shaft and less potential for hair to turn green. Rinsing with tap water immediately after swimming and shampooing as soon as possible will also help to rinse the copper, chlorine and other chemicals away before they have a chance to bind to and damage your hair. Finally, limiting heat and chemical treatments which can also dry and damage your hair is a good idea during the summer or when swimming frequently.

How about if your hair has already started to look a little (or a lot) green? There are special copper chelating swimmers’ shampoos. They bind to the copper, allowing you to wash it away. The downside is that they can leave your hair looking a little dull, so they should only be used until your hair gets back to its normal color. Alternating with a clarifying shampoo can help to limit the build-up that swimmer’s shampoos can sometimes cause. And if your hair has started feeling dry, brittle or frizzy, a deep conditioning treatment can help restore its luster.

So all you swimmers out there, if you start noticing a little green in your hair and it’s not St. Patty’s Day, use these tips and your hair will start to look and feel fabulous again before you know it!


Stay Healthy,

carole aponte, md

Founder & Chief Medical Officer


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