Chlorine, salt water – and water in general – can make your face and body feel drier as well as mess with your skin barrier. Here’s what to do

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Swimming  - it’s the full fitness package. And more and more of us are taking the plunge than ever. In fact, according to a recent study conducted by sports retailer Decathlon , it’s the most popular form of exercise, beating out the gym to the top spot.

If only it could be as good for our skin as it is for our health though. Our pools are riddled with irritants, which can leave skin dry, tight and raw if the appropriate skincare tweaks aren’t made. Derms highlight chlorine as the main complexion-wrecking culprit due to its propensity to strip skin of its natural oils and lipids, and the way it fiddles with its naturally acidic pH. “Pools tend to have a pH of about nine of 10,” Harley Medical Group  consultant dermatologist Dr Justine Hextall  tells me. “Once you change the pH of the skin, you start to disrupt the skin barrier  and the skin can start to lose water and become dry and irritated. You can even start to develop almost a facial eczema  if the barrier isn’t smoothed and corrected.”

The consequences can be even worse for those who have sensitive skin , dermatologist Dr Emma Wedgeworth  says, with other irritants such as algaecides or filter aid chemicals capable of causing even more havoc. Salt water pools tend to be kinder to skin as a result, but are still more foe than friend to swimmers’ skin.

Thankfully though, there are some small but effective skincare swaps and swimming etiquette switch-ups that can make a world of difference both in and out of the pool. Here’s your 6-point action plan.

1. Slather up before getting in

To create an extra barrier between your skin and the pool/sea water, apply moisturiser all over and an emollient on areas prone to irritation. “Even just some Vaseline around the eyes where you put your goggles on is sufficient,” says Dr Hextall.

2. Shower as soon as you get out

The longer that you leave pool water on your skin, the more time it’ll have to have its way with it. When it comes to choosing a face cleanser, keep things simple. “I generally advise very gentle, non-foaming cleansers that effectively remove makeup, dead skin cells and excess oil,” says Dr Wedgeworth. Anything more could further strip the skin.


Dr Sam’s Flawless Cleanser, £16 for 200ml 

This fragrance-free cleanser suits everyone. Gentle but effective, it leaves skin nice and clean while respecting its barrier at the same time.

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Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser, £8.99 for 236ml

This no-fuss cleanser comes with Dr Hextall’s seal of approval. It’s kind to skin and bank balance too.

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As for your body wash of choice, similar rules apply - opt for a gentle soap-free option. If your skin’s feeling particularly dry, Dr Wedgeworth recommends using a cleansing body oil in the shower instead.


Eau Thermale Avene Xeracalm AD Oil, £15.50 for 400ml

Parched skin will drink up this fragrance-free shower oil. It leaves limbs glowing.

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The Body Shop Almond Milk & Honey Soothing & Caring Shower Cream, £2 for 250ml

I can’t tell you how much I love this shower cream. It smells like a dream, its softening rather than stripping and it’s just a couple of quid! One of the best beauty bargains that I’ve come across.

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3. Moisturise straight after showering

This will further help keep skin barrier intact. The stronger it is, the less damage that pool/sea water can cause.

Layering can be an effective plan of action when it comes to your face. If your skin’s especially dry, try a serum containing hyaluronic acid  which can hold 1000 times its weight in water. “It increases the hydration of the outer layer of the skin, the stratum corneum, and reduces the appearance of fine lines too,” explains Dr Wedgeworth.


Pestle & Mortar Pure Hyaluronic Acid Serum, £36 for 30ml

It’s a team favourite. It boosts hydration levels and leaves skin springier.

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The Inkey List Hyaluronic Acid Serum, £4.99 for 30ml

This budget buy contains three different molecular weights of hyaluronic acid to reach the deeper layers of the skin.

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As for your moisturiser, its role should be to hydrate and lock moisture in. “I tend to recommend avoiding all-singing, all-dancing products that claim to be anti-ageing, sun protecting and antioxidant all in one,” says Dr Wedgeworth. “This way, you can use as much or as little moisturiser as your skin needs, while still getting the correct amount of active ingredients, like sunscreen.”

Dr Hextall also recommends a moisturiser with ceramides in it to help replace the fats swimming strips from the skin. Ceramides are lipids that are naturally found in the upper layers of the skin that act as ‘bricks’ between skin cells. They’re vital for a strong barrier and firm skin.

Glycerin is also worth looking out for in your labels, a humectant that further boosts hydration levels.


Dr Sam’s Flawless Moisturiser, £25 for 50ml

This suits-all gel-cream moisturiser contains a five per cent serving of niacinamide  to boost ceramide production, as well as hyaluronic acid, allantoin and shea butter to attract and lock in moisture.

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Indeed Labs 10 Balm, £19.99 for 30ml

I always have a tube of this on standby for soothing patches of dry skin on the corners of my nose and occasionally, underneath my eyes. As well as glycerin, it also contains arnica and bee pollen to calm down areas of crankiness.

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CeraVe Moisturising Cream, £8.50 for 177ml

This rich body cream contains three types of ceramides, in addition to hyaluronic acid to provide the perfect solution for lizard-like limbs.

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4. Don't fear exfoliation

Just stick to chemical exfoliators rather than physical ones for a less abrasive treatment, keep it to just one or two times a week and make sure to put plenty of moisture back in afterwards. For acne, the derms recommend using BHAs such as salicylic acid, and for dry skin, AHAs such as glycolic acid. If you have sensitive skin though, make sure to patch test first.

There are also other options available too. “For most skins, I often recommend just using a hot flannel twice a week to really wash the skin and to remove any dead skin cells,” says Dr Hextall.

MORE GLOSS: Exfoliating acids, explained


Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 8% AHA Lotion Exfoliant, £26 for 100ml

Those with really dry skin will reap greatest rewards from this creamy lotion that improves hydration and reduces the signs of sun damage .

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La Roche-Posay Effaclar Clarifying Lotion, £12 for 200ml

Containing LHA, a derivative of salicylic acid, this popular pick unclogs pores and leaves skin feeling fresh.

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Another word of caution - if you’re using a retinol , bear in mind that you may not need the extra exfoliation. “Retinol reduces the thickness of the outer layer of keratin, which is what you would exfoliate off,” says Dr Wedgeworth. If you do decide to incorporate some extra exfoliation though, she recommends an AHA such as Jan Marini Bioglycolic Cleanser , £28.39, or Medik8 Surface Radiance Cleanser , £14.40, which contains mandelic acid, a slightly gentler alternative to glycolic acid.

MORE GLOSS: Retinol and retinoids, an expert's guide

5. Use a vitamin C serum

Both Dr Wedgeworth and Dr Hextall also recommend incorporating a vitamin C serum  into your regime due to its protective prowess. It’s one of the most potent antioxidants out there, which can be particularly helpful if you’re a fan of open water swimming. “It defends against pollution and also stops skin pigmentation because it blocks an enzyme called tyrosines,” explains Dr Hextall. It also helps increase the efficacy of your sunscreen and so is best applied in the mornings.

MORE GLOSS: Vitamin C - the one antioxidant your skin can’t do without


Omorovicza Daily Vitamin C, £85 for 30ml

This new vitamin C serum has become a daily fixture in GTG Head of Business Development, Kully Buhal’s, beauty regime - and for just reason. Containing a stable and potent dose of vitamin C (sodium ascorbyl phosphate), as well as hyaluronic acid, zinc and niacinamide, it brightens, boosts collagen production and protects skin against environmental damage too.

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Lixir Vitamin C Paste, £32 for 50ml

Thicker textured than a serum, this hard-working option contains 10 per cent l-ascorbic acid for a protective punch.

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6. Wear sunscreen

Particularly if you’re going open air swimming and if you’re using a chemical exfoliator (as it makes skin more sensitive to the sun). Make sure it’s broad spectrum (offers both UVA and UVB protection) and that it’s water resistant, cautions Dr Wedgeworth.


La Roche-Posay Anthelios Ultra Comfort Cream SPF50+, £16.50 for 50ml

Moisturising and high protection, this pick’s particularly well suited for drier skin types.

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Murad Water Resistant Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF30 PA+++, £35 for 125ml

As well as meeting the above criteria, this sunscreen also comes with some added skincare benefits courtesy of antioxidant-rich pomegranate extract and vitamins C and E.

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Read more: 9 ways to overcome your fitness fears

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