Swimming with Eczema
Managing Flare-Ups During Summer Fun
Hesitation to swim, submerge parts of your skin in natural springs, do a sweaty workout, or risk a splash at the beach is a normal, defensive reaction if you have eczema. Previous experience may have taught you that swimming pools, ‘wild’ water sources like lakes and oceans, or wet roller coaster rides could lead to serious discomfort. What can you do if you want to enjoy hot weather without anxiety? Today, we want to share a few different scenarios so that you can make the best decision.
Did you Know Swimming Pools Have More Than Chlorine?
Swimming pool sanitation is maintained with added chlorine (CI), a chemical element that kills harmful bacteria. Cold pools and hot whirlpools in recreational centres and hotels can all be sources of chlorine. In some cities, the water that comes out of your pipes is pre-treated with chlorine, in order to make it safe to drink without boiling or filtering! Contrary to common belief, a properly chlorinated body of water does not have a smell.
So what accounts for that typical ‘pool smell’? According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), chlorine combines with sweat that washes off human bodies, traces of excrement or urine (yuck), cosmetics, and other substances to create chloramines, chemical irritants composed of chlorine and nitrogen. If you’ve ever swum in a public pool and emerged with particularly red eyes, a runny nose, and sharp nasal irritation, you were likely exposed to chloramines. Chloramines in the water can turn into gas in the surrounding air, and this is pervasive in indoor pools which are less ventilated than outdoor ones. The source of the infamous pool smell, thus, isn’t actually the chlorine. It’s the chloramines, which are irritating.
If you are managing eczema symptoms, take note. Research studies show that swimming pools have a positive effect on some eczema-prone skin types, offering relief similar to a bleach bath treatment. However, some studies were done in controlled trials in order to just measure the amount of chlorine that the skin was exposed to. In real life, it’s hard to know what the condition of the water is—especially in a public pool.
Going for a swim in a pool in a luxury resort with few people? You might find yourself happily swimming with no problems. Heading to the public pool in your city filled with children, babies, and everyone within a half-hour drive? Maybe dip a small area of skin into the water to do a patch test first, or go for a less occupied pool.
Does your skin feel dry after you’ve been in a pool? A properly chlorinated pool has a pH level between 7.2 and 7.8. In contrast, the skin’s pH is between 4.1 and 5.8. Pools are more alkaline than our skin. Being more alkaline, they prevent the growth of undesirable bacteria. But on the skin, this can lead to irritation, when it dries out the skin, leaving it more sensitive.
Wild Water Sources: Lakes, Oceans, Hot Springs, and More
In nature, the composition of every water body is different. Freshwater or saltwater? Lake or river? As a starting point, consider the cleanliness of the water. Lakes, deltas, and coastlines can be teeming with algae, fungi, and seaweed. Natural ecosystems are alive and ever-changing. Before jumping headlong into a water source during a camping trip, do your research. Check governmental bulletins on the condition of the water in the area. Visibly check the water for signs of floating aquatic life. While swimming, getting tangled in a batch of scratchy seaweed can trigger irritation.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that natural hot springs can benefit the skin, but the best thing to do is to test your personal tolerance. Try a short, limited exposure and monitor the effects. Over time, you will learn more about your body.
Surrounding factors for a swim
Remember—there is more to the journey of planning for a swim than just the water. Sunshine (UV rays), sunscreen, sand from beaches, surrounding humidity, and other environmental factors can come into play. When going swimming in chlorinated pools, always shower and rinse off cosmetics, body moisturizer and other residual elements before entering, to keep the pool hygienic for others. If out for an excursion, apply sunscreen to protect your skin from harsh UV rays.
The process before and after a swim is also crucial. When drying off, use a clean, soft towel with gentle, non-irritating fibres. Gently pat water off. If possible, shower as soon as possible with clean, lukewarm (not hot) water, and moisturize your skin as you normally would, to maintain its health.
Check Out Healthy & Safe Swimming! | Healthy Swimming | Healthy Water. (n.d.). CDC. Retrieved August 3, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/swimming/materials/infographic-inspection.html
Red Eyes and Swimming | Healthy Swimming | Healthy Water. (n.d.). CDC. Retrieved August 3, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/swimming/swimmers/rwi/chemical-irritants.html
Swimming and Eczema. (n.d.). National Eczema Society. Retrieved August 3, 2022, from https://eczema.org/information-and-advice/triggers-for-eczema/swimming-and-eczema/