Your skin's guide to surviving swimming

We’ve got you covered for salt AND chlorine

Editor / November 14 2022

Jetting to the beach or hanging in the pool this summer? Of course you are! It wouldn't be summer without an array of aquatic adventures thrown in. But while a dip is a delight for your senses (nothing beats plunging into the icy water on a scorching day), swimming can be tough on your skin.

And even beyond that, the type of water you’re in can even affect skin differently. Yep, salt and chlorine can have contrasting effects, so while the general protective steps are similar, it's important to understand the differences so that you can be as prepared and protected as possible.

Ready to dive in? Sorry, we had to. Here's our guide to helping your skin survive swimming season...

How chlorine and saltwater affect the skin

Ever come out of a swimming pool (a chlorine one to be specific), to find your skin feeling dry and uncomfortable? That checks out – chlorine robs the skin of its natural oils, draining and damaging the fatty acids (among other elements) your skin needs to thrive. Rude, right?!

Let’s not forget that chlorine is a chemical added to pools to kill bacteria – now, listen, it’s combined with other chemicals to make it safe for skin, but it’s still not great for it. Basically, there aren't any benefits to chlorine, so you're going to want to get it off your skin as soon as possible post-swim. More on how in a minute...

On the flipside, saltwater is a bit kinder to the complexion than chlorine. It's actually rich in similar vitamins and minerals to our bodies, so its healing properties are pretty impressive. It does have some general drying effects (so we definitely recommend a rinse in general, especially if your skin is dehydrated or sensitive), but this drying nature can be quite helpful in the breakout department.

Sea salt is quite the acne-fighting substance, too, cleansing the cells and killing bacteria while also promoting healthy pH levels. So if you prefer natural methods over chemicals or harsh topicals, your beach (or saltwater pool) dips could actually be doubling as treatments. Win!

If you're not dealing with active acne, however, you're not going to want to let that water sit on or sink into your skin for too long. But there's more to keeping your skin protected from the pool and ocean than just a quick shower afterwards. Now onto the ritual we recommend...

Step 1: Shower prior to swimming

Okay, we know you’re about to get into the water and so a pre-swim shower seems a little unnecessary. But on top of meaning you’re clean getting into said communal body of water (always a good call, as we’re hoping our fellow swimmers would do the same for us), it’s actually important for keeping chlorine and saltwater from wreaking havoc on your skin.

Basically, dry skin absorbs quicker than damp skin, so by jumping in the shower just before your swim (and ideally getting into the pool/ocean while skin’s still got a bit of moisture going on), you’ll be setting your skin up for success.

Step 2: Create a barrier

Prepping skin with an oil or lotion (in addition to your plentiful application of SPF, of course) helps provide a ‘barrier’ between your precious face and the water. Basically, it’s just another barrier the chlorine or saltwater has to get through before it can access your skin, so make it a must and make it generous. A product we love for this task? CeraVe Moisturising Lotion ($15.99 at Chemist Warehouse).

CeraVe Moisturising Lotion

Step 3: Spritz with vitamin C (chlorine only)

Fun fact: vitamin C neutralises chlorine! So while this trick is obviously only a must if you’re swimming in a chlorinated pool, it’s a winning one to know. Keep a vit-C spray like the Trilogy Vitamin C Energising Mist Toner ($30.20 at Trilogy) on hand to spritz onto skin once you're out.

Ideally, it’d be followed by a thorough shower (that’s up next), but in a pinch, if you know you’re staying poolside for a little longer than your skin would like, it’ll help to stop the drying effects in their tracks until you can get to the tub.

Trilogy Vitamin C Energising Mist Toner

Step 4: Shower (again)

Yes, again! Of course, the post-swim shower comes a lot more naturally; it’s an essential step. You’ll want to be sure to use hot water and plenty of cleanser/wash. Yet another reason to avoid sunburn at all costs – neither one will feel good on burnt skin. We’re shuddering just thinking about it.

Step 5: Nourish to the nines

Once you’ve lathered and rinsed as many times as you deem necessary, it’s time to top up on moisture to counteract anything you’ve lost. We advise layering an oil like The Ordinary 100% Organic Cold-Pressed Rosehip Seed Oil ($18.90 at Adore Beauty) under a generous coating of a moisturiser such as Tatcha The Dewy Skin Cream ($104 at MECCA).

Don't forget your body; the summer scents are calling in that arena. We (along with everyone else on the planet including Hailey Bieber) rate the Sol de Janeiro Brazilian Bum Bum Cream ($72 at MECCA).

The Ordinary 100% Organic Cold-Pressed Rosehip Seed Oil

Tatcha The Dewy Skin Cream

Sol de Janeiro Brazilian Bum Bum Cream

Main image credit: @laisribeiro

Want more summer skin care recommendations? Here are the body oils we love...

Delaney began her career in the Australian beauty media industry in 2015, landing amidst the glossy world of women’s lifestyle magazines (or more literally, in their beauty cupboards). Since then, she has gone on to write across a multitude of beloved Australian media brands, including OK!, NW, InStyle, and Harper’s BAZAAR. She’s covered every side of beauty content, from directing beauty editorial shoots to rounding up the best glossy serums for golden hour skin. Having spent nearly a decade immersed in the beauty realm, Delaney’s knowledge of beauty is as extensive as her collection of tinted lip oils (read: extremely extensive). Delaney is currently the Digital Managing Editor of BEAUTYcrew, and her beauty wisdom also appears across beautyheaven, ELLE and Marie Claire. She enjoys channelling her personal hobby (testing beauty products) into her professional work (talking about testing beauty products), and considers perfecting the art of a cat eye in a moving car her life’s greatest accomplishment.

Related tags