Skincare and the Triathlete

Chlorine. Sunshine. Wind. Rain. Dirt. Sweat. All of these things stress our skin and we need to take care of it just like we take care of our bodies by training, fueling it with good foods, and resting to recover.  Here are a few things to keep in mind as you start to spend more time training this spring and summer.

Chlorine’s Impact on Hair and Skin

  • Chlorine is one of the most popularly made chemicals in the United States
  • We come into contact with chlorine in our daily shower and in our drinking water
  • Swimming pools and hot tubs have high quantities of chlorine to rid the water of bacteria
  • Flaky, dry skin is a potential side effect of chlorine contact
  • Itching and rashes can occur in those sensitive to chlorine
  • If you swim frequently, chlorine will begin to strip the oil that is made by our scalps
  • Chlorine can also increase porosity and significantly dehydrate/dry your hair
  • Chlorine itself will not turn your hair green- the greenish hue you may see in really damaged hair is deposited oxidized metals like copper that are in the water which bind to the hair (which unfortunately is more porous due to the chlorine)

How to Manage Chlorine’s Impact on Hair and Skin

  • Before hopping in the pool you can apply an anti-chlorine lotion that helps block the chlorine’s effect on your skin (if you are super cheap you can always try Vaseline). Google anti-chlorine lotion and many options will pop up.
  • Immediately shower after getting out of the pool to clean off both your skin and rinse your hair
  • Once you are showered pat dry your skin (don’t rub!) and apply a moisturizer.  My favorite is using a thick cream like Nivea Crème. If you are having a lot of itching you can also use an Aveeno oatmeal bath.
  • For prevention of hair damage rinse your hair before you put on your swim cap.  Hair is porous so if it is wet before you get into the pool you will lessen the amount of chlorine that will be absorbed.
  • Once you hair is wet but before you put that swim cap on, put a light layer of conditioner on your hair especially if your hair is color treated or has been chemically treated otherwise (perms, straighteners, etc)
  • Now, this will vary for many athletes but use a sulfate free shampoo after your swim to rinse rinse rinse your hair out. I have curly hair which means it is normally dry anyways so I skip shampooing and use conditioner twice – once to scrub my scalp to make sure it is clean, and then a second time to condition my hair. There are shampoos and conditioners that are made exclusively for treating chlorine damaged hair. Malibu is an example.

Wind and Sun Damage

  • UVA (long wave) and UVB (short wave) rays are hitting us every second we are outside – and triathlete are outside a lot!
  • UVA rays can penetrate glass and clouds – they are responsible for premature aging and wrinkles (YIKES), and even worse cause skin cancer (double yikes)
  • UVB rays are responsible for reddening/burning, causes the most damage to the outer layer of our skin. UVB rays do not significantly penetrate glass.
  • In order to prevent sun damage it is vital to wear a sunscreen. In my opinion a sunscreen that is a physical barrier between you and the rays is the healthiest (in the sense you’re not slathering chemicals on your skin and absorbing them). Zinc Oxide is the best bet there.
  • Reapply sunscreen frequently especially during long bike rides – as we sweat the sunscreen can rub off.
  • Cover your skin as best you can on your long rides and runs – Bald men should be aware of the top of their head even under their helmets.
  • To prevent wind damage you can apply a thin layer of Vaseline to protect the skin.

To Prevent Breakouts and Maintain Skin Health

  • Rinse your face every few hours when outside – remember to reapply sunscreen afterwards
  • Immediately following a ride, rinse your face and wash with a mild cleanser
  • Exfoliate your skin 2 times per week preferably on a day when you are not going to spend 5 hours on the bike :)
  • Apply a moisturizer every day in the morning (and sunscreen) and at night
  • Use rubbing alcohol to disinfect the pads on your helmet where they touch your forehead/skin. If you don’t that’s a lot of nastiness waiting to clog your pores…yuck!
  • When it comes to skin health in the undercarriage (yes I said undercarriage) make sure that you get out of your training shorts/pants ASAP after a workout. Shower as quickly as possible and keep things clean. Saddle sores are a pain in the butt literally so keep things as clean and dry as possible! You can use a product like Monkey Butt or Baby Powder to help keep things dry post workout too!

Remember that your skin is the largest organ of your body so take care of it! Also remember to visit your dermatologist once a year for a skin cancer screening!!!

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