The Case of the Chlorine and the Curl

The Case of the Chlorine and the Curl

Stacy never learned to swim. This life skill was not denied her because there were no pools in her neighborhood. She had no physical disability to prevent her from acquiring the skill. She did not have a pathological fear of water, or spend her summers in the arctic.

Stacy was not allowed to swim. Her mama did not want her to get her hair wet.

Black hair and chorine dont mix. Unfortunately, for both my daughters and I, this is a fact I learned the hard way; If my inbox is any indication, I am not alone. This summer I received a deluge of e-mails from transracial adoptive mothers in need of a solution for their childrens dry, damaged, chlorine coated hair.

Chlorine is damaging to all hair types; African hair, however, is naturally dry and surprisingly fragile making it to be especially vulnerable to the ravages of chlorine. Thankfully, there are solutions available for both the prevention, and repair of chlorine damage to African hair, none of which include prohibiting children of color from swimming. As another African American friend of mine said, "I have never wanted my daughters to feel they could not do something because of their hair."

Vickys 3 Cs For African Hair Care

Cut- A trim every 6-8 weeks.
Condition- A reconstructive conditioner.
Care- Be educated on how to care for hair at home.


"The best prevention for chlorine damage to black hair is to keep the hair from being exposed in the first place," says Vicky Seapker of InVu Hair Salon, in Franklin, Tennessee. Vicky suggests using a swim cap to keep the hair from being saturated with the chlorinated water.

If the child is unwilling to wear the cap, it is helpful to prepare the hair for the pool by first soaking it with tap water. Like a sponge, hair is only capable of containing a certain amount of water. If it is saturated with tap water, it will absorb less of the chlorinated water.

After pre-soaking the hair, applying a light layer of conditioner to the locks will provide further protection from damage.

After the Swim

Vicky says that it is imperative that the black swimmers be diligent about using an anti-chlorine, or clarifying shampoo such as Design Essentials Neutralizing Conditioning Shampoo after every swim to remove chemicals from the hair before build-up has a chance to occur.

These shampoos are very drying for African hair necessitating a second shampooing of the hair with a moisturizing shampoo.

Once the hair is clean, it should be thoroughly conditioned with a protein rich, reconstructive conditioner. This conditioner is ideally applied for 15 minutes under a hair dryer; the heat allows the moisture to more deeply penetrate the hair shaft.

In addition, regular conditioning treatments should be applied after each shampoo. There are many great rapid conditioners on the market for African hair. Ms. Seapker recommends Design Essentials Express Instant Moisturizing Conditioner. A good drugstore brand is Neutrogena Triple Moisture Daily Deep Conditioner.

Recovery for Damaged Hair

For many of us, swim weather is either over or nearing the end. Some of you may be saying, "Its too late for us! The damage is done. What now?"

Unfortunately, there is no magic solution that will instantly repair chlorine damage. There are steps that can be taken however, to speed along the process.

First of all, the after swim steps discussed above should be implemented to remove as much of the chlorine build-up as possible. After the hair has been washed, and conditioned it is time to head to the salon for a professional trim to remove damaged ends. Ms. Seapker points out that until the damaged ends are removed, it is difficult for moisture to be absorbed into the hair. She also advises a return trip to the salon every 6-8 weeks for regular trimming to keep hair healthy.

An additional benefit I have found to regular trimming is that it is much easier to comb through the hair afterward.

The final component in treating chlorine damaged hair is time. With time, regular conditioning, and trips to the salon for a trim, the hair will once again become healthy, beautiful, and manageable.


Sherri Gragg is a mother of five, and freelance writer. More African hair care tips can be found at her website and her blog Vicky Speaker is an African American hairstylist at InVu Hair Salon in Franklin, TN. For contact information, visit

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