Why Does the Pool Turn Blonde Hair Green?

Does Chlorine Turn Hair Green?

Chemicals in pool water can affect your hair, eyes, and skin. But, it's not the chlorine that turns your hair green.
Chemicals in pool water can affect your hair, eyes, and skin. But, it's not the chlorine that turns your hair green. Thierry Dosogne, Getty Images

Question: Why does a swimming pool turn blonde hair green? Is it the chlorine?

Answer: It isn't the chlorine that turns blonde hair green. Oxidized metals in the water bind to the protein in the hair shaft and deposit their color. The metal that produces the green tint is copper, which is most commonly found in algicides, though it naturally occurs in some water. The bleach that is added to a pool may be responsible for oxidizing the metal, but it's not the cause of the color.

Aside from copper, other metals may be present in water that can color your hair, including manganese and iron. You could just rock the green color -- the Statue of Liberty has green hair for the same reason are wears it well -- but if the color isn't your thing, you can prevent it or reverse it.

How To Prevent Your Hair from Turning Green

Fortunately, there are simple ways to prevent hair discoloration.

  • Yes, you could wear a swim cap, but there are other options. If you do go with a swim cap, you should wet your hair with regular water first. As a general rule, swim caps aren't water-tight. They are a good option to reduce exposure to chemicals in water and probably your best choice if you have color-treated hair.
  • Wet your hair before you get into the pool or spa. If your hair is already wet when you hit the pool, it's much less susceptible to chemicals in the water.
  • Put leave-in conditioner on your hair. The conditioner seals the hair cuticle so copper doesn't have access to the strands to bind to them.
  • Rinse or shampoo your hair when you leave the pool. Be sure to condition your hair, because pool treatments or sea water are very drying. If you keep your hair healthy, it's much harder for metal ions to bind to it. Damage to your hair lifts keratin on the cuticle, basically asking for trouble.

How To Remove Green Color from Your Hair

What's that you say?

You're already sporting green locks? There are effective ways to release the copper and return to normal.

  • If your hair turns green, you can remove the discoloration by using a shampoo that chelates the metal. Any clarifying shampoo will help, but there are several effective products specifically formulated for swimmers that bind to copper and other metals and lift them from the hair. In addition to shampoo, you can get conditioner and also glucose crystals, which remove severe discoloration safely. I have used the Malibu Swimmers set from Amazon successfully.
  • You can turn to household chemicals for a quick fix. While they might not smell as pretty as professional products, you've already got them in your kitchen! What you need is a mildly acidic ingredient, which releases the copper. Good choices are lemon juice, orange juice, or vinegar in water. Either apply one of these ingredients to wet hair or else mix them with water and pour them through your hair. Then, rinse, shampoo, and condition your hair.
  • Another option is to apply ketchup or tomato juice. Both ketchup and tomato juice are acidic, plus the natural red pigment (lycopene) help to counteract the green tint. To use ketchup, mix equal parts with conditioner, apply the mixture to your hair, and let it sit for 5-10 minutes. Rinse thoroughly. Unless you want to smell like you just left a fast food restaurant, shampoo and condition your hair.

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