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What to Do About Green Hair

Copper Oxidized by Chlorine Equals Swimmers’ Signature Color


Dear Ask a Stylist, I’m on the swim team at school, and every year, the chlorine lightens my hair and then turns it green. How do I stop this from happening? –T.S., Palmdale, CA

Dear T.S.,

Ah, summertime: sunshine, lemonade, outdoor barbeques, swimming pools, green hair—green hair? Unless you are the Grinch or Oscar the Grouch, green is not particularly flattering on one’s head. Unfortunately, many water lovers deal with this same issue every spring and summer.

Crescent LoMonaco

Most people think that it is the chlorine in the pool water that turns their hair green. It actually is not. Instead, hard minerals build up on your hair over time. And some minerals, such as copper, turn green when they oxidize. The chlorine in the pool water is what oxidizes the minerals, making your hair appear green. This process can happen in any light colored hair, blonde, gray, or white. The process also happens in other colors of hair, but it is usually only noticeable in the lighter colors.

The build-up of chlorine will cause all hair, over time, to feel gummy when wet and straw like when dry. Your stylist can tell, when cutting your hair, if it has chlorine build-up, as the hair actually reacts differently than other hair when she cuts it.

There are ways to combat the oxidation process. The most obvious it to wear a swim cap. If you are on the swim team, I assume that you wear one during meets, but as you have discovered, the hair can turn green anyway. In today’s world, almost no one wears a swim cap unfailingly for practice and recreational swimming. The next best thing is to fully soak your hair first with tap water and, if possible, run conditioner through it. Hair is like a sponge. The fuller the sponge is, the harder it is for it to soak up anything else. So if the hair is already full of tap water and conditioner, it can’t soak up as much pool water as it would have if you jumped in with dry hair.

If you try that and your hair turns green anyway, don’t fret. There are ways to get rid of it. Ask your stylist for a “chelating” shampoo. You’ll need one that rids your hair of both mineral build-up and chlorine. Your stylist may recommend two different shampoos, one for minerals, and one for chlorine. That will work fine too. Follow your stylist’s instructions as to how much to use and how long to use it. Remember, these shampoos are stripping, so you typically only want to use them to get rid of the minerals and chlorine, and then switch back to a gentler shampoo.

If your head still resembles a creature from the black lagoon, you may have extreme mineral build up. Once it gets this bad, it may need to be removed using an in-salon mineral stripper treatment. Your stylist will shampoo your hair with a professional strength chelating shampoo, apply a mineral remover treatment to your hair, process it under a dryer, rinse, and deep condition.

Happy swimming!

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