For access to all of our training, gear, and race coverage, plus exclusive training plans, FinisherPix photos, event discounts, and GPS apps, sign up for Outside+.
As triathletes, we generally swim a lot. Maybe not quite as much as those little club swimming minnows who you can find bundling up post-swim as you get ready for your 5 a.m. masters. (Have they been swimming since 3:30 a.m.??) But we still swim a lot. And when you swim a lot, those chemicals that keep the algae from blooming and stop the little nasties from making you sick in the pool can wreak havoc on your body and clothing. We recently looked at the best swimsuits for triathletes to resist chlorine and other textile killers. But that same water can cause dry, itchy skin, eczema flare-ups, and—worst of all—the dreaded hay hair. Pool chemicals are great for preventing the spread of bacteria, but they’re terrible for pretty much everything else, and so triathletes should seriously consider getting the best soap and shampoo for swimmers.
Before we get into a few picks for the soap and shampoo that’s best for swimmers, let’s dive into the why behind shelling over a few extra bucks for something that’s branded to look more like a nutrition bar than something you’d get at a fancy hair salon.
Why Does My Hair Get Messed Up?
Simply put, the chemicals in most pools strip off the natural oils around each of your hair follicles. Those oils protect your hair. The result is hair gets dry, damaged, discolored, and generally looks insane. While there are pools, like salt-water pools, that aren’t as bad, if you don’t wear a cap, you’re basically asking for a head of crispy hair if you swim more than once per week. That green tint you can get in lighter-colored hair when you swim a lot? That’s actually copper being oxidized by the chlorine, not the chlorine itself. Without getting soap and shampoo for swimmers, there are a few DIY solutions:
- Wet your hair with fresh water before putting on a cap, as this will prevent your hair from quickly absorbing the chemicals in the pool.
- Put leave-in conditioner or oils like coconut oil in your hair (after wetting) before putting on your cap.
- Be sure to wash, or at least rinse, your hair immediately after swimming with fresh water, and hit it with one of the products we mention below, as well as a good conditioner.
Why Does My Skin Itch?
Basically the same thing is happening with your skin. The chlorine (or bromine) in the pool is stripping away your skin’s natural oils, leaving nothing behind. The result is dry, then itchy skin that can even cause eczema flare-ups for those susceptible. While there are no good DIY solutions for preventing skin drying (no, please don’t lather yourself in Vaseline or don something that looks like a full-body prophylactic), simply rinsing, soaping off with one of the products below (or any decent body wash that focuses on “rehydrating” your skin), and using a light moisturizer (don’t overdo it) will do wonders. While a wetsuit might help a little bit, don’t expect it to act as a swim cap for your skin.
What Do Swimmer Shampoos and Soaps Do?
There are some things these shampoos and soaps can do, and there are some things they can’t. While some shampoos are specifically formulated to strip off chlorine and other chemical buildup in your hair, it’s important that you still use a conditioner as well. Getting rid of the chlorine is key, but it’s likely that some damage has already been done. For your skin, swim-specific soaps are probably less essential, but they generally have moisturization in mind, so they’re a safer bet than some random soap. None of these swimmer soaps will make you more clean, but they may help mitigate damage and prevent itchiness later on.
Now that you know a little bit more about what’s happening on your head and skin, let’s take a look at a few of the best shampoos and soaps for swimmers:
Best (Boutique-level) Shampoo For Swimmers
SBR Triswim Shampoo
8.5 oz., $14
Long considered a favorite amongst swimmers, the Triswim brand is one of the thicker, more aggressive shampoos when it comes to stripping off chemicals found in your hair from swimming. While this is great news, their shampoo truly requires a good conditioner—Triswim makes a fine one—to ensure hair doesn’t take on damage and become too dry.
Best Value Shampoo For Swimmers
Ultra Swim Chlorine Removal Shampoo
7 oz., $4
The good news on this chemical-removing shampoo is that people with long hair won’t go bankrupt trying to prevent chlorine buildup. While not as “high-end” feeling as some of the other options, this thinner-consistency shampoo has a very low-key scent that won’t overpower you.
Best Combination Shampoo/Soap For Swimmers
California Baby Shampoo & Bodywash
8.5 oz., $12
Too much stuff in your swim bag already? This combination shampoo and soap has more of a natural lean to it than the other brands in this category with organic and vegan ingredients that clean, while essential oils do the job of moisturizing. Because of its chemical composition, expect a little less of the chlorine stripping that you’d find in other brands, but the fact that you can use it on skin and hair is a big plus.
Best Combination Shampoo/Conditioner
Swimmer Solutions One Step Shampoo and Conditioner
8 oz., $8
Though most of the shampoos we’ve mentioned should definitely be paired with a conditioner of some kind, this option from Swimmer Solutions (a swimmer-specific brand, by the way) combines both in one bottle. While you might not get the full level of moisturization as you would with a leave-in conditioner, the One Step shampoo and conditioner will still specifically help reduce or eliminate those who are plagued by the dreaded curse of green hair.
Best Moisturizing Soap For Swimmers
TYR Purifying Body Wash
8.5 oz., $15
Using a special formula that helps strip away chlorine from your skin, TYR’s body wash simultaneously help moisturize with aloe vera. That said, it’s still best to supplement this body wash with a moisturizer of some kind, but for those with particularly dry skin, this is a good extra layer of protection post-swim.
Best All-Natural Soap For Swimmers
Newton Bay Swimmer’s Soap
This is a particularly good option for those who like their soap in bar form. Aside from the organic ingredients and small-batch production (made in the U.S., by the way), Newton Bay’s soap is also cruelty/animal-testing free. Here, the ingredients—like olive oil, coconut oil, and shea butter to name a few—are all easily pronounced and do a great job of rejuvenating skin post-swim.