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If Your Skin Is Red and Itchy After Swimming, It Could Be Chlorine Rash: Here’s How to Treat It

Plus, a dermatologist reveals what to apply before hopping in the pool to ward off future flare-ups


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Even if you’re not an avid swimmer, a quick dip in the pool is so refreshing on a hot summer day. The hitch: The chlorine used to kill bacteria, viruses and other harmful microorganisms in pool water may irritate skin. Prolonged contact with the chemical or elevated chlorine levels can trigger what’s known as a chlorine rash. But that doesn’t have to spoil your summer fun! We asked doctors to explain how to prevent irritation, plus how to treat a chlorine rash at home with three easy remedies.

What is chlorine rash? 

Chlorine rash is also known as irritant contact dermatitis, explains Hannah Kopelman, DO, a dermatologist at Kopelman Aesthetic Surgery. The chemical can strip away the skin’s natural oils, leading to dryness and irritation, she notes. Chlorine can also cause an allergic reaction where the immune system overreacts to the chemical, resulting in inflammation and redness.

“When chlorine reacts with contaminants like dirt, sweat and urine in the water, it forms irritating chemicals called chloramines,” adds Farhan Malik, MD. “These chloramines can bind to skin proteins and cause an itchy red rash.”

Our experts say chlorine rash is usually most prominent in areas of the body that are most submerged in chlorinated water. That includes your legs, feet, torso and face (if you’re swimming underwater). Symptoms usually begin within a few hours after swimming and can include red bumps, hives, a burning sensation, blisters, swelling and flaky, peeling skin. 

Related: Bothered by Red, Itchy Skin on Hot Days? Doctors Share How To Get Rid of a Heat Rash Quickly

How to prevent chlorine rash 

To help block a chlorine rash before it even starts, Dr. Malik recommends showering before swimming to remove anything on your skin that could react with chlorine. He also suggests rinsing your body and bathing suit quickly afterward to eliminate residue. Sensitive skin? Apply a barrier cream like petroleum jelly before swimming as an added layer of protection, Dr. Malik adds.

4 home remedies for chlorine rash 

Already dealing with red, itchy skin? You’ll want to avoid further chlorine exposure and scratching the rash while it heals. In the meantime, these soothing fixes can help ease your most bothersome symptoms.

1. Use a mild soap and thick moisturizer

Woman putting moisturizer on her shoulder to avoid chlorine rash

First, rinse your skin with fresh water immediately after swimming to remove any residual chlorine. Then wash your skin with a gentle cleanser, being careful to pat dry instead of rubbing vigorously. Finish by applying a thick moisturizer to restore the skin’s natural barrier and ease dryness. Note: When treating chlorine rash, be sure to use products that are fragrance-free and hypoallergenic, our experts say. 

2. Relax in an oatmeal soak

Soaking in an oatmeal bath can soothe irritated skin, Dr. Kopelman says. She suggests bathing for about 15-20 minutes once a day until the symptoms of chlorine rash subside. “An over-the-counter product like Aveeno Soothing Bath Treatment is convenient and effective, but a DIY oat bath can work just as well,” she notes. “To make your own, simply grind plain, uncooked oats into a fine powder [using a blender or food processor] and add it to your bathwater. Both options can help soothe irritated skin.”

3. Reach for these OTCs

Stubborn chlorine rash? Consider an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream. Dr. Kopelman recommends using a product like Cortizone-10 and applying it topically to the affected area up to three times a day to reduce inflammation and itching.

Antihistamines are another drugstore option for easing symptoms. Dr. Kopelman suggests oral options like Benadryl (diphenhydramine) or Claritin (loratadine), depending on your preference and tolerance for potential drowsiness. “Benadryl can be taken every 4-6 hours, while Claritin is usually taken once daily,” she explains. “Always follow the dosing instructions on the package and consult with a healthcare provider if you have any concerns.”

4. Apply a cold compress

A close-up of a woman applying an ice pack to her arm to help treat a chlorine rash

A cold compress can also be very helpful in reducing the itching and inflammation associated with chlorine rash, Dr. Kopelman says. You can apply one for 10-15 minutes at a time, several times a day. It’s best to use the cold compress before applying any topical creams to avoid washing away the medication, she notes. And if you need to reapply the cold compress after using a topical cream, wait at least 30 minutes to allow the cream to fully absorb.

See also: These Are the Best Home Remedies for Poison Ivy + One OTC That May Worsen Irritation for Some

Is chlorine rash a medical emergency?

Our experts agree: chlorine rash can be uncomfortable and irritating, but it’s largely not life-threatening as long as it’s treated promptly and properly. That said, you don’t want to jump right back into the pool as further exposure can worsen the reaction. 

“The rash can spread across the body, fluid-filled blisters may develop and swelling around the eyes or mouth could occur,” says Dr. Malik. “Scratching can also lead to open sores, increasing the risk of infection. It’s important not to ignore symptoms, as they can progress rapidly. Seeking medical care quickly can mitigate damage.” 

Dr. Kopelman suggests visiting your doctor if you experience any of the following:

  • Severe redness, swelling, or blisters
  • The rash does not improve with home treatment in a few days
  • You notice signs of infection such as increased pain, warmth, redness, swelling or pus
  • You suspect a severe allergic reaction including difficulty breathing or widespread hives

Your doctor will decide the best course of action, which will usually include a prescription-strength corticosteroid cream.

More ways to avoid summer skin bothers:

A Top Sunburn Self-Care Remedy May Already Be in Your Fridge — Plus See What Doctors Say To Skip

Is Your Mosquito Bite Infected? How To Tell if It’s Cellulitis + Ways To Speed Healing

How to Spot Skin Cancer on the Scalp (Hint: Your Hair Stylist Can Help) + 4 Ways To Cut Your Risk

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.

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