7 Best Leave-In Conditioners for Swimmers (Anti-Chlorine and Color-Safe)
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Swimming is a fantastic way to keep fit, unwind, and cool off, especially during those sweltering summer days. However, swimmers often grapple with the undesirable side effects of chlorinated water from swimming pools and saltwater from the ocean on their hair.
Chlorinated water contains high levels of chlorine, known to cause hair dryness, brittleness, damage, discoloration, and protein degradation. Similarly, with its high salt content, seawater can strip hair of its natural oils and exacerbate dryness. The dry, brittle, and discolored hair from frequent exposure to chlorine and pool chemicals is also known as swimmer’s hair.
A comprehensive study led by the Department of Dermatology, Tokyo Kosei-Nenkin Hospital, Japan, examining the hair of elite Japanese swimmers revealed that 61% of these athletes experienced hair discoloration, resulting from constant friction with water and, more crucially, the presence of Hypochlorous Acid in swimming pool water.
Intriguingly, the research also highlighted a shift in hair composition among swimmers. The study demonstrated how chlorinated water caused hair dryness, brittleness, damage, discoloration, and protein degradation.
While elite swimming athletes might be an extreme example, recreational swimmers aren’t immune.
Hair damage from chlorine and seawater exposure makes the hunt for the perfect hair protection, like leave-in conditioners, all the more essential.
To prevent swimmer’s hair, a hair conditioner, specifically a leave-in conditioner, is essential for protecting your hair. Among the myriad of hair care products available, the leave-in conditioner stands out as a swimmer’s best ally. Unlike traditional hair conditioners that are rinsed out, a leave-in conditioner remains in the hair, providing continuous protection against the harsh effects of chlorine and salts. It forms a protective barrier, sealing moisture and ensuring the hair remains soft, vibrant, and tangle-free.
Here is a list of the best leave-in conditioners for swimmers that professional and amateur swimmers have curated based on their effectiveness, ingredients, ease of use, and hair protection abilities.
This list includes pre-swim hair conditioners, pre-swim leave-in conditioner sprays, color protection hair conditioners for swimmers, post-swim hair detanglers, leave-in chlorine protectants, and leave-in conditioners to use after swimming.
Without further ado, let’s dive in (pun intended).
Table of Contents
- 1. Malibu C Leave-In Conditioner Mist
- 2. Ion Swimmers Leave-In Conditioner
- 3. Aquaguard Pre-Swim Hair Defense
- 4. Carol’s Daughter Leave in Conditioner
- 5. Socozy Swim Leave-In Treatment and Conditioner
- 6. Triswim Swimmers Conditioner
- 7. Stream2sea Leave-In Conditioner
- Why Use a Leave-In Conditioner Before Swimming?
- How to Protect Hair Before Swimming
- How to Care for Your Hair After Swimming
- Don’t Forget the Leave-In Conditioner Next Time You Go for a Swim!
1. Malibu C Leave-In Mist
2. Ion Swimmers Leave-in Conditioner
3. AquaGuard Pre-Swim Hair Defense
1. Malibu C Leave-In Conditioner Mist
The Malibu C Leave-In Conditioner Mist offers enhanced sun and chlorine protection, two major contributors to swimmer’s hair.
We rate the Malibu C Mist as the best leave-in conditioner for swimmers due to its ability to prevent oxidative damage, tangles, color fade, and unsightly green tinge.
The Malibu Leave-In Conditioner Mist contains Vitamin C, Dimethicone, Glycerin, and Butylene Glycol Hydrate to continuously hydrate your hair and prevent moisture loss. It also contains hydrolyzed rice proteins to protect your hair from becoming dry and brittle from pool or ocean water.
“I’ve used Malibu C products for demineralizing my hair from hard water over the years. Based on my firsthand experience, I know their products’ effectiveness because of their exclusive Vitamin C antioxidants that neutralize hard water minerals.
The Malibu C leave-in mist is equally as good as their shampoos and conditioners. I use this product every time I am on holiday and will continue to buy it, especially when my hair is dyed and needs extra protection from chlorine.”
How to use it:
- Spray onto damp hair or towel-dried hair before swimming
- Comb through
- Do not rinse
- pH-balanced formula
- Orange sorbet blended with malibu fusion fragrance
- Has a slightly greasy feel
- Can weigh down your hair
2. Ion Swimmers Leave-In Conditioner
The Ion Swimmers Leave-in Conditioner is designed for regular swimmers.
Packaged in an 8 Fl Oz bottle, this conditioner is designed for chemically treated and frizzy hair. The unique formulation includes hydrolyzed rice and wheat proteins, panthenol, and other conditioning agents.
It’s easy to use: simply spray evenly on towel-dried hair before and after swimming or sun exposure, and there’s no need to rinse. Users rave about its effectiveness, saying it leaves their hair soft and manageable, reduces breakage, and even helps to control frizz.
Its scent, however, might be strong for some.
Compared to the Malibu C Leave-in Mist, which we rate as our best leave-in conditioner for pool hair, the Ion Swimmers leave-in conditioner lacks the pH-balanced formula and extra-strength UV protection its counterpart provides. As observed in our trials, both products are vegan and safe for color-treated hair. However, the Malibu C mist provides better defense against chlorine and sun damage, making it a better option. It is also better value for money when compared in bottle size.
How to use it:
- Spray evenly on clean towel-dried hair
- Do not rinse
- Apply to hair again after you finish rinsing post-swim
- Prevents dry and brittle hair
- Prevents discoloration from chlorine and sun exposure
- Re-hydrates hair
- 100% vegan
- Makes combing out long hair easy
- Can make hair feel stiff
3. Aquaguard Pre-Swim Hair Defense
AquaGuard Pre-Swim Hair Defense is the best pre-swim hair protection cream exclusively formulated for those who spend hours in the pool. It creates an impenetrable barrier around each strand to provide chlorine protection while conditioning your hair.
The AquaGuard pre-swim cream is applied to the hair 3-5 minutes before swimming. Its proactive formula ensures that your hair is guarded prior to any contact with chlorine or salt water. Once the cream is fully absorbed, you can jump into the swimming pool or ocean without worrying about your hair soaking up the chlorine, pool chemicals, or salt water. By acting ahead of time, the AquaGuard pre-swim hair protector ensures that hair damage never begins in the first place.
The AquaGuard conditioner protects colored hair, including natural and dyed hair. The conditioning cream’s waterproof shield ensures the hair’s outer protective layer and the cuticle are sealed, preventing color leaching in chlorinated pool waters due to chlorine. Chlorine is a strong oxidizing agent that strips away the hair’s natural oils and makes it porous. The more porous the hair, the easier it is for water and chemicals from the pool to penetrate the hair shaft and wash away its color pigments.
Pool water also contains copper compounds used to control algae growth. When copper interacts with chlorine, it can form greenish compounds. The green tint is particularly noticeable in blonde or light-colored hair. The greenish tinge isn’t the dye being washed out but rather a deposit of the greenish compound on the hair. The AquaGard pre-swim barrier cream stops the greenish copper deposits from binding to your hair with its hair waterproofing technology.
How to use it:
- Dampen your hair
- Generously apply AquaGuard to your hair. Make sure to pay special attention to the ends of your hair
- Wait for about 3-5 minutes to allow it to absorb
- Once AquaGuard has fully absorbed into your hair, you’re ready to swim.
- Rinse after swimming
- Repeat before each swim
- Prevents chlorine damage to hair
- keeps hair soft
- Makes hair easy to detangle after swimming
- Eliminates chlorine smell from hair
- Nourishes hair
- Protects hair color
- Prevents green pool hair
- Prevents frizz after swimming
- Ingredients contain tree nuts – You may need to patch test for allergies
Aquaguard pre-swim hair defense ingredients: Shea butter, Sweet Almond oil, Argan oil, and Aloe leaf extracts.
If you’re looking for an effective pre-pool hair treatment that is easy to apply and carry around on holiday, get the AquaGuard Hair Defense.
4. Carol’s Daughter Leave in Conditioner
Carol’s Daughter Leave-In Conditioner is a summer essential for swimmers. Infused with nurturing ingredients, it hydrates and detangles hair post-swim, combatting the drying effects of chlorine and salt. It’s easy to apply – just spray and leave in. No rinse is needed. Its lightweight formulation doesn’t weigh your hair down, leaving it soft, shiny, and manageable.
The Carol’s Daughter Leave-In Conditioner is ideal for individuals with curly, damaged, or coily hair types, as these hair textures often require extra moisture and care, especially after exposure to chlorine or salt water. The unique blend of natural ingredients in this conditioner restores the hair’s moisture balance and enhances the natural curl pattern, reducing frizz and breakage.
One of the standout ingredients in this leave-in conditioner is Almond milk, known for its ability to repair damage in the hair progressively. Its damage repair ability is especially beneficial for swimmers as prolonged exposure to chlorinated water causes protein degradation, leading to weakened, brittle hair.
Looking at the reviews, customers rave about the noticeable difference in hair texture and manageability after just a few uses. The product’s ability to define curls, reduce tangles, and combat the straw-like texture that chlorine often imparts is commendable.
Whether you’re taking a quick dip or training for hours, this conditioner ensures your hair remains as vibrant and resilient as your spirit.
How to use it:
- Apply the leave-in conditioner to your hair before you enter the pool
- Spray the conditioner evenly onto your damp hair before you enter the pool
- Make sure to cover all your hair, focusing on the ends
- Do not rinse out the conditioner. As a leave-in product, it is designed to stay in your hair
- Once you’re done swimming, washing your hair as soon as possible is recommended.
- Apply the leave-in conditioner again after washing and rinsing your hair. It helps restore moisture and shine to your hair
- Progressively repairs hair damage
- Mineral oil-free
- Excellent for curly hair types
5. Socozy Swim Leave-In Treatment and Conditioner
SoCozy’s Swim Leave-In Treatment and Conditioner is designed to neutralize and protect hair from harsh pool chemicals. It is also the best detangler to use after swimming.
Tangles in hair are a common problem after swimming. Whether you swim in a pool or the sea, hair hair often becomes ragged and prone to snagging. When hair submerges in water, hair fibers absorb water and swell in size, which alters the cuticle structure and makes the strands more likely to tangle and get caught against each other. This effect happens in both chlorinated pool water and salt water.
Swimming nearly always results in increased tangles in the hair. Ocean and chlorinated water from swimming pools also make the hair dry and rough, causing uneven surfaces that easily catch and tangle. Combine that with hours of sun at the beach or pool that can further dry out the hair cuticles, allowing strands to hook onto each other more easily.
The SoCozy Swim leave-in treatment + detangler is a game-changer for swimmers and beachgoers alike. Specifically formulated to address pre and post-swim hair challenges, this product offers a multifaceted approach to tackle tangles and other common hair issues associated with aquatic activities.
Not only does it detangle, it also acts as a treatment to replenish moisture lost during swimming. Designed for instant relief, its formula eases out knots and tangles in minutes, making post-swim hair management a breeze. It penetrates deep into the hair fibers, restoring moisture and counteracting salt and chlorine drying effects. At a microscopic level, it smoothes and repairs damaged cuticles, reducing the chances of strands catching onto each other.
You can use the SoCozy leave-in treatment by spraying it into your hair before you get into the pool and again when brushing your hair out after getting out of the pool. It works so well as an after-pool detangler spray that I also use it on my daughter’s very long hair, which gets badly tangled after every swim session.
How to use it:
- Before swimming, ensure your hair is dry. The SoCozy Swim Leave-In Treatment works best on dry hair as it can better absorb the product
- Spray the SoCozy Swim Leave-In Treatment generously onto your hair. Make sure to cover all areas, especially the ends
- Do not rinse out the product. The SoCozy Swim Leave-In Treatment is a leave-in conditioner, meaning it should stay in your hair for the duration of your swim
- After swimming, you can choose to reapply the product.
- Use it to detangle your hair post-swim
- If you notice any green tones in your hair after swimming, apply the SoCozy Swim Leave-In Treatment again. The product contains activated charcoal, which helps to remove chlorine and green tones
- Gentle formula that kids can even use
- Detangles swimmers curls
- Premium salon quality product
- No Parabens
- No Sulfates
- No synthetic colors or dyes
- No traces of nuts
- Removes green tones from swimmer’s hair
- Small bottle
Key ingredients: Activated Charcoal, Vitamin B5, Sunflower Seed Extract
6. Triswim Swimmers Conditioner
The TriSwim Swimmers Conditioner is an anti-chlorine cream for swimming formulated with keratin and proteins to keep your hair soft and healthy. It protects your hair from the detrimental effects of pool chemicals, saltwater, and the sun.
This pre-swimming hair cream provides a medium hold and leaves your hair with a more natural, non-greasy finish. It keeps your hair smooth and manageable without weighing it down. Unlike gels or waxes, a hair cream spreads easily and evenly throughout your hair, ensuring consistent protection and styling benefits from root to tip.
The inclusion of keratin, a protein naturally found in hair, aids in strengthening hair strands and minimizing breakage. Combined with other beneficial proteins, this conditioner fortifies the hair’s structure, ensuring frequent exposure to harsh swimming conditions doesn’t compromise its integrity. Moreover, it actively neutralizes the greenish in hair tint that can often plague swimmers, especially those with blonde or light-colored hair.
One of the standout features of the TriSwim Swimmers Conditioner is its frizz control. The formulation ensures that hair remains tamed and free from unruly flyaways, even in humid conditions, which is particularly beneficial after a swim. Hair can often become frizzy due to chlorine and salt drying effects.
Furthermore, this conditioner boasts a pleasant fragrance of pineapple and mango, a refreshing departure from the strong scent of chlorine that swimmers are all too familiar with. Its aroma lingers, ensuring your hair smells fresh long after leaving the pool.
Whether you’re a professional athlete or enjoy a leisurely swim, this creamy leave-in conditioner promises to keep your hair in top-notch condition.
How to use it:
- Start by washing your hair with TRISWIM Shampoo. The shampoo removes chlorine, saltwater, bromine, hard water minerals, and odor from your hair
- Apply the TRISWIM Conditioner to your wet hair after rinsing out the shampoo
- Massage it thoroughly
- Rinse it out
- Creamy formula
- Frizz control
- Pineapple and mango scent
- Big bottle
- More effective after swimming
7. Stream2sea Leave-In Conditioner
Stream2Sea is a reef-safe leave-in conditioner. Their products are eco-conscious and biodegradable, ensuring that they not only protect users from the sun and sea but also minimize the environmental impact.
After conducting extensive research on Stream2Sea’s customer base, we found that divers, especially scuba divers, have a particular affinity for the brand. Their passion for exploring the underwater world naturally aligns with a commitment to preserving it. These individuals are firsthand witnesses to the beauty of marine life and the fragility of underwater ecosystems. Therefore, they understand the importance of using products that won’t harm the aquatic environment they deeply cherish.
Divers and scuba enthusiasts, in particular, require products that can withstand the unique conditions of underwater exploration. Stream2Sea’s formulations offer this durability and ensure that any residue or remnants that come off during a dive don’t introduce harmful substances into the water. This dual benefit of performance and eco-friendliness makes the brand a top choice for this community.
Moreover, word of mouth within the diving community is potent as divers share their positive experiences with Stream2Sea products, and the brand’s reputation grows, solidifying its position as the preferred choice for those who prioritize marine conservation. The brand’s commitment to protecting marine life resonates deeply with divers, creating a strong bond of trust and loyalty.
How to use it:
- Rinse hair with fresh water first
- Apply the Stream2Sea leave-in conditioner to your damp hair
- Distribute the conditioner evenly throughout your hair
- Go for your swim
- Use the conditioner again after washing your hair with Stream2Sea Conditioning Shampoo and Body Wash
- Reef-safe leave-in conditioner
- May not be available everywhere
Why Use a Leave-In Conditioner Before Swimming?
Here are the benefits of using a leave-in conditioner before swimming:
- Moisture Barrier: Leave-in conditioners provide a protective layer on the hair, sealing in moisture. When you swim, chlorinated or salt water can strip your hair of its natural oils, leaving it dry and brittle. By applying a leave-in conditioner, you’re giving your hair an extra layer of moisture protection.
- Chlorine and Salt Protection: The barrier formed by the leave-in conditioner prevents chlorine and salt from penetrating the hair shaft. The leave-in conditioner’s coating can minimize the damage and discoloration often associated with frequent swimming.
- Prevents Tangling: Wet hair, especially when exposed to the movements of swimming, can become tangled and knotted. A leave-in conditioner helps to detangle and smooth the hair, making it easier to brush or comb after swimming.
- Enhances Manageability: The conditioner makes the hair more manageable, reducing the friction between hair strands and thus decreasing the chances of breakage when styling post-swim.
- UV Protection: Many leave-in conditioners come with UV filters that protect your hair from the harmful effects of the sun. UV protection is especially beneficial for outdoor swimmers.
- Neutralizes Harmful Elements: Some leave-in conditioners are specially formulated for swimmers. They contain ingredients that neutralize chlorine, copper, and other elements that can damage hair or give it a greenish tint.
- Maintains Hair Health: Regular exposure to pool chemicals and salt can weaken hair over time. Using a leave-in conditioner provides your hair with essential nutrients and proteins that can counteract this damage, maintaining its health and strength.
- Cost-Effective: Repairing damaged hair can be expensive. Proactively using a leave-in conditioner can prevent or reduce damage, saving you money in the long run.
How to Protect Hair Before Swimming
Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to protect your hair before swimming:
- Wet Your Hair with Fresh Water: Hair absorbs less chlorinated or salty water when saturated with clean water. Think of your hair like a sponge. If it’s already saturated, it won’t absorb more water.
- Apply a Leave-in Conditioner or Oil: A leave-in conditioner or oil coats your hair to form a protective barrier against harmful pool chemicals or salt and provide added moisture to prevent dryness.
- Wear a Swim Cap: While it might not be the most fashionable accessory, a swim cap is one of the best ways to protect your hair from the water. Silicone caps are generally better than latex ones as they’re more durable and less likely to pull your hair. See the best swim caps that protect hair from chlorine.
- Braid or Tie Your Hair: If you don’t want to wear a swim cap, consider braiding or tying your hair to reduce tangling and exposure. While this won’t keep your hair completely dry, it will minimize the surface area exposed to harmful elements.
- Avoid Using Hair Products Before Swimming: Refrain from styling products like hair sprays or gels before swimming. These products can react with chlorine and cause further damage.
- Stay Hydrated: Drink plenty of water. When your body is hydrated, your hair is too. Well-moisturized hair is less susceptible to damage from external factors.
- Avoid Swimming with Colored Hair: If you’ve recently colored your hair, avoid swimming for a few days. Freshly dyed hair is more porous and can quickly absorb chlorine, leading to discoloration.
- Use UV Protection: The sun can further damage your hair if you’re swimming outdoors. Some leave-in conditioners and hair products come with UV filters. Use these to shield your hair from the sun’s harmful rays.
How to Care for Your Hair After Swimming
To keep your hair healthy and looking great after swimming, here’s a step-by-step guide:
- Rinse Immediately: Rinse your hair thoroughly with fresh water after swimming. Thorough rinsing helps remove most chlorine, salt, and other impurities before they can settle and damage.
- Shampoo: Use a gentle, sulfate-free shampoo. If you swim regularly, consider using a swimmer’s shampoo, which is formulated to remove chlorine and other pool chemicals.
- Condition: Apply a regular conditioner or leave-in conditioner after swimming. Swimming can be drying to hair, so it’s important to replenish lost moisture.
- Detangle: Detangle your hair after applying a leave-in conditioner. Always use a wide-tooth comb to detangle your hair, starting from the tips and working up to the roots to reduce breakage.
Can You Apply Oil to Your Hair Before Swimming?
Applying oil to your hair before swimming can protect it from the harmful effects of chlorine or salt. Coconut, Jojoba, and Olive oil are among the most popular choices for swimmers due to their deep nourishing and hydrating properties.
Unlike water-based solutions, oils have a thick, viscous consistency that coats surfaces effectively, providing a protective and moisturizing layer. Most oils are also water-repellant (hydrophobic), preventing water from absorbing into the hair.
Chlorinated water in swimming pools can strip the hair of its natural oils, leading to dryness and damage. Applying oil to the hair provides a shield that reduces direct contact between chlorine and the hair shaft, minimizing dryness, brittleness, and discoloration.
Don’t Forget the Leave-In Conditioner Next Time You Go for a Swim!
Swimming, while beneficial for fitness and relaxation, exposes hair to the harsh effects of chlorinated and salt water. Such exposure can lead to hair problems like dryness, brittleness, and discoloration, often termed “swimmer’s hair.”
To combat these adverse effects, leave-in conditioners are essential for swimmers. Unlike regular conditioners, leave-in conditioners stay in the hair, offering continuous protection against chlorine and salt. They form a shield, lock in moisture, protect your hair color from fading, prevent green pool hair, and keep hair soft and tangle-free.
Nanko, H et al. “Hair-discoloration of Japanese elite swimmers.” The Journal of dermatology vol. 27,10 (2000): 625-34. doi:10.1111/j.1346-8138.2000.tb02243.x
About the Author
Charlene Latreuille has been blogging for over 10 years and has a background in digital marketing.
Specializing in women's hair health, she blends scientific insight with practical advice, crafting easy-to-follow guides.