Skin Problems Following Chlorine Contact

Chlorine is a nonmetallic chemical commonly used as a bleaching agent and to kill germs in swimming pools. It also is contained in products such as synthetic rubbers and pesticides. Chlorine is known for its yellowish toxic gas that is poisonous if inhaled or swallowed. This substance can also be very irritating when it's in contact with the skin.

A woman floating in a swimming pool. Credit: Purestock/Purestock/Getty Images

Pool Exposure

The skin may develop a rash (irritant contact dermatitis) when it has come into contact with high amounts of chlorine such as in swimming pools or hot tubs. It may help to use lotions (hydrocortisone or calamine lotion) to relieve any itching from the rash as well as chlorine neutralizing lotions that are applied prior to entering the water to protect the skin from the possible effects of chlorine.

The symptoms associated with contact dermatitis may include itching and dry reddish patches or bumps. The rash is typically confined to the area that has been exposed to the irritant (chlorine). There may sometimes be tenderness or pain associated with the rash.

Low Level Exposure

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), if chlorine gets on the skin (or in the eyes) spend a minimum of 15 minutes rinsing the skin. Chlorine may cause irritation, burning and possible necrosis (localized death of living cells) on the surface of the skin (epidermis) or in the tissue that lies beneath.

Higher Level Exposure

The New York State Health Department says higher levels of exposure to chlorine can cause severe chemical burns or ulcerations (an inflamed lesion on the skin that may discharge fluid or pus). Skin contact with liquefied chlorine can cause frostbite.The Centers for Disease Control says that when chlorine is pressurized and cooled it turns into a liquid.

Chlorine on Clothing

If you believe your skin has made contact with chlorine that was in your clothing, immediately take off the items and put them in a plastic bag. Close and seal the bag and refrain from touching it again until it can be properly discarded. Use a generous amount of soap and water to wash off your skin. If you wear eyeglasses, remove and thoroughly clean them before putting them back on.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
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