Can Swimming in a Pool Cause Chloracne?

Chloracne is a nasty skin condition caused by exposure to chlorine compounds -- so can taking a dip in a swimming pool cause a breakout?

At some point, you may have heard that chloracne (a type of extreme skin condition) can result from swimming in chlorinated pools. Well, chloracne really does exist, and it can be a nasty problem to have to deal with. The real question here is whether the chloracne/swimming pool connection is a myth or not.

Let's take a look at the facts.

Chemical Compounds

As the name suggests, chloracne results from exposure to chlorine-based chemicals, especially those of the type known as "halogenated aromatic compounds"--e.g., some paints, varnishes, lacquers, cutting oils, and herbicides that emit noxious vapors.

These chemicals can build up in body fat over time, eventually causing skin inflammation in combination with negative reactions to the toxins involved. This triggers an outbreak of pustules, cysts, and blackheads on exposed skin, particularly on the arms, neck, and face.

As if that wasn't bad enough, the lesions sometimes ooze greenish pus. This is a dead giveaway of chloracne.

Maybe, Maybe Not

That chloracne exists is undeniable. However, the types of chlorine compounds we use as sterilizers in swimming pools tend not to be of the halogenated aromatic type, and we use them in tiny concentrations. So is it really possible for a swimmer to come down with a case of chloracne?

This is where fact fades into conjecture; at the moment, there's no solid answer. That's not to say the connection between chloracne and swimming is a true myth, just that the jury is still out.

Some people say they've contracted terrible acne after swimming, but most experts say the normal level of chlorine in pool water is no big deal. Of course, it's possible that people who are already sensitive to chlorine may break out as a result of pool exposure.

What to Do

If you suspect you suffer from chloracne, stop exposing yourself to chlorine (of whatever source) and see your dermatologist ASAP. Generally, staying away from the contaminant will make you better, though you may have to resort to antibiotics or a drug called isotretinoin for persistent problems.

If haven't come down with chloracne but you're worried about it, your first line of defense is, again, to avoid swimming pools and other chlorine sources. If you do get in the pool, don't stay too long and take a shower afterward to wash off any chlorine residue.

Double ditto if you're treating a pool with chlorine and get any on you.

The Bottom Line

Chloracne is typically limited to chemical workers and others who work directly with halogenated aromatic chlorine compounds. The link to chlorine levels typical to swimming pools is weak at best, so even if you're an avid swimmer, you're unlikely to contract chloracne.

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