An unexplained spike in chlorine levels in the tap water of a small area in Derbyshire has once again highlighted how unfriendly too much chlorine can be to the scalp and how, in particularly extreme instances, it can even be connected to hair loss.
According to the Mail Online, almost 4,000 people around Burton Upon Trent were told not to use their tap water because “higher than normal” chlorine levels had been detected in a reservoir.
Though the problem was expected to be quickly rectified, it certainly caused a panic large enough to result in nationwide news coverage for the affected neighbourhood, where bottled water quickly disappeared from the shelves of the local supermarkets.
What some found especially alarming were comments from Severn Trent Water who said that customers shouldn’t drink the water, wash with it, or even brush their toilet with it in case any water splashes back onto them. “We don’t know if the level will be high enough that it will do damage to your skin,” a spokesman allegedly told the Mail Online.
While this wasn’t an admission that the water was so chlorinated it could damage the skin, it was nonetheless worrying. The scalp well and truly falls under the category of skin, and a type of hair loss known as Scarring Alopecia or, more formally, 'Cicatricial Alopecia' is possible in instances where chlorine levels are extremely high.
“If the levels of chlorine are sufficiently elevated to the point where people are being warned not to get any of the water on their skin, it sounds highly likely that this would also cause irritation for the scalp so washing your hair in bottled water is recommended”, says Belgravia senior hair loss specialist Leonora Doclis.
“We do not know whether the levels of chlorine are high enough to cause a specific reaction if the hair is washed in it but the options would generally range from mild irritation - the type which may lead to symptoms such as an itchy or inflamed scalp, something that can be dealt with by a targeted medicated treatment shampoo, or to severe, permanent hair loss - Cicatricial Alopecia - if the follicles are burned by high levels of chlorine chemicals in the water. As per the health warnings already given, the best way to be safe is to avoid contact with the contaminated water supply until the problem has been resolved.”
We have previously highlighted how chlorine found in swimming pools can be bad for the hair. One study amongst swimmers and non-swimmers, for example, found that the pool aficionados were much more likely to have hair discolouration as well as hair that appeared course and damaged.
What chlorine has a tendency to do is to magnify an existing problem. When thinning hair is an issue, a healthy scalp plays an important part in managing the problem and, alongside a bespoke treatment course, can help ensure that hair has the best possible chances of growing again. As chlorine is hardly the gentlest of chemicals, it can leave vulnerable scalps flaky and feeling itchy.
The tendency to scratch an itchy scalp can further exacerbate any shedding by adding hair breakage into the mix, which damages the shaft and makes the hair look even thinner. As Leonora advises, using a medicated treatment shampoo such as Belgravia's popular B4 shampoo - which it is best to wash your hair with daily until the problem subsides, after that many people like to use it at least once a week to keep any further scalp problems at bay - can help to soothe this itch and deal with the underlying complaint.
The only hair loss condition that is completely preventable is Traction Alopecia hair loss brought on by frequently wearing too-tight hairstyles, such as braids and hair extensions, which tug incessantly at the scalp but regular exposure to chlorine also puts you at risk of a kind of self-inflicted damage.
The most obvious and simplest way of minimising chlorine damage is to make sure that you always wash and condition your hair after a swim. And if going swimming is a something you do frequently, it makes sense to think about wearing a swimming cap at least sometimes in order to protect your hair. This is also a great option for anyone following a hair loss treatment course as it means they can apply their minoxidil before a morning swim without having to worry about waiting for it to sink into the scalp.
The Belgravia Centre is a world-renowned group of a hair loss clinic in Central London, UK. If you are worried about hair loss you can arrange a free consultation with a hair loss expert or complete our Online Consultation from anywhere in the world for home-use treatment.
View our Hair Loss Success Stories, which includes the world's largest gallery of hair growth photos and demonstrates the level of success that so many of Belgravia's patients achieve.