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  • There is some evidence linking pool and ocean water to eczema flares, particularly where there is calcium buildup.
  • At the same time, chlorinated water may reduce the level of bacteria on your skin, which can be good for eczema.
  • Applying a barrier cream prior to swimming, using UV protection, and rinsing off after swimming can help protect skin.

Swimming provides benefits for aerobic fitness and mental health. But how does it affect symptoms of eczema?

Eczema is a chronic condition that causes skin inflammation, irritation, and itching. It’s most common in young children, but it may also affect teenagers and adults.

A 2018 review in BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapy found only one study on swimming therapy in people with eczema. This study linked swimming therapy to reduced eczema symptoms in infants.

Eczema is more common in frequent swimmers and lifeguards, report researchers in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

Take a moment to learn how swimming may affect your skin if you have eczema.

Properly treated pool water has a pH level between 7.2 and 7.8. That mean it’s slightly alkaline.

Skin on most parts of the body has a pH level that normally ranges from 4.1 to 5.8. That means it’s more acidic.

“The skin barrier, known as the acid mantle, is responsible for keeping in moisture and essential lipids and blocking the bad stuff, like bacteria, pollution, and toxins,” Soma Mandal, MD, a board certified internist at Summit Health in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, told Healthline.

“When the skin is too alkaline, the skin becomes drier and sensitive. These conditions make you more sensitive to developing eczema,” she said.

Swimming in pool water may affect the pH level of your skin and dry it out.

Pool water contains multiple chemicals that may dry out or irritate your skin.

Chlorine is added to pools to kill bacteria and other germs. It can cause skin dryness. However, diluted chlorine may also reduce bacteria on your skin. This can help people with eczema.

Calcium chloride is added to pools to keep the water hard. This protects the surfaces of the pool from corrosion. Some research suggests that calcium in hard water may damage the skin barrier, increasing skin dryness and irritation.

“Pools with calcium buildup are more likely to affect people with eczema,” said Mandal.

Chlorine in pool water may dry out your skin. This may worsen your eczema symptoms.

On the other hand, chlorinated water may reduce the level of bacteria on your skin. This may help treat eczema.

A 2018 review of research looked at studies on bleach baths in people with eczema. The chlorine used in pools and bleach baths is the same chemical.

The review found that diluted bleach baths improve symptoms of atopic eczema, the most common type of eczema. Diluted bleach baths appeared to reduce inflammation and itching, without damaging the skin barrier. However, more research is needed to learn how bleach baths and chlorinated pool water affect eczema symptoms.

Some people find salt water irritates their skin. Others find it soothing.

“There is no great research that shows that ocean water is good for eczema,” said Mandal, “but there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that shows that salt water can help clear up eczema.”

More research is needed to learn how ocean water affects eczema symptoms.

Applying a barrier cream or ointment to your skin before swimming may help protect and moisturize it.

“Skin barrier creams are very effective for eczema because they are infused with lipids and ceramides. These are naturally occurring substances on normal, healthy skin,” said Mandal.

“These substances help lock in moisture and allow eczematous skin to heal faster. They also decrease itching and dryness,” she continued.

According to Mandal, examples of good barrier creams include:

  • Dermalogica UltraCalming Barrier Repair Cream
  • Aquaphor Healing Ointment
  • Mustela Soothing Moisturizing Body Lotion
  • CeraVe Healing Ointment

It’s also important to protect your skin from sun damage when you swim outdoors. Wearing sunscreen helps prevent sun damage. So does wearing clothing or a swimsuit with built-in ultraviolet (UV) protection.

“If you have eczematous skin, then make sure to cover up with UV-protective clothing that has a UPF rating of 50+,” said Mandal.

Take a bath or shower when you’re done swimming. Use cool or lukewarm water rather than hot water. Gently pat your skin dry and apply a moisturizing cream or ointment to it.

Some people with eczema feel self-conscious about their skin symptoms.

If you feel self-conscious in a conventional swimsuit, you might find it helpful to wear a UV-protection swimsuit, as they tend to provide more coverage.

Other protective clothing options include:

  • rash guards
  • swim shirts
  • swim shorts, pants, leggings, or tights

You might also find it helpful to speak with a mental health professional who has experience supporting people with chronic skin conditions. They may be able to help you cope with stigma and body image challenges.

More research is needed to learn how swimming affects eczema symptoms.

Different people have different triggers that make eczema worse. Pay attention to how your symptoms change after swimming in a pool, ocean, or other body of water. You might find it irritates your skin or soothes it.

Applying a barrier cream to your skin before swimming may help protect it. Wearing sunscreen and UV-protective clothing when you’re swimming outdoors also helps protect your skin from damage.

When you’re done swimming, take a shower or bath and apply a moisturizing cream or ointment.