116: Can Chlorine In Water Harm Your Skin? w/ Lara Adler

Chlorine is present in most of our drinking water. While it serves a useful purpose (preventing the growth of microbial and bacterial overgrowth, and thus preventing the spread of diseases like cholera), chlorine can also have detrimental effects on our skin, gut, and even thyroid health. 

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My guest today is Lara Adler, an Environmental Toxins Expert & Educator, and a Certified Health Coach who teaches nutritionists, nurses, and other holistic health practitioners how to eliminate the #1 thing holding their clients back from the results they are seeking – the unaddressed link between chemicals and chronic health problems.

She trains practitioners to become experts in everyday toxic exposures so they can improve client outcomes without spending hundreds of hours researching on their own.

Combining environmental health education and business consulting, she’s helped thousands of health professionals in over 25 countries around the world elevate their skillset, improve client outcomes, and become sought out leaders in the growing environmental health and detoxification field.

Join us as we discuss all things chlorine, and the impact it can have on our overall health.

Do you use a water filtration system? Let me know in the comments!

In this episode:

  • Should we be concerned about chlorine?
  • How we absorb chlorine when we shower
  • Chlorinated water vs. fluoridated water
  • Is it safe for someone with skin issues like eczema to get into a swimming pool?
  • Recommendations when using a swimming pool


“Some studies have found that about 50% of our daily chlorine intake actually comes from the shower.” [5:55]

“When we're exposed to this chlorine water it might disrupt the natural microbiome of our skin, which is going to potentially weaken the integrity of the skin or crack open the door for maybe some inflammatory skin issues or any other kind of issues, even just dryness.” [9:03]


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116: Can Chlorine In Water Harm Your Skin? w/ Lara Adler, CHHC FULL TRANSCRIPT

Jennifer: Hi, everyone. Welcome back. I've got a great guest with me today. Some of you may remember her from the 2019 eczema and psoriasis awareness week. She's back to talk about… we're going to dive into this whole issue about chlorine in your water. Can it be harmful or just detrimental to your skin? Got a lot of things to talk about.

Jennifer: My guest today is Laura Adler. She's an environmental toxins expert and educator and a certified health coach who teaches nutritionists, nurses, and other holistic practitioners how to eliminate the number one thing holding your clients back from the results they are seeking. The unaddressed link between chemicals and chronic health problems. She trains practitioners to become experts in everyday toxic exposures so they can improve client outcomes without spending hundreds of hours researching on their own. Combining environmental health education and business consulting, she's helped thousands of health professionals in over 25 countries around the world elevate their skill set, improve client outcomes, and become become sought out leaders in the growing environmental health and detoxification fields. Lara, thank you for joining us.

Lara: I'm happy to be here, and thanks for having me.

Jennifer: So a lot of people know that there can be chlorine in water, but do you think that people realize how many water systems across the country have chlorine in them? And should we be concerned about chlorine? I think it's a good place to begin.

Lara: Right, yeah. So most water in developed countries is chlorinated, or at least it's treated in a number of different ways to combat the potential for microbial or bacterial overgrowth in the water so that we're not spreading communicable diseases like cholera or dysentery or typhoid, which were classic diseases that were passed through the water and the advent of water chlorination solved those problems. So on that front, chlorine is great, but the reality is that we have chlorine residues in our drinking water that may be problematic for all of us for a number of different reasons.

Lara: So I think that the vast majority of people are going to have either chlorine or chloramine, which is a combination of chlorine and ammonia in their municipal water, in their city, water and chlorine is easier to remove and address, chloramine is actually harder to remove and to address. And-

Jennifer: So wait, would we be drinking-

Lara: Has that classic chlorine smell.

Jennifer: Yeah.

Lara: Yes.

Jennifer: Would we be drinking this chloramine? This is in our drinking water, I apologize.

Lara: Were drinking it. I mean we are consuming it.

Jennifer: Wow. That's pretty shocking. Okay, so chlorine and ammonia. That's an interesting mix.

Lara: Yeah. And you know, it's hailed as one of the greatest achievements of the 21st century, water chlorination is this great thing that we have instituted because it really helps to put the kibosh on a lot of those communicable diseases. And there's always been that risk benefit analysis. Well, a little bit of chlorine in the water is not bad because the payoff is big because we're not getting dysentery when we drink our water. That seems good, however, there's so many layers deep we can go in this conversation. But I'm going to start with the fundamentals of why I think this is concerning for us is whether we're drinking the water or bathing in it. So for example, showering. If our water has chlorine in it, then we're showering in chlorine, not the same amount that you'll find in a swimming pool, but some studies have found that about 50% of our daily chlorine intake actually comes from the shower. It's not what we're drinking.

Lara: So chlorine is a volatile gas that volatile is in the hot steam of the shower so we're breathing it in and it's really easily absorbed through our skin. Now for people that are maybe competitive swimmers or they're just swimming as their form of exercise, they very often have skin issues because of the amount of time that they spend in the chlorine. And part of that comes from the fact that chlorine is stripping all of those really beneficial natural oils that help protect our skin. The chlorine is actually stripping that away.

Jennifer: So the, my gosh, because the chlorine in where I live, for example, or I should say the water where I live smells so heavily of chlorine, I can't even bear to drink the water unless I put it through my Berkeyy style countertop filter thing because it's so nauseating, the odor. And so you're saying it doesn't even matter about drinking that water. Literally the act of showering, because between the heat and everything, you're then absorbing it through your skin more so in the shower then even drinking it potentially?

Lara: Yeah. I mean I don't know about more so maybe it's about 50-50 but like I said, 50% of our intake is coming from the few minutes that we spend in the shower. And then the rest is coming from the foods and water, primarily the water that we're drinking, and again, it's this balance between okay, chlorination has solved other problems but it's also causing problems. So one of those problems, like I mentioned is, it certainly can lead to skin issues and exacerbation of existing skin issues because it's stripping that natural oil layer from our skin. But it can also disrupt the natural microbiome of our skin.

Lara: And what's fascinating to me, and I was just reading this recently, is that different parts of our skin. The skin on our scalp is different than… the microbiome profile of the skin on our scalp is different than the skin under our arms that's different than our feet. And if we think about the purpose of water chlorination, it's to kill bacteria. That's why it's there. And our microbiome is nothing but, ideally beneficial bacteria, or maybe if somebody has, whether it's alopecia and there's more of one type of bacteria than the other then it stands to reason that water chlorination, when we're exposed to this chlorine water that it might disrupt the natural microbiome of our skin, which is going to potentially weaken the integrity of the skin or crack open the door for maybe some inflammatory skin issues or any other kind of issues, even just dryness.

Jennifer: Well, can I ask you a question because I've had another guest on who talked about the issues with fluoridated water. So is it one or the other or do they tend to go hand in hand depending on the community? They will both fluoridate and chlorinate the drinking water.

Lara: Yes. So almost, there are very, very few exceptions to this, but in fact, I think in the United States there are only five cities that don't need to process their water, meaning really, really filter their water prior to moving to the tap. Everybody else, we are drinking chlorine or chloramine in our water, period. That's purpose is for sanitation. So there's not ever going to be an instance where some form of sanitation, whether it's chlorination or chlorimination or some other compound, maybe it's treated with UV, maybe it's pushed through an RO system, which is unlikely on a city scale. So there's always going to be some type of chlorine or chloramine and then fluoride is, it's either intentionally added not for the purpose of disinfection, but for the purpose of allegedly trying to reduce the amount of dental caries or cavities in that community. Although there's a very hot debate about the research in that space. Even if a city doesn't intentionally add fluoride chemicals to the drinking water, there may be naturally present fluoride if the geography of where you live happens to be rich in fluorine elements in the Earth's crust, in that area.

Lara: But it's also worth noting, and maybe this is a whole other topic, is that when we think about fluoride in our toothpaste, it's sodium fluoride. Sodium fluoride is not what's added to municipal drinking water. It's a chemical called, oh, I'm blanking on the name now. It's sodium flora salicylic acid and or flora salicylic acid, and it is a byproduct of the aluminum industry, it is a toxic waste. It is not the same thing that dentists are using in the dental office, but fluoride, any fluorinated compound as well as any chlorinated compounds as well as any brominated compound, they're all halogenated chemicals. So if we go to chemistry cap class and we look at the periodic table of elements, they're all in the halogen column along with iodine and we know that iodine is really necessary for the health of the thyroid.

Lara: And what happens is any compounds that are chlorinated, fluorinated, or brominated will displace iodine in the thyroid. And so they can lead to all of these health effects that are associated with suppress thyroid function or lowered thyroid function or just not fully functional thyroid system. And that's something to consider when we're looking at things like chlorinated water.

Jennifer: Well, so as far-

Lara: Because it has the potential to disrupt the thyroid.

Jennifer: So as far as chlorinated water is concerned, one question that I frequently get is, is it safe, so say someone has eczema, is it safe for me to go in a pool? if I'm going to be exposed to this chlorine, is this potentially going to flare my eczema. So you're saying that the concentration of chlorine or chlora- whatever the other chemical is.

Lara: Chloramine.

Jennifer: Is a lot, would be less than what's in a chlorinated pool? So if you go in a pool, you're going to be exposed to a much… do you know what the difference is between tap water versus a pool?

Lara: No, I don't recall. I was just actually listening because I'm a nerd, I listen to podcasts on stuff like this. I was listening to a podcast on pool chlorination because that's interesting to a very small group of people. But what's really interesting is if you're in a, you know, a pool that's part of a school or a community center, YMCA or whatever, those type of more commercial pool systems do actually have devices that measure the parts per million of chlorine in the water and will adjust the dosing of the pool with more chlorine accordingly so that it stays within a specific range.

Lara: But when people have backyard pools, they typically don't have those same more expensive devices to measure the chlorine levels. So people with backyard pools may very well have way higher levels of chlorine than they would if they went to the city or towns local swimming, swimming pool.

Jennifer: You could obviously ask the local pool then what the level of chlorine is that they're going by.

Lara: Yes, yes. But at the end of the day, it very much a balance, right? So if people… what I always say is, look, if swimming is the method of exercise that people works well for them, or if they have an injury and they're like, “look, all I can do is be in the pool.” I don't want to tell people you can't ever swim in a pool, but if you're also dealing with something like eczema or any skin issue where you've got compromised skin you know, maybe that combination isn't ideal.

Lara: And I've also heard people suggesting that you put coconut oil all over your skin and I know you have thoughts about coconut oil in the skin already, but I've heard people say that like, “oh, just lather up and coat yourself in some oil before you go into the pool.” But here's why I don't think that that's wise. So chlorine on its own is a problem. But when chlorine reacts, when chlorine is in the presence of organic matter that's in the water, which is microscopic leaves, dust, hair, coconut oil. What happens is in the presence of this organic matter, the chlorine converts into compounds that are classified as disinfection byproducts. So it is a byproduct of the disinfection process and these chemicals are referred to as trihalomethanes or haloacetic acids. And these chemicals are carcinogens.

Jennifer: Oh wow.

Lara: Yeah. So your water quality report not only is monitoring how much chlorine, but it's also monitoring how much of these trihalomethanes are haloacetic acids are present. And for people who get their water quality report in the mail and they just throw it out and put it in the recycle bin, I encourage them to look at it because all of their water quality reports will actually have a warning for people that are immunocompromised, that are elderly, that might have, infants, to actually not drink the water because it has these trihalomethanes in them. And so I was mentioning earlier that most cities are using chlorine.

Lara: The big objection to chlorine is the smell, right? Nobody, I mean I was at a restaurant recently and they served what might as well have been pool water, like one sip and I was like, I can't drink. That's awful. So that's the big objection is the smell and the taste. We don't like it. So cities have been switching quite rapidly to chloramine, which again is the chlorine plus ammonia and that combination, it doesn't have the strong odor that chlorine has.

Lara: So there's two problems with chlorine. One, it has the smell and then two it dissipates quickly, it's very volatile. So that's again why in the shower we're breathing it in, which means that it doesn't stay in the water distribution system for a really long time, meaning from the water treatment plant all the way through the pipes in your city all the way to your house. So chloramines solves both of those problems because it doesn't have a strong odor or taste and it stays in the distribution system a lot longer and it produces less of those trihalomethanes. However, the ones that does produce are more toxic and chloramine is much harder to remove from the water.

Lara: So in this space around environmental chemicals, we always talk about regrettable substitutions where we malign some chemical for being bad or having some detriments and then we go, “well, I'm going to replace it with this one.” And then some point in time later we're like, “wow, that one's just as crap as the first one.” And then we just keep going through this cycle of, it's like whack-a-mole, we whack one down and another one comes up in in its place. So basically neither one of these substances are great in our water and we want to filter them out.

Lara: But I think that the concern is, one that we have this disrupted skin microbiome that we can possibly be drying out or exacerbating skin conditions that we have, but we also have the skin in our inside, right? We don't just have skin on the outside. And so when we're drinking this chlorinated water and we're introducing these really small amounts of compounds that are intended to kill bacteria, it stands to reason that it may have some effect on the the population of microbes, good and bad in our gut. And so it can interfere with our gut microbiome. And that's obviously a pretty significant pillar when it comes to overall health. Not just our skin but literally everything else.

Jennifer: Well I think as we're, because there's a lot to unpack here. I definitely want to make sure too that we give people some actionable steps here. So number one, if somebody is using a pool or they go in a pool, what is the best thing that they can do when they're done in the pool?

Lara: So good question. So before they even get in the pool, my recommendation is when you're choosing a pool, if you have the option of being in an outdoor pool, choose that over an indoor pool. Because you know when you walk into an enclosed pool room and it just chlorine smell is overwhelming and you don't have that with outdoor pools because the chlorine is able to dissipate and it doesn't get stuck inside this building. And there are certainly pools that have, pool rooms that have better ventilation than others. So just look for one where when you walk in you're not like immediately struck by how strong it smells of chlorine. So one, that's a good choice.

Lara: I encourage people, there's a lot of places that are advertising salt water pools. It's just chlorine. Instead of adding chlorine, salt actually produces chlorine, sodium chloride, it's not, it's still chlorine. So it's very much marketing to say “I have a saltwater pool.” You have a chlorinated pool, it's the same thing. So that's, I think the biggest piece of advice.

Lara: You know, the other thing is really just making sure that you're hydrating afterwards to help maybe flush some of that stuff out. I don't really know if there is an identified sort of intervention around what do we do after. I've definitely heard of people saying, oh, make sure that you're taking some vitamin C. Vitamin C helps to disassociate chlorine so that it just becomes sodium chloride then it's benign and it's fine. That works in a glass of water, it might work in a bathtub, I don't know if that actually works inside the human body.

Jennifer: And what about rinsing off after you get out of a pool? Is that a good idea?

Lara: Do it, do it. Yes. 100%.

Jennifer: Okay.

Lara: I mean, and you know when you go someplace and there's a ton of chlorine and you come home and your hair and your skin stinks of chlorine, your clothes stink of chlorine, we want to wash this stuff off as much as possible. It is still going to absorb while we're in the water and I don't know if there's any real interventions that we can do to prevent that absorption. I think we just want to make sure that we're getting it out and I think in a sauna certainly wouldn't hurt. If you're at a gym that has a pool and a sauna, great. Do your laps and then shower off, get into the sauna, maybe you can sweat some of that stuff out that you have absorbed because that's really one of the things that sauna is great for, is helping excrete the toxins that are sitting in our subcutaneous fat. And if we're absorbing things through our skin, we should be able to excrete things through our skin.

Jennifer: And then I think the one last question because this really has to do with more showering, because we've talked a bit about that and this whole issue of like you're in the shower, what do you do? Is there a shower head or a filtration system for the shower head that you could get that you found is helpful?

Lara: Yeah, I mean so if people don't have the ability or means to have a whole house water filtration system, if you're a renter or if you don't have the budget for it, fine. That's obviously ideal because then you can remove the chlorine from the source and you don't actually have to worry about anything in your shower, which is wonderful. For everyone else, I do think that having a shower filter is pretty important just to help remove some of that chlorine. Now most of the shower filters on the market are generally the same and the reason they're the same is because there's only one or two types of filter media, filtration media that can tolerate the high temperature of hot water and the volume of water, the high water flow.

Lara: So you know, you think of a Brita and the water, just drip, drip drips down because it's moving really slowly through that media. We would not want to have our shower be that way too. So it has to go really fast and the faster the water goes through the media, the less it's going to be able to actually remove, the media is actually going to be able to remove anything. So shower filters are going to be activated charcoal. They might have a material called KDF, which are pretty standard to have those in combination. They're all pretty much the same. They're all about $50 to $80. Just look for those compounds.

Lara: You can also find vitamin C filters. So I was talking earlier about vitamin C. You can get a vitamin C filter, but all it's going to do is convert the chlorine, essentially render the chlorine a nonissue, but it doesn't do anything about the trihalomethanes or the haloacetic acids or any of those other compounds that might be in the water.

Lara: And even the activated charcoal ones, they're just reducing it, they're not eliminating, it's just not possible with the water flow and the high temperature. So it's better than nothing, which is why I think everybody should have one, especially if there's any kind of skin issue or any kind of thyroid hormone issue going on because it is a chlorinated compound. If you have chloramine in your shower, those filters are really only going to reduce it a little bit because they don't, it's not the right type of charcoal for chloramine.

Jennifer: So would the best thing to do is go back to your water company, get the most recent report and find out what is actually in the water so you can address that appropriately?

Lara: Yeah, I mean and that's really easy to do. You can just Google the name of your town or city and the words water quality report. It's also called a consumer confidence report and your municipality is required by law to produce these every year. They usually are released about June, June, July, August. Some are just a white paper with a bunch of figures on it. Others are like these really beautifully designed brochures with pictures of reservoirs and people drinking water. That all depends on the budget of the town or city in which you live, but they will tell you whether or not there was chlorine or chloramine.

Jennifer: Perfect, perfect. Well, I feel like we have so much to talk about unlike the topic of toxins in general, so I'd love to have you back some other time because I feel like we could only cram so much into this. That said, for everybody who's listening, you definitely need to go to Lara's site, Laraadler.com. She's also got a great Instagram page as well, which I'll link everything up there and you've got a really nice gift for everybody, which when I saw it I was like, “oh my gosh, this is amazing,” and it's totally free to download. We'll put the links for all of that. It's your top 10 toxins, right, to be on the lookout for. It was really incredible. When I took a look at it, I was like, “wow, this is fantastic.” I learned a ton from it. So I think it'd be a great place for everybody listening to dive into, and of course, Laura, we're going to have you back. Got to do it.

Lara: Awesome.

Jennifer: But I really appreciate your time. Thank you so much for joining us.

“Some studies have found that about 50% of our daily chlorine intake actually comes from the shower.”

Jennifer Fugo, MS, CNS

Jennifer Fugo, MS, CNS is an integrative Clinical Nutritionist and the founder of Skinterrupt. She works with women who are fed up with chronic gut and skin rash issues discover the root causes and create a plan to get them back to a fuller, richer life.

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