Monday, 9 August 2010

The Problem Of That Pesky Premature Green Rinse

I have never been that keen on hair dye. In the past twenty-nine years I have only ever dyed my hair a few times and that was more to shut my mum and sister up - even then, I was dying my hair back to its original pre-teens colour, rather than a wacky new shade.

Aside from blonde, my hair has only ever been two other colours on different occasions and one of those was against my will. As a teenager I gave myself temporary black streaks much to my parents' horror. The black clumps didn't look too hot and gradually faded through the rainbow before turning a dull grey hue and finally disappearing. On the other occasion my hair decided itself it wanted a change and turned green after a swim. For some reason my hair has only ever revolted like this once, until recently that is...

One dreary day after returning from my travels and getting a hair cut, I still wasn't satisfied with “my look” so decided extreme measures needed taking. Having resisted the pleas of my sister and mum for years who both embraced dye possibly decades ago, I finally surrendered. The very blonde hair I had as a child got dramatically darker as I delved further into my teens and my roots suddenly got blacker. The ends were still very blonde but the roots so dark that people often asked me if my hair was dyed and if grown long, my hair almost resembled pond sludge.

Since becoming one of the dyed and as the summer drew nearer, my hair literally took on the seaweed look every time I returned Kentwards and swam. The first instance was right before a hen night but thankfully the bride-to-be introduced me to John Frieda's strangely purple coloured blonde shampoo and suggested using some lemon juice. Since my first “turning”, the green rinse straw effect has become such a predictable occurrence, I have had to get in stocks of the magical purple remedy and regularly squeeze lemons in preparation for apres-swim showers. Unfortunately the more times my hair has turned this ugly shade, the more stubborn the colour seems to be and the more brittle my hair becomes.

There have been various arguments about what is causing this phenomenon and why it seems to only affect me – at least in this particular pool. In order to settle the ongoing disagreements between my dad and I, I finally decided to google my problem and thought it only fair to share some of the science behind my infliction and some of the possible preventions and remedies so stop reading now if you are still persevering with this and are freaked out by the word "science".

The Real Cause

The popular belief is that the Chlorine is the villain turning hair that nasty green; This is apparently as untrue as a water additive changing colour whenever someone decides to pee in the pool and following the urinator around, damning them to discovery. Various websites all agree that there are four conditions needed for hair to “turn”, these are:

  1. The water must become aggressive (negative calcium-saturation-index numbers)

  2. The water must dissolve some metallic Copper

  3. The water must have sulphates in it

  4. Later high pH conditions must prevail (values above pH 8.3)

It is the oxidized metals in the water (most commonly, Copper, found in Algaecides) that bind to the protein in the hair shaft and deposit their colour. The process is the same as that which occurs with Copper used in architecture, Copper pots and pans, and pennies. Time and elements turn the Copper colour into a greenish turquoise as the mineral oxidizes. The bleach that is added to a pool may be responsible for oxidizing the metal and in after-swim showers using any normal shampoo with a typically high pH value will precipitate the reaction. Copper and Chlorine have a positive charge while skin and hair have a negative charge so the Copper bonds with the hair, staining it and when the hair dries, the Copper is precipitated out as Copper Sulphide.

All hair colours can be affected but the green tint is more visible on lighter hair so people with blonde, platinum, white or grey hair are most at risk. The more porous the hair, the easier it is for the strands to absorb the metals and turn green. Any chemical process applied to hair stripping the cuticles, weakening the hair's natural defences and making the hair cuticle and outer covering more porous, raises the likelihood of green tinges. Reading this settled part of the argument as it became clear that Chlorine and dyed hair definitely weren't the culprits, although they obviously played their own part in the process. But who was to blame? Where did the Copper come from?

Most modern swimming pools have very few Copper parts in their mechanical systems so likely Copper sources are either through the hose water used to fill the pool (Water evaporates, but Copper doesn't and over time, the level of Copper continues to rise, as more and more water is added), well water or from certain Algaecide products containing Copper.

Prevention And Cures

The obvious preventative measure is to wear a swimming hat but if you're virtually bald like me, you might prefer to avoid ripping out copious precious strands every time you remove that uncomfortable awkwardly worn unattractive swimwear accessory. So what else can you do to avoid looking like a Green Day groupie or premature green rinse granny?

  1. Only swim for short amounts of time so the Copper has less time to bind with the proteins in the hair shaft – the longer spent in the water, the greater the threat (So being a water-baby like me has its draw-backs).

  2. Become an annoying chatting swimmer, cruising along with your head fully above the water.

  3. Wet your hair before entering the pool - hair is porous so naturally absorbs water. If hair is saturated with tap/distilled water before swimming, it won't absorb as much pool water.

  4. Apply conditioner to your hair before swimming and go in the pool with it on to give hair a protective coating.

  5. Persevere with the swimming cap and apply conditioner before you even put it on to give your hair the added benefit of a heat-conditioning treatment.

  6. Rinse hair thoroughly immediately after each dip - Chlorine is a harsh chemical, and while it doesn't turn hair green, it does damage hair stripping the cuticles, leaving the hair shafts susceptible to colour change, causing split ends and leaving the hair dull, brittle and weak.

  7. Apply lemon juice to hair letting it set for several minutes to allow the citric acid to remove hard metal stains and then rinse the juice out to wash and condition as usual.

  8. Try diluting either a ¼ cup of baking soda or several aspirins in a glass of warm water (up to eight) to then pour on hair before shampooing or after shampooing and before conditioning. Leave the solution on hair for a few minutes (up to fifteen) before washing and conditioning hair.

  9. Try pouring about eight ounces of tomato juice into a plastic cup and taking it into the shower - like lemon juice, the acid in the tomatoes helps remove the undesirable colour. Saturate the hair with tomato juice, leave it on for several minutes before rinsing out the juice, and washing/conditioning hair.

10) Go consumer and buy a specialised shampoo that chelates the metal, such as my purple coloured John Frieda saviour (currently two for £7 in Boots).

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