“Safe” Swimming Products You Shouldn’t Trust
It's time to go through your favorite pool safety gear because it may not be as solid as you think.
Chlorine is bad for bacteria and your hair
Chlorine is a common additive to keep nasty pathogens and bacteria from ruining everyone’s favorite summer activity, swimming. What you might not expect is how chlorine can trigger chemical reactions with other common elements and compounds. “If the water has copper in it, as well water often does, the copper can become oxidized by chlorine,” shares Doris Day, MD, clinical associate professor of dermatology at NYU Langone Health. “In turn, it can bind to the hair shaft and turns blonde hair green.” Dr. Day recommends wetting hair with tap water before swimming so strands can’t absorb as much chlorinated water to begin with, then using a vinegar rinse after swimming to keep hair free of green hues.
Buckets are not safe swim toys
Buckets and other fun-seeming toys might seem like a great idea for little ones, but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports about 10 drowning deaths each day in the United States—many from children playing with buckets and tub-like toys. Scrap the old school toys and upgrade to a sprinkler-style activity, and make sure kids are accompanied at all times.
Choose your SPF carefully
Using sun protection is one of our favorite pool and beach safety rules for people of all ages, but did you know not every sunscreen formula is safe, especially for little ones, pregnant and nursing women, or those with sensitive skin? “Common sunscreens contain chemical ingredients like oxybenzone, avobenzone, octinoxate, and other hard-to-say words,” explains Estee Williams, MD, a board-certified medical and cosmetic dermatologist. “The absorption of these chemicals into the bloodstream can have side effects, which is why mineral sunscreens with active ingredients like zinc oxide could be a better choice for babies and children.”
Standard pool safety floats are still the best
Adorably pink flamingo floats and other brightly-hued inflatables are certainly trendy, but the experts at Safety.com urge young and novice swimmers to always choose standard life rings for very practical reasons. It’s a lot easier and faster to throw this hard disk at the deep end in a pinch to help a struggling swimmer than running on concrete throwing a giant unicorn. Keeping a good quality life ring nearby helps eliminate at least one hidden pool danger. If you’re heading out on the open water, look for one that is Coast Gaurd approved.
Skip the flip-flops
If you’re visiting a public or other highly trafficked pool this summer, don’t let your kids swim barefoot or just toss their usual flip-flops to the side (flip-flops are bad for feet, anyway). Even the most popular pools might have jagged rocks, shards of glass, or other potentially dangerous foreign objects, which is why high-quality sneaker-style water shoes are essential for active swimmers.
Kick your kickboard to the curb
Now that you’re aware of PVA foam being common in pool toys, you’ll want to see if your kickboards and other pool safety devices use that or a safer alternative, EVA. EVA, also known as ethylene-vinyl acetate, is still a plasticized foam, but is generally considered safe if consumed or children are frequently exposed to it.
Pick a safer swimsuit
Applying sunscreen gets to be a full-time job if you’re spending an entire day by the beach or the pool. “You really need to reapply your sunscreen every hour,” explains Dr. Day, who also authored Beyond Beautiful, a book devoted to the secrets of healthy beauty. “That’s not easy to do for the average person, which is why sun protective clothing and shade should always be part of your plan. In fact, sun-protective clothes are the only safe option for babies six months or younger, because their skin surface to body volume ration is so low.” Go with UPF 50+ swimsuits, rash guards, hats, and max out time in the shade to skip scary sunburns and other SPF-related dramas.
Take your contacts out no matter what
“If you swim with your eyes open and wear contacts, chances are good that they will fall out and be lost. Finding a contact on land is hard but in the water, it is almost impossible,” says Lee Sao Bing, MD, an eye surgeon who writes about swim safety for eyes. “If you wear contacts in the pool and lose them you won’t be able to see when you are out of the water either. Some people try to swim with their glasses on, but this still doesn’t protect your eyes from the chemicals in the pool. If you worry about not being able to see without glasses or contacts but want to see while in the pool, consider prescription goggles.” You can switch back to your favorite sunglasses with UV protection when you’re done.
Forget the floaties
Drowning is a very real risk, especially for younger children who haven’t quite mastered swim skills yet. Lifeguards recommend using strapped life vests instead of inexpensive inflatable arm floaties because they tend to fall off without anyone noticing until it’s too late. Make sure the life vest you opt for instead has a secure three-point buckling system and both arm and body support.
Does your float have a weird smell? Toss it.
This may be the worst news you get this summer—but just about any super fun, whimsical pool float with a weird odor probably has PVD-inclusive plastics, which this study deemed a major health risk. Skip the ‘gram-worthy pool floats altogether, or stick with another EVA-based option.
Anything with “habitat” in the description could be deadly
If the tweens and teens in your world keep begging for pool habitats and other inflatable house-style swim toys, please don’t give in. The Good Housekeeping Research Institute found almost all styles of habitat pool toys are prone to flipping over, sometimes leaving swimmers stuck inside. Stick to fun chairs by the pool deck, or fitness-inspiring floating balls.
Damp towels might get you sick
You already know to keep your skin out of the sun, but what about those damp towels? Actually, they need to be fully dried to keep bacterial growth at bay and keep your safer swim experience from ending with a few days in bed sipping soup. In fact, this research paper from the University of Arizona says towels are basically resorts for E. coli and other disgusting germs, which is pretty gross news for everyone’s pool bag. Exposure to UV light and thorough drying is your best bet, but if that’s unrealistic or you’re pressed for time, antimicrobial and quick-dry towels are good alternatives.
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