Can Swimming Pools Make My Baby’s Eczema Worse?

Swimming pools can sometimes irritate baby eczema, but not all pools have the same effects. Learn tips for protecting eczema babies’ skin while swimming.

Swimming pools can sometimes dry baby’s skin or irritate baby eczema, causing flare-ups. But that isn’t always the case. It all depends on the chemicals in the pool and your little one’s skin status.

Don’t let your baby’s eczema steer you away from the pool, because water play is reasonably friendly to the skin (as long as your little one doesn’t get too hot).

Plus, baby needs to gain experience in the water for safety and confidence --- learning to swim is vital so they’re safer in and around the water.

Here’s what parents need to know about swimming pools and eczema, including how to reduce the risk that a pool will cause a flare-up.

Swimming Pool Water, Chlorine and Eczema

Swimming pool water doesn’t always dry out or irritate skin with eczema, but it sometimes can. It’s most likely to dry skin if its pH is above 7.0 (above neutral), or if there is a buildup of calcium in the water.

Chlorine doesn’t usually pose a dryness risk. In fact, chlorine is a bleach, and the dilution of chlorine in most pools is very similar to the diluted bleach in a bleach bath. Bleach baths are a special type of bath that dermatologists recommend to soothe baby eczema. Research has shown that these baths help clean off harmful bacteria that may aggravate your baby's eczema, reduce infections, and directly stop eczema flares. So, swimming in a chlorine pool may actually help some babies with eczema. But in other babies, it may still cause some skin dryness.

As for skin irritation, chlorine can sometimes irritate a baby's skin and cause an eczema flare-up. So can other chemicals that are sometimes mixed into pool water (to sanitize or treat the water).

But chemical treatments used in pools can vary greatly, and so can the ways each baby’s eczema reacts. If baby's skin gets irritated by the chemicals in a certain public pool, it’s worth seeing if other local pools are friendlier to baby’s skin.

Learn more from Mayo Clinic on eczema management and swimming:

Heat, Sweat and Eczema

Swimming and playing in a pool is a form of exercise. Even though the water may feel cool, baby’s body could still get hot and sweaty during a swim. And for babies with eczema, heat and sweat can cause the skin to get itchy and irritated. So, make sure that baby stays hydrated, especially before and after a swim. Keep baby’s skin hydrated as well (we’ll cover the steps for this in the next section).

Essential Steps For Swimming With Eczema

To keep chemicals in a swimming pool --- and sweating caused by the swim --- from irritating baby’s skin, follow these steps recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology. They’re essential to keeping the skin hydrated, fighting potential flare-ups, and removing potential irritants from the skin.

  • Apply a liberal layer of moisturizer about an hour before baby enters the water. Bring baby’s moisturizer to the pool, if needed. If at an indoor pool, try to apply more moisturizer than you usually would, so it will serve as a barrier to any possible irritants in the water.
  • After the swim, bathe baby as soon as possible to thoroughly rinse any irritants off of their skin. If clean pool showers (with unchlorinated water) are available, you can also shower with baby immediately after the swim. Be sure the water is fresh and warm (not hot).
  • Pat baby dry after the rinse, to leave some moisture on the skin.
  • Within 3 minutes of the bath or rinse, apply moisturizer on the skin to seal in the moisture. This will also help offset any drying of the skin that the pool may have caused. Apply more moisturizer than you normally would.

Other Tips For Swimming With Eczema

  • If you desire, have baby wear a long-sleeved rash guard and/or long swim pants in the pool, to protect more areas of baby’s skin that are most prone to eczema flares (such as elbows and the backs of knees).
  • If you’re at an outdoor pool, you’ll need to protect baby’s skin from both irritants and the sun. Apply baby’s moisturizer an hour before the pool. Then, just before the swim, apply waterproof sunscreen that’s made for children with eczema. This way, you’ll make sure the sunscreen will provide full protection and doesn’t get diluted by the moisturizer.
  • If it’s your first time trying out a new pool with baby, plan to spend just a few minutes in the pool at first, to see how baby’s skin reacts.
  • After you get out of the pool, don’t stay too close to the pool for too long. When baby is outside of, but near, the pool, baby could still be exposed to pool chemical fumes.
  • Remember --- if one pool seems to irritate baby’s skin, there are other options. Try another pool that could have a different chemical balance, try a saltwater pool, or have baby swim in fresh water instead.

When to keep baby away from the pool?

There are some times where swimming pool chemicals are much more likely to irritate your baby’s skin. During these times, keep baby away from the pool so swimming won’t make baby’s eczema worse.

Avoid the swimming pool when:

  • Baby’s eczema is badly flaring up
  • Baby’s eczema is infected
  • Baby’s skin has open sores from the eczema
  • Baby has itchy and oozing skin

But if baby’s skin isn’t exhibiting any of these symptoms, don’t avoid the pool just because they have eczema. Follow the steps to protect their skin, and let them enjoy the water. Getting baby acclimated to the water is essential for their safety.

And for detailed, expert advice on protecting baby’s skin while at the pool, be sure to talk to baby’s dermatologist.

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All health-related content on this website is for informational purposes only and does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the advice of your own pediatrician in connection with any questions regarding your baby’s health.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.  If your infant has severe eczema, check with your infant’s healthcare provider before feeding foods containing ground peanuts.