Swimming Pool Rashes, Causes, Prevention, and Treatments

As a preface, this is in no way to be construed as medical advice. These are just observations coupled with experience from many years in the pool industry!

Warning: Some images may be a little bit graphic so if you don’t like seeing photos of swimming pool rashes then you should jump out of the page now and check out our other blogs!

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about something that many pool users don’t want to talk about, and that is pool rash! A lot of swimmers will usually lump all rashes after swimming the same, but in fact, not all swimming pool rashes or itches are the same! Here are the different types of pool rashes, their causes and how to treat and prevent them in the future!

Chlorine Sensitivity, Chlorine Rash, or Contact Dermatitis

This is the most basic type of swimming pool rash and it’s quite straightforward. A swimmer develops a rash after coming in contact with the chlorine that’s in the pool water. The thing with chlorine sensitivity is that it can develop in people who were perfectly fine with swimming in chlorinated water before. This is evidenced by long-time swimmers, lifeguards, and maintenance personnel developing chlorine sensitivity after prolonged or repeated exposure to chlorinated pools.

Symptoms of Chlorine Sensitivity

Depending on the severity of the sensitivity, these symptoms may develop immediately after exposure to chlorinated water or even hours after.

  • Patches of itchy skin - The most common symptom of chlorine sensitivity are patches of itchy skin.
  • Hives or bumps all over the body - This is also a type of chlorine sensitivity but is more of an allergic reaction to the chlorine itself.
  • Dry or chapped skin - This is also common after swimming in a chlorinated pool, but a worsening condition may be indicative of a worsening chlorine sensitivity.
  • Sores or blisters - Blisters don’t typically form from mild chlorine sensitivity so if sores and blisters are indeed forming then it may be prudent to consult a medical professional.
  • Difficulty breathing - This is also known as an asthmatic reaction to chlorine fumes. This happens when there is an unusually high concentration of chlorine in the pool and fumes are de-gassing from the pool. Anyone who experiences this should seek emergency medical treatment immediately.

SEE ALSO: Preventing Skin and Eye Irritation from Pool Water

Chlorine Sensitivity Treatment

Rashes and dry chapped skin caused by chlorine sensitivity usually resolves itself after a couple of hours or days. An over the counter cream containing hydrocortisone should also help in relieving patches of itchy skin. For hives and other allergic reactions, over the counter cream with antihistamines should do the trick.

Preventing Chlorine Sensitivity Issues

Aside from staying away from chlorinated water, there are actually things we can do to reduce or even prevent developing rashes from exposure to chlorinated water.

  • Taking a shower before entering the pool - chlorine may sometimes react with lotions and other cosmetic products which can in turn cause a rash. Thoroughly wash off before entering the pool to ensure that there are no cosmetic products on your skin to reduce these reactions.
  • Taking a shower with soap AFTER exiting the pool - contrary to what many people think, a casual rinse after swimming is not enough to wash away chlorine thoroughly. Pool water drying off on the skin can leave concentrated patches of chlorine on your skin which can lead to rashes and other chlorine sensitivity issues.
  • Applying specialized lotion or petroleum jelly to chlorine sensitive areas - Before dipping into the pool, protecting areas where chlorine rash has previously occurred can help minimize rashes caused by chlorine sensitivity.
  • Applying chlorine removing cosmetics after using the pool - A simple Google search will show a lot of products that will remove chlorine and soothe the skin after swimming in your pool. While we can’t really recommend a certain product, you can ask your dermatologist or doctor to see which one works best for your skin type.
  • Take a short break from swimming - Unless the rash is triggered by an allergic reaction, taking a short break from swimming will allow your skin to heal and recover from chlorine sensitivity.
  • Rinsing and changing immediately after exiting the pool - after taking a swim, rinse thoroughly and change into loose, dry clothes to allow your skin to breathe.
  • Keeping chlorine levels in check - Many chlorine sensitivity issues spring from high concentrations so keeping your chlorine levels at the proper levels (1ppm to 3ppm) will go a long way to preventing chlorine sensitivity issues.

Fungal Infections from Swimming

The most common fungal infection that can come from a poorly maintained pool is athlete's foot. Athlete’s foot usually develops on areas in and around your feet, hence the name athlete’s foot. This is characterised by a cracked and scaly rash that progressively becomes itchier and has a burning sensation to it. This type of fungal infection doesn’t usually go away on its own and it should be treated with an anti-fungal cream as soon as it is detected to prevent the infection from spreading underneath the fingernails which can cause bigger issues.

Fungal Infection Symptoms

This is easy to identify if the rash is localized to feet and hands/fingers and not on any other part of the body. For normal chlorine sensitivity issues, the feet and hands/fingers will usually be the last one to develop rashes so it is a very good sign that a fungus is involved when you spot rashes in between your toes or fingers.

Another thing to note is that athlete’s foot is extremely contagious so treating it as soon as possible is very important. The good news is that an over the counter antifungal cream usually does the job real quick.

Preventing Pool Fungal Infections

Keeping your pool’s sanitiser levels should be more than enough to kill off any disease causing fungus lurking around your pool. Another thing to remember is to thoroughly scrub down and sanitise your pool decks on a schedule. Even if your pool water is sanitised, the areas around your pool are constantly exposed to moisture and fungus loves moisture!

P.S. If you like going to public pools, be sure to wear flip flops whenever you go to any public area.

Swimmer’s Itch or Cercarial dermatitis

This is totally different from rashes caused by chlorine sensitivity. This type of rash isn’t caused by the chlorine itself but by an allergic reaction to parasites in the water. These parasites are introduced into the water by snails that carry the parasite. These parasites mainly infect birds and other small mammals. While humans are not suitable hosts for this parasite, these parasites can cause an allergic reaction known as Swimmer’s itch.

Symptoms of Swimmer’s Itch

While it may seem like they are the same thing, Swimmer’s itch do have some symptoms that can differentiate it from chlorine sensitivity or fungal infections.

  • Initial tingling and itching followed by reddish pimples or hives - Unlike chlorine sensitivity where the itching and comes with the development of the rash or hives, there is a time gap when it comes to swimmers itch where the hives will only manifest themselves within 12 hours of the itching or tingling. What this means is that there will be some initial itching without any visible hives.
  • They can occur anywhere - Unlike fungal infections like athlete’s foot that’s typically characterised by their appearance at the foot and hand areas, swimmer’s itch can occur at any part of the body that has been exposed to contaminated water.
  • The presence of snails around the pool area - A giveaway that the water is contaminated is if you see snails around the pool area since they’re the only carriers of the parasite that causes swimmer’s itch.

Treatment for Swimmer’s itch

Swimmer’s itch isn’t really serious and it usually goes away by itself after a few days since it’s just an allergic reaction. There are things that we can do though to reduce the symptoms and prevent scratching (since scratching can cause the rash to become infected and this is a different issue in itself).

  • Use an over the counter corticosteroid cream - this will reduce the inflammation and greatly reduce the need to scratch the itch!
  • Applying cool compresses - yes, cool, not cold or hot. This will also help reduce the inflammation to reduce the itching sensation.
  • Anti-itch lotions - Available from many places, anti-itch lotions work wonders on swimmers itch!

Preventing Swimmer's Itch

The only way to prevent swimmer’s itch is to simply keep the water’s sanitiser levels to where they’re supposed to be so that the parasite larvae in the water won’t survive long enough to affect the swimmers. Keep an eye out for snails and if you do spot any, don’t let anyone swim in the pool until you’ve made sure that the sanitiser levels are where they’re supposed to be. To be absolutely safe, clean out the snails and shock your pool to take care of any contaminants.

Hot Tub Rash or Pseudomonas Dermatitis/Folliculitis

While the name says “Hot Tub” this type of rash can also be caused by swimming in pool water. The reason why this got termed as the hot tub rash is because due to the limited volume of water in hot tubs, the infection and contamination is more likely. But don’t get us wrong, it can still happen in poorly-maintained swimming pools.

Hot Tub Rash is caused by the bacteria type Pseudomonas aeruginosa. This type of bacteria just loves warm water!

Symptoms of Hot Tub Rash

Hot tub rash usually manifests itself a few days after exposure to contaminated water and in spots that have prolonged exposure to the swimsuit (longer contact of contaminated water on skin). Visually, hot tub rash has the following characteristics:

  • Bumpy red rashes that are itchy.
  • Blisters that may or may not be filled with pus that develop around hair follicles.
  • They usually develop in areas like the beltline and other spots with prolonged contact to wet swimwear.
  • Since this is an infection, this may cause a general feeling of malaise or being unwell.
  • Symptoms may progress into sore throat, headaches, and nausea, but it should clear out after a few days.

Note: If the bumps and rashes don’t clear after a few days or if it seems like it’s spreading beyond the initial area then it is best to consult a doctor. If you develop a fever around 38C or 101F then it would be good to consult a doctor as well.

Hot Tub Rash Treatment

Since it’s a pretty mild infection, hot tub rash usually goes away in a week or two. Applying warm compresses can help reduce itching and speed up the healing process. Applying anti-itch cream can also help relieve the symptoms and prevents secondary infections from scratching. If the infection is persistent, your doctor may prescribe an antibacterial cream to help speed up the healing process.

Note: If any type of antibacterial treatment is prescribed, be sure to take the whole course and not stop when it “seems” better. Stopping in the middle of the course can cause the infection to come back and hit even harder!

Prevention of hot tub rash

Here are some ways on how to prevent hot tub rash from occurring in the first place.

  • Keep the hot tub / pool water sanitised - although this goes without saying, we decided to include this just to drive the point home.
  • Avoid swimming / using the hot tub after shaving or waxing - The bases of your hair follicles will be extremely susceptible to infections directly after shaving or waxing. So as much as possible, wait at least a day and give the base of your hair follicles some time to heal before swimming.
  • Thoroughly clean and dry your swimsuits after using - After taking a swim, make sure to thoroughly wash the swimwear used and dry them through to ensure that it’s absolutely clean the next time you use it.
  • After swimming, shower and change out of wet swimwear - While it may sound relaxing to lounge around in wet swimwear after soaking in the hot tub or after swimming, doing this will increase the chances of getting hot tub rash.

SEE ALSO: Pool maintenance mistakes to avoid

Universal Prevention of Rashes from swimming

As we can see from the previous sections, one of the things that is common for preventing all types of swimming rashes is proper pool chlorination. Interestingly enough, proper pool chlorination is one of the hardest things to achieve especially if you have limited time allocated for your pool maintenance tasks. The good thing is that there is actually one piece of equipment that will ensure that your pool is properly chlorinated 99% of the time, and that is a salt water chlorination system! A salt water chlorinator like the Water Technix Atomic Salt Water Chlorinator will all but eliminate swimming pool rashes caused by bacteria, fungus and parasites!


Again, these are just our observations and observations of the thousands of pool owners we’ve come into contact with over the years, but the key takeaway is that keeping your pool chlorine levels in check will do the job 99% of the time in preventing these types of rashes from occurring in the first place! And as we always love to say, prevention is always better than cure!

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Happy swimming :)

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