Hair-discoloration of Japanese elite swimmers

J Dermatol. 2000 Oct;27(10):625-34. doi: 10.1111/j.1346-8138.2000.tb02243.x.


To understand hair-discoloration in relation to swimming, we examined sixty-seven elite swimmers of the Japan National Swimming Team and fifty-four, age-matched subjects as controls. The incidence of hair discoloration (61%) in the swimmers' group was significantly higher than that in controls (0%) (p<0.0001). Interestingly, surface damage of the nail plates coexisted in the swimmers with the scalp-hair discoloration. The hairs picked from the eight swimmers and two age-matched individuals as controls were examined by electron microscope (EM) and EM X-ray microanalyzer. The swimmers' discolored, golden hair revealed complete disappearance of hair cuticle both by scanning EM (SEM) and transmission EM (TEM). The quantity of melanosomes in the cortex decreased, and their diameter was smaller than that of controls. In addition, irregularly shaped melanosomes with variable electron density and less electron-dense melanosomes with white haloes were frequently observed in the swimmers' golden hair. The X-ray elemental spectrograph by SEM revealed that the content of sulfur in all the swimmers' discoloured hair was lower than that in the normal controls and that the content of chlorine in the male swimmers' discoloured hair was higher than that in the female swimmers and the normal controls. The X-ray elemental microanalysis by TEM focused on melanosomes in the cortex of the cross section and detected elemental chlorine in all swimmers' golden hairs. It did not detect any element in the control hairs. The 14C-tyrosine uptake test of hairbulbs found no significant difference between the swimmers and the normal controls. These findings suggest that hair discoloration was mainly due to cuticle damage by friction with water. Hypochlorous acid in the swimming pool water can penetrate to the hair cortex through the cuticle. It can oxidize and degenerate melanosomes there.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Disinfectants / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Friction
  • Hair / chemistry
  • Hair / ultrastructure
  • Hair Diseases / chemically induced
  • Hair Diseases / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Hypochlorous Acid / adverse effects*
  • Japan
  • Male
  • Nail Diseases / pathology
  • Pigmentation Disorders / chemically induced
  • Pigmentation Disorders / pathology*
  • Swimming Pools
  • Swimming*


  • Disinfectants
  • Hypochlorous Acid