During the summertime, it’s not uncommon for people to spend their entire day at the local swimming pool. The hours can pass by rather quickly when you lounge around in the water. For some, all these hours in the pool may be a cause of concern, which begs the question, “Is there such a thing as staying in the pool for too long?”
It is recommended that swimmers refrain from staying in a pool for 24 hours straight. Continuously swimming in a pool for 24 to 48 hours peels away the outer skin layer, increasing infection risk. Other associated health concerns include dehydration, volatile body temperature, sunburn, and fatigue.
Below, we will delve into the exact reasons why staying in pool water past the 24-hour mark can make you more vulnerable to infection. Read until the end to discover what transpires when you linger in a swimming pool for too long, as well as the optimum time to spend in the water.
Why You Shouldn’t Stay in a Pool Past 24 Hours
There’s a considerable number of people who are curious about how spending long hours in the pool affects their health. With all the disinfecting chemicals dispersed throughout pool water, it’s only natural to think that this prolonged exposure will have some negative side effects.
Fortunately for us, pool water is relatively safe to swim in for long periods of time. Despite all of the chemicals mixed in, pool water is not inherently bad. The first signs of any negative side effects exclusively linked with pool water typically show up around the 24-hour mark. The most serious concerns linked with staying in the pool too long have to do with outside factors that swimmers can often avoid if the necessary safety precautions are taken. We will discuss these outside factors to a greater extent later in the article.
After 24 hours of continuously being in pool water, the outermost layer of the skin finally begins to deteriorate under the constant exposure to water. Dermatology expert Dr. Jeffery Fromowitz made the following statement on the subject:
This occurs because water gets caught between the outermost layer of the skin—also known as the epidermis—and the middle layer of the skin—otherwise known as the dermis. As this water accumulates, vesicles start to develop between these two skin layers. To paint you a picture, these vesicles would look like tiny, superficial bubbles popping up all along the exposed areas.
In time, these vesicles would break open and cause the skin to shed away. In the absence of a strong physical barrier, your vulnerability to infection would skyrocket. Although public swimming pools come equipped with high chlorine concentrations, this does not mean that the water is completely germ-free. In fact, it’s often quite the opposite. Community pools are filled with microscopic substances that could infect the human body, including, but not limited to (source):
- body oils
- dead skin
- fecal matter
If any of these substances were to penetrate into the body, it would spell disaster. On a more positive note, few people ever continuously stay in a swimming pool for longer than 24 hours. At most, people spend 8 to 10 hours in the pool over the course of a single day, but even that’s somewhat of a rarity!
What Happens When You Stay in the Pool “Too Long”
So what does prolonged exposure to pool water actually do? After spending all day at the pool, the only real issues that you’ll encounter from the pool water is the following:
- Brittle Hair – The high concentration of chlorine found within pool water absorbs your hair’s natural oils. If enough of these natural oils are removed, there are several unintended consequences that result. Your hair color may lighten and the integrity of each hair strand will slowly weaken.
- Pruned Skin – It’s a natural response of the body for the skin on the fingers and toes to wrinkle after being immersed in water for an extended period of time. This phenomenon is thought to be an evolutionary adaptation to improve our ability to more easily grip surfaces and objects when wet.
Since these issues resolve themselves, it isn’t worth your time to fuss over them. Instead, if you’re going to worry about anything, you should pay close attention to the external factors linked with staying in the pool all day, which we will talk about next.
Other Health Concerns Associated with Staying at the Pool
In reality, the health concerns that should pique your interest have nothing to do with overexposure to pool water. They have to do with other aspects of your health that get overlooked because of how much time you spend in the pool.
First and foremost, anybody that spends all day at the pool should make a concerted effort to hydrate. Sadly, immersing yourself in water is not a viable means of upping your fluid intake. It should go without saying, but human skin does not absorb water into the bloodstream. The only tried and true way to stay hydrated is to ingest it physically.
Dehydration can become a major issue for pool-goers because they fail to remind themselves to get out of the water every once in a while and drink some fluids. Swimming is a physically taxing endeavor, but it’s hard to notice how much you’re actually sweating since your perspiration is masked by the surrounding pool water. If you’re outdoors on a hot summer day, this effect only becomes more pronounced as your body temperature rises.
Speaking of body temperature, that’s the next health concern on this list.
Volatile Body Temperature
Similar to how pool water can mask your perspiration levels, pool water can also mask your true core body temperature. Depending on the weather’s temperature and the water’s temperature, a person’s body temperature can fluctuate to dangerous levels rather quickly.
If the water temperature is too high, pool-goers are at a much greater risk for hyperthermia. Generally, a water temperature above 82 degrees Fahrenheit is considered too hot for a public pool (source). At this temperature, the human body cannot dissipate the heat accumulating within the bloodstream. Combined with dehydration, this excess internal heat can be lethal.
More information on the subject of heat exhaustion in swimmers can be found at Why Your Body Feels Hot After Swimming (Explained!).
So if you feel as though your core body temperature is rising high, exit the pool and get indoors. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
On the flip side of the coin, pool-goers can also suffer from hypothermia if the water temperature is too low. Although this is more of a problem for open-water swimmers, it’s still important to be aware of this issue if you go to the pool often. Needless to say, if your body doesn’t feel right, take a break and allow yourself some time to recover.
Another source of concern among outdoor pool-goers is overexposure to the sun. It should come as no surprise that sunburn is extremely likely for those that devote their entire day to the pool. A person can get sunburned at high UV levels within just 15 minutes of swimming (source). How quickly a person sunburns varies greatly depending upon skin fairness and whether or not they applied sunscreen.
If you know that you sunburn easily, you should take precautionary measures against staying out under the sun too long. Here’s a couple of ideas on how to better protect yourself from UV rays at the pool:
- putting on a wide-brimmed hat to shade your face
- taking periodic breaks from the pool to reapply sunblock
- using sunblock with higher UV protection
- wearing a swim shirt to protect yourself against the sun
Unfortunately, dealing with sunburn comes with the territory of swimming outdoors for hours on end. While constantly monitoring your skin health can be tedious, it still beats coping with aching sunburns for the days after your pool trip.
Staying in the pool for hours may be enjoyable, but it can exact a heavy physical toll on the body, particularly if you’re an adamant swimmer. Past a certain point, a swimmer’s energy levels are bound to waver.
On land, exhaustion is not as pressing of an issue. In water, however, excessive fatigue can be a real concern due to the increased likelihood of drowning. Once you feel your energy levels dropping, it’s best to avoid the deep end of the pool whenever possible. Wading in the water is one thing, but treading water is a whole separate ordeal.
You can learn more about the difficulty of treading water by clicking over to Why Treading is So Hard (+Tips to Get Better).
How Long Should You Stay in the Pool?
Having discussed all the health concerns associated with staying at the pool for multiple hours, the next logical question to address is what the ideal amount of time is to spend in pool water.
Currently, the only definitive medical recommendation regarding how long a person should spend in the pool is to not swim for 24 hours straight, as discussed earlier. Beyond that, there’s no “golden” number of pool hours. There are too many variables to consider for any medical expert to make a blanket recommendation on the subject.
Without any hard and fast rules to follow, it’s ultimately up to you to use your own personal judgment to decide when enough is enough. It would be best if you took all of the health factors outlined above into account. For example, if the water temperature is on the rise and you feel yourself getting hot, it may be in your best interest to cut your pool day short. On the other hand, if you’re fully hydrated and bursting with energy, extending your stay at the pool may not be a bad option.
Over the years, I’ve had a fair share of pool experiences on both sides of the spectrum. During my childhood, I would spend 8 to 10 hours at my grandparents’ pool no problem. On some days, I would even challenge my brothers and sisters to see who could stay in the pool the longest. In contrast, there have been other, less desirable pool days that I’ve had to cut short because of how badly my skin was sunburned. On days like these, I was lucky to spend an hour at the pool.
The main takeaway here is to get to know your personal limits at the pool since there’s no real medical consensus as of yet.