If you're anything like me, every trip to the pool is an assault on your skin and hair. Here are a few tips and tricks I use to keep my pool workouts from wreaking havoc on my beauty routine, allowing me to continue swimming with confidence.
1. Vitamin C serum. I use this on my face before and after my swim. Just after I'd started swimming again, we went to a karaoke party at a friend's brother's house in Kentucky. My face was red hot and dry; my cheeks burned under the eyes, irritated. The day before I'd swum in the pool attached to the kids' waterpark, more chlorinated for reasons I'd rather not think too much about. We sang "Kokomo" as I remembered what it was like to pull myself underwater (Aruba, Jamaica, ooooh I wanna take ya) legs pushing out like frogs' legs, (Bermuda, Bahama, come on pretty mama) arms pulling like ladles through the hazy bluish green, (Key Largo, Montego, baby why don't we go) goggles pressed to my face causing red dents around the eyes. My face burned more and more as the night went on, who knows why, alcohol, singing, the warm glow of surrounding friends. I blamed the over-chlorinated pool, the smell of it still in my cuticles. Someone told me Vitamin C counteracts the chlorine, rendering its skin-damaging properties powerless. I never got the burning face after I started using it, though we haven't had a karaoke night since, singing "Kokomo" over and over late into the night.
2. Shea butter lotion. There was a woman in the locker room the other day. She had been in the lane next to me swimming laps, and her kicks were wild, splashing me in the face each time we passed. The echoes of them were like gunfire in the natatorium. When I headed to the showers afterwards, she was standing in one of the cubicles, the curtain wide open, suit pulled down to her waste, exposing her breasts as she ran her shaved head under the shower. The girls' swim team had been in earlier, and they'd drained the hot water talking about boys while running the showers. They had stood there with awkward crossed legs as the water ran down the tiles, and by the time I reached the showers there was hardly any hot water left. I beared the cool shower. When I got out, the splashy woman was peering around the corner, naked; she saw me coming and said, loudly, "I LOVE SWIMMING." She complimented my green flannel shirt, telling me it was like St. Patrick's Day, then proceeded to pull a bottle of Jergens from her gym bag and began to lotion her body, legs akimbo. "I hate how the chlorine makes you itchy," she said, bending over. "I always use lotion." She rubbed at her skin, slapping her back and buttocks, smiling as I nodded with averted eyes.
3. Malibu C Shampoo. I was a water baby. My mom took me to classes where they threw me into the pool when I was an infant; they said that infants take to the water so easily because of their time in the amniotic fluid, that it's comforting to them, like a return to the womb. We continued to swim every Monday night and all summer long up to high school, when I decided I was dark and broody and hated the sun. On Monday nights in the winter, we'd go to Billings Natatorium and swim around for an hour or so, then shower in the great big communal shower, watching women of all body types clean themselves, smiling after a refreshing swim. After our shower, we'd head home, where mom would blow dry our hair while we watched "Kate & Allie," the television blasting so we could hear it over the hairdryer. In summers, we swam at the Country Club, which was only called the Country Club because it was attached to a golf course. The locker rooms there were built of cinder blocks, and we used to come out of the pool and press the sides of our fists against the cement, then five little finger prints on top and say "look, a baby's foot." At some point, we must have used Malibu C shampoo: that smell, citrusy and young, was a souvenir of one of those Monday nights, or summer weekends. I don't know which.
4. Wet Brush. The Wet Brush is a good detangling hairbrush, especially for winter swims when you need to tame your hair before you get outside. My mom commended me for keeping up with swimming in the winter. "If you can do it during the winter, you'll definitely keep it up in the summer." I told her I enjoyed it more in the winter, when it felt counterintuitive, off. I zip up in my warm knee-length coat, imagining it's one of the parkas the swimmers on the high school swim team used to wear. I was never on the high school swim team, but used to listen with admiration as they told stories of 5am swim practices, and not shaving their legs to create drag. I pull on boots over thick socks over my own hairy winter legs, and head for the Y. I bring a stocking cap to pull over my head for the trip back to the car. They recently installed a bubble over the outdoor pool at the Y, and inside the bubble it's warm and there's music playing and the lifeguards are sitting high in chairs. I dive in and pull myself along through my routine, watching the sunlight that sometimes peeks through the doors in the bubble shimmering along the lines on the bottom of the pool. I'm alone down there with my thoughts: I'm happy. I smile when I hit the water, that first pull underneath when there is nothing else but that sensation of weightlessness, all realities of the outside world suspended in aspic, the only time we ever get to feel like that. I smile every time. During the outdoor walk from the revolving doors of the bubble to the main building, I feel the water on my skin, the cold winter air outside trying to pierce it, to get inside, but I'm resistant, this swimming thing is mine, and not even winter can discourage me.
Written shamelessly under the influence of Leanne Shapton's Swimming Studies, though I until I got to her chapter on scents just now I didn't really realize how much.