As a kid, I was very lucky because I was always at the beach in the summer holidays. I remember seeing people with swimming caps on and thinking, “Why do they wear them?” – “What’s the point?”
Everything was so simple and unambiguous back then and swimming caps just didn’t make sense to me. Of course, things start to make more sense as you get older and you realise things you didn’t appreciate back then.
So with my adult desire for knowledge woken from its childhood slumber, I have explored the mystery that was once a bizarre phenomenon to me.
Why Do People Wear Swim Caps?
Answer. To Protect Your Hair Against The Sun and UV Rays. As a lad, my hair was bleached blond by the sun. I didn’t give a hoot. However, there are many people, women predominantly, that don’t want to end up with hair that resembles a Californian surfer’s locks, no disrespect intended.
Spending many hours exposed to UV rays can destruct the proteins in the hair. This has the effect of weakening the hair’s cell structure and flexibility. It’s the outer part of the hair that gets the most damage so thin hair is at more risk than thick hair.
For people with dark hair, the bleaching effect is worse but the hair doesn’t get so damaged. The dark hair screens out more of the UV rays but as a result, the outer part of the hair receives more sunlight and so becomes bleached.
Bathing caps simply provide a barrier to the harmful rays from the sun. There are hair products that can do a similar job but these can cost quite a bit of money. For convenience, there is nothing easier than putting one one, plus it will save a lot of money on hair products.
Answer. To Protect Your Hair From Harmful Pool Chemicals. Another reason why many people slip on their swim cap is to protect their hair from damaging chemicals, mainly chlorine. Going for a swim once or twice isn’t going to harm your hair for good, it may leave it dry for a day or two but it will recover. The problem is if exposure is continued over a prolonged period.
Chlorine is the most widely used disinfectant that is added to many swimming pools, primarily because it is quite inexpensive and effective. It is applied to the water to kill most microorganisms like bacteria, germs and microbes and also to break down and get rid of grime, oil and dirt.
As a natural process, our scalps generate essential oils that protect our hair from day to day. Chlorine strips these protective oil layers from our hair which, over time will cause damage such as dryness, staining and fragility, plus it makes hair look unattractive.
If no steps are taken to counteract your hair from overexposure to chlorine, considerable damage can occur. Once again, there are hair products that are available but most pools won’t allow you to use them, plus they are costly. Swim caps are the obvious choice for regular chlorine pool swimmers. They are inexpensive, easy to slip on and you can get some pretty crazy styles.
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Answer. To Reduce Resistance In Order To Swim Faster. To competitive swimmers, hundredths of a second can mean the difference as to where they place in a race. They use every trick in the book to gain an advantage. Swimming caps are one thing used by race swimmers so that they can shave these microseconds off their times.
Water is hundreds of times more resistant than air, it creates much more friction that slows the swimmer down. Even hair produces hydrodynamic drag in the water, so to reduce that resistance, a cap is used by swimmers so that they are more streamlined.
The smaller the surface area of an object the less drag it will have through the water meaning faster times, so being smooth, a cap will have the least possible drag in the water, unless you shave you hair off and go bald.
It is important to get one that fits as snug to the head as possible to create minimal drag resistance. Acquiring one that doesn’t wrinkle on the head or have any seams is another thing that can speed up the pace of a swimmer, however minimal it is.
Answer. To Stop Hair Getting In The Face. If you have no hair then you won’t have this problem and you probably won’t need a cap either.
Long hair that is constantly getting in the eyes, up the nose and in the mouth can be really annoying and prevent you from enjoying your swim. You keep on having to sweep the hair away from your face and can’t concentrate on swimming. In the worse case scenario, it could be dangerous if the hair was inhaled or swallowed.
It is so easy to prevent with a swimming cap.
Answer. It Is Compulsory At Some Pools. Continuing from the previous answer somewhat, some swimming pools won’t let you swim without one. This is once again partly due to the fact that the owners don’t want the hair from swimmers clogging up the pools systems, partly due to wanting to keep the pool free of any hair products and partly not wanting to be sued by swimmers that have choked on their own hair.
I personally think this is excessive on behalf of the pools owners, but if that’s what they decide, then so be it. Maybe if is a very busy pool they could have a problem with hair clogging, and oil fouling the filters!!! Have a look what this swimmer thinks – Swimmer Wants Bathing Cap Mandate to Keep Pools Clean
Answer. To Keep The Head Warm. It may seem strange that someone that has their body submerged in water would don a cap to keep warm. However, lots of heat is lost through the head so some form of insulation will be of benefit. Long distance swimmers or swimmers that swim in cold temperatures where the air temperature is often much colder that the water temperature, need to keep as much warmth in the body as possible.
Keeping hair dry for as long as possible is another way to keep a bit of warmth in the body, as is wearing two caps for a tighter seal.
As you see, I have talked about six main reasons why people wear swim caps, although there are others too.
Thinking back to my naive carefree questions to myself when I was a kid pondering on the beach, I have resolved the question. There isn’t one particular answer but a number of them. I am so glad way back then that I didn’t know that there was more than one reason because that would have REALLY confused me.