Did you know water can be hard or soft? No, this has nothing to do with your shower pressure. In fact, it’s much more alarming because most people have hard water and they don’t even know it. Hard water, while not toxic, comes with several challenges. Yes, it can cause buildup in pipes and leave stains on clothes, but it can also damage your skin and hair. Read on to learn how you can prevent hard water from leaving your skin and hair more prone to visible signs of aging.
What is Hard Water?
Is hard water just ice? An easy conclusion to jump to, but no. To get the skinny on hard water, we spoke to Dr. Cheryl Rosen, the Director of Dermatology at Bow Tied Life: “Water is said to be ‘hard’ when it contains high levels of minerals.” Dr. Rosen pointed out “these minerals can cause problems for plumbing and appliances, but they also create difficulties[…]and can be harsh on skin and hair.”
Have you ever noticed any white buildup clinging to your showerhead or faucet? That white, rough-to-the-touch gunk is the mineral traces left behind by hard water. And while you can’t see it as clearly on your skin, you can certainly feel it. According to Dr. Rosen, “[Hard water] can cause skin to feel dry and itchy, and can damage hair, making it look dull, lifeless, and frizzy.” And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
What is Hiding in Hard Water?
Quite a bit, actually. Hard water has high amounts of dissolved calcium and magnesium — and you can see it. Grab a drinking glass from your cupboard. Does it have any cloudy stains or spots making what should be a crystal-clear glass look more milky? Those stains are the remnants left over from your hard water. You can try to scrub until it’s gone, but if you rinse with hard water, those stains will come back again and again. Now imagine that same drinking glass is your skin. Hard water leaves mineral deposits on your skin too, and they are just as difficult to wash away.
Is Hard Water Dangerous?
“Hard water isn’t actually dangerous nor does it make us sick,” says health and wellness expert, Caleb Backe, “but it does have excess minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and other dissolved metals.” Basically, while hard water is not toxic, it does gum up the works. We already covered how hard water exposes your skin to harsh minerals, but those minerals also make it difficult for hard water to adequately rinse off soap and shampoo. The combination of minerals and soap residue is the perfect recipe for flaky, dry, irritated skin.
How Do I Know if I Have Hard Water?
If you’re reading this, odds are pretty good that you are one of the many people with hard water. According to a Geological Survey of the United States, over 85% of U.S. homes have hard water running through their taps. The map below shows that even if you don’t have the hardest water in the country, you still probably have some unwanted minerals coming through your showerhead.
If you don’t live in the United States, don’t get too comfortable just yet. Much of Europe, Asia, and Australia also have hard water flowing through their pipes.
Plus, if you have hard water, you’ll be able to see the signs in several ways…
The Warning Signs of Hard Water
Why Your Hair & Skin Are Always Dry No Matter What You Do
To walk us through the subtle warning signs of hard water on your skin and hair, we reached out to Dr. Paula Morgan, a board-certified dermatologist and medical advisor for Better Goods. “The first thing you may notice with hard water is an increase in stiffness and dryness, which can make your hair difficult to manage. As time goes on, this problem becomes more severe as the minerals build up on your scalp and hair strands. You might start seeing a number of problems, such as dandruff, scalp irritation, and itchiness.”
Same goes for the skin on the rest of your body. It may start with your skin feeling tight after a shower. But as the buildup builds up, it can lead to chronic dryness, itchy patches, and irritation. If your skin stays dry and irritated no matter how many different products you use to combat it — don’t resign yourself to dull itchy skin for life — hard water could be the culprit.
“Hard water effects are subtle, and they can go unnoticed for a while before you [realize] how adversely they have affected your skin and hair,” notes Dr. Tabitha Cranie, MD. — a pediatrician, gynecologist, and dermatologist with unmatched experience. “[Y]ou may be busy changing your shampoos and not considering your water source as the issue,” says Dr. Cranie. Hard water can leave your skin “more brittle and shriveled,” which makes it more susceptible to visible signs of aging. Hydration is the secret to a youthful appearance, but with hard water drying out your skin, all the moisturizing in the world isn’t going to make much of a difference. “And that is not all,” Dr. Cranie warns. “In addition, [hard water] clogs up your pores, thus blocking the skin from producing its natural oils and even excreting its waste properly.”
So for those of us keeping score, hard water:
- Leaves harsh mineral deposits on your skin
- Can’t rinse away soap and shampoo, leaving residue and buildup
- Blocks your pores, stopping your skin from producing its naturally hydrating oils
All of this negatively affects your skin’s natural moisture barrier. With all the residue and buildup on your skin, hair, and scalp, your body can’t get moisture and hydration to soak in where you need it most: your precious skin!
3 Tips to Combat Hard Water
Even if you’re among the lucky few who don’t have hard water, the following tips will still help your skin look and feel softer, smoother, and more hydrated.
Wash Your Face, Hands, and Body with Lukewarm Water
I know it may be hard to say goodbye to steaming hot showers. They can be such an indulgence after a long hard day. But it’s best to avoid hot water whether you have hard water flowing through your shower head or not. Hot water strips away your skin’s natural oils, leaving it more vulnerable to the harsh minerals in your hard water. Hot water also makes it harder for moisture to soak into your skin, which is the same thing all the build up and residue does! The hot water and hard water combo will wreak havoc on your skin.
Take it from Dr. Alexander Zuriarrain, a quadruple board-certified plastic surgeon — this man knows skin. Dr. Zuriarrain says, “The temperature of the water is important when it comes to avoiding drying out the skin. The hotter the water temperature, the more skin damage and dryness that can occur. This in combination with the exposure to the minerals in hard water can lead to chronic skin conditions.” In case that doesn’t make it clear enough, the good doctor drove the point home: “It is not recommended to use very hot water.” If you miss the full spa experience that comes with a steamy shower, Dr. Zuriarrain recommends that you “use a humidifier in your bedroom [and bathroom] as well to decrease a dry environment.” This will give your skin the added hydration from the moisture in the air without stripping and drying it out.
Freezing cold showers aren’t the answer either. Freezing cold water — just like hard water — is not effective at removing oils, soap, and residue left on the skin. So aim for a happy medium. Keeping your bathwater between 60-70 degrees fahrenheit can help remove buildup without stripping the skin which would leave it vulnerable to pollutants, mineral deposits, and any other skin damagers.
A powerful exfoliation treatment is the most effective way to clean the mineral traces and buildup off your skin. This skin-resetting treatment can be used to help slough off the buildup of dead skin and anything else sitting on the surface, to reveal the brighter and fresher-looking skin underneath.
It will also help if you ditch your bar of soap — which can be quite drying on its own — and use a gentle cleanser in its place. Our skin expert, Dr. Zuriarrain, agrees: “Instead of soaps you can try to use gentle cleansers that are softer on the skin [and] help remove the minerals that accumulate. Exfoliation can help as well.” City Beauty’s Youth Rejuvenating Cleanser is not only gentle on your delicate skin, its pH-balanced formula contains exfoliating enzymes from pineapple and papaya to slough off any dead skin and buildup without damaging your tender skin. Give your skin everything it needs to battle hard water and stay free and clear of buildup.
Dermal Reset Exfoliating Concentrate, $80
Moisturize While Your Skin is Still Damp
Instead of fully drying off after a shower or washing your face, allow your skin to stay damp. Then, immediately apply a rich moisturizer to lock in all the hydration from the water and combat dryness. While this tip might sound a little odd and if you’re worried the moisturizer won’t absorb into your damp skin, the opposite is actually true. And it’s backed by Dr. Zuriarrain. “It is recommended to moisturize your skin while your skin is still damp immediately after bathing so that the moisturizer can be adequately absorbed.” Dr. Zuriarrain also stresses the importance of avoiding parabens. “A paraben free moisturizer can help mitigate the negative effects of hard water. These can help remove some of the surface minerals from the skin due to the exposure to hard water. A paraben free moisturizer can help avoid dry skin while at the same time avoiding clogging skin pores,” which parabens are known to do. So avoid adding to the problem and throw out any products on your shelf containing parabens, mineral oil, phthalates, and sulfates. City Beauty’s InvisiCrepe Body Balm is a paraben-free moisturizer that not only locks in hydration but also promotes smoother, firmer-looking skin all over your body.
InvisiCrepe Body Balm, $60
Does Hard Water Cause Hair Loss?
The minerals in hard water are not going to make your hair fall out. But that doesn’t mean it’s not going to give you problems when it comes to your hair. Dr. Zuriarrain said it best: “Exposure to hard water can create a film on the hair which does not allow proper penetration of shampoo or conditioner.” And if your hair care products can’t do their work, this can lead to the appearance of thinning hair. Dr. Zuriarrain goes on to say, “repeated exposure to hard water can result in brittle hair that does not absorb any of the hair products normally used to wash and treat dry hair. After repeated exposures to hard water, the hair can become dry, dull, and frizzy. These exposures also can lead to scalp changes associated with dandruff and hair loss.” So no, hard water is not going to make you bald, but its negative effects can hurt your scalp enough to affect your hair growth.
Is Hard Water Really That Big of a Deal?
It comes right out of your tap and it’s safe to drink. Seems innocent enough, right? Maybe your skin doesn’t react as harshly to the negative effects of hard water. But just because you’re not irritated and itchy all the time does not mean your skin isn’t suffering. Hard water is the silent skin ager. It depletes your skin’s hydration, leaving it more susceptible to fine lines, deep wrinkles, thinning, drooping, and sagging. It also introduces irritants to your skin on a regular basis. And while you may not see the damage instantly, it will show up in the long run.
If your hair has ever felt weighed down, greasy, or brittle right out of a shower, that’s hard water. If the skin on your hands has ever felt tight or slimy after washing them, that’s hard water. If your skin looks dull and lifeless no matter how much lotion you apply, that’s hard water. With colder showers, exfoliation, and moisturizing while still damp, your skin will stay soft and hydrated. It will look brighter, glowier, and more dewy, shaving all that buildup off your skin along with years off your appearance.
Have you ever noticed that your skin glows on vacation? You use all your same favorite products from home, but somehow they are so much more effective away from home. We could chalk it up to the magic of paradise, but what is much more likely is the water. Give yourself the gift of vacation skin at home by following these tips and protecting yourself from the hard water creeping through your pipes.
The Wrap Up
Hard water is here and it is not going anywhere. If you think you’ve been cursed with naturally dry skin, I’m here to tell you, it’s most likely your water. Even if you are more prone to dry skin to begin with, hard water is making it worse.
You put in so much work to protect your skin and keep it soft, supple, and smooth. And you deserve to love the skin you’re in. Don’t let your water get in the way. Share this blog with a friend! Odds are her hard water is silently aging her skin too. Do you have any at-home tips to combat the negative effects of hard water? Comment below!