How Hard Water Affects Your Hair and Skin—and What to Do About It
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Hard water is tough on your skin and hair. Have you ever gotten out of the shower in a new place—maybe on a vacation to Florida or Colorado—and everything felt…different? And not in a good way? That was likely the effect of bathing in calcium- and magnesium-rich agua. Or, it might be happening every day: It is estimated that 85 percent of US households receive hard water through the taps. Around your house, you can often see calcium building up inside your coffee maker, your bathroom sink, your shower curtain…and without any water or fabric softening agents, your clothes get more rigid with each wash. So, imagine what that does as it coats our hair and skin with each wash.
For more on the matter, we spoke with Dr. Susan Massick, a board-certified dermatologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. Here is her intel about hard water’s impact on hair and skin.
How Hard Water Affects Skin
“Frequent and continuous use of hard water in the shower leads to dryness and disruption of the normal skin barrier function,” says Massick. “It leaves your skin and scalp feeling dry, and often itchy or irritated.” So, on top of things like regulating water temperature and shower duration (among the many good shower habits), a mineral filter can also prevent your skin from feeling parched after a scrubdown.
Massic explains that, while minerals can be a good thing to drink for skin health (and hair health, too), this external buildup can be “too much of a good thing.” It can even exacerbate chronic skin conditions, she says, like eczema and psoriasis.
In some cases, it can even inhibit the lathering and application of products in the shower, like your soap and shampoo. Speaking of hair care…
How Hard Water Affects Hair
While your skin cells turn over every month, your hair stays with you indefinitely. So, unless you’re keeping things buzzed or closely cropped, then your shower regimen impacts your hair quality for the long haul.
“The minerals in hard water can leave a residue on your hair, preventing both a deep clean and conditioning,” Massick warns. “It also affects the texture, health, and appearance of your hair.”
Now, it’s nothing a deep-cleansing shampoo can’t flush away, but we’re not in the business of daily shampooing (and in many cases, not even in every-other-day washing). And if you want your hairs to dry every day free of mineral buildup (and your scalp, too, for that matter), then you’ll want to do something about it. More on that below.
How to Know If Your Water is Hard or Soft
There is no one way to know if your water is hard or soft. Many modern buildings have natural filtering systems. Some cities and states have soft water from the jump. And easy way to get an educated guess at your region’s water hardness is to search by zip code. But if you want to be extra precise, you can buy water hardness testing strips to get a better idea of your home’s specific levels. (All of this assumes you can’t taste a discernible mineral presence in your drinking water, or notice residue in your bathroom sink and shower, or around your kitchen, which, if you live somewhere with extremely hard water, you probably can.)
What to Do About Hard Water
Massick suggests that homeowners consider investing in a filtering system for the entire building. “This way, all the water used is filtered through the softener, whether used in the showers, sinks, or toilets,” she says. These can run you between $1K and $5K, however, so it is certainly an investment. But since some whole-house water filters promise efficacy up to 1 million gallons, they also go a long way.
But not everyone has a few stacks lying around, and lots of people live in apartments. In that case, consider a shower head filter. “These filter out excess minerals and can be effective as long as they are replaced based on time or usage,” Massick says.
There are many on the market, and the most important thing is to ensure that the shower head fits your specific shower design. Here’s the one I use—and happily endorse. It goes in between the tap and your shower head, and it fit perfectly when I had a rain shower (installed above the shower plate overhead), and which now fits more snugly into my current shower hose (which feeds from the tub faucet).
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