What Hard Water Does to Your Skin (And What You Can Do About It)

If you’ve ever come out of the shower satisfied with that dry, squeaky clean feeling, assuming that it means your skin is cleaner, then you’ve probably been enjoying the very thing that causes skin irritation and dryness: hard water.

You see, the type of water that you have at home—whether it’s hard or soft—can have a significant effect on your skin. While soft water gives your skin a soft, slippery feel, hard water can pose many issues.

Let’s take a look at the negative effects of hard water on skin and what you can do to combat these.

What is Hard Water?

Before we take a look at the effects and solutions to hard water on skin, let’s quickly cover what hard water is.

Hard water is water with a high mineral content, typically calcium and magnesium. These minerals are safe for drinking and can actually give your water a fresh flavor. However, hard water has devastating effects on your appliances, bathrooms, hair and skin.

Most homes in the US has hard water, varying from slight to extremely hard. The way hardness is measured is in grains per gallon, and to find out how hard your water is, you’ll need to test the water or request a water quality report from your public water supplier.

While hard water has several negative effects, which is why over 30% of homes use a water softening service, it’s especially hard on your skin.

How Can Hard Water Affect My Skin?

Impact of hard water on woman's skin

If you have hard water coming out of your shower, you’ve probably felt its harsh effects on your skin. Some of these include:

Ineffective Cleansing

If you’ve ever noticed that your soap doesn’t lather effectively, then you know how it feels to be dealing with hard water. Additionally, if there’s a scummy layer on your body after every shower or bath, hard water is probably to blame. Hard water contains minerals like calcium and magnesium. These minerals react with fatty acids in your soap and make it easier for the soap to form this annoying layer.

Skin Irritation

The minerals in hard water can dry out your skin, causing irritation and discomfort.

Hardness compounds tend to suck moisture out of your skin, clog pores and possibly cause acne.

If your skin is normally sensitive, you may also notice that your skin irritation gets worse when you wash in hard water. If you have skin conditions like eczema, hard water can irritate the condition. A study in the UK found that schoolchildren who lived in areas that had hard water were 50% more likely than others to suffer from eczema.

You might find your skin getting red and itchy after a shower, with gritty texture to your skin. These are possibe indications of hard water.

Collagen Breakdown

Iron and magnesium in hard water can form particles called free radicals, which can damage your skin and cause premature aging.

Free radical damage causes the breakdown of collagen, which is an essential protein that keeps the skin firm and healthy.

This long-term effect of hard water on your skin can cause your skin to sag and can cause lines and wrinkles to form on it.

How to Treat the Damage of Hard Water on Skin

If you’ve noticed the effects of hard water on your skin, don’t panic. First of all, hard water isn’t harmful for you. Its effects on your skin can be targeted in a few different ways:

Use a Water Softening Shower Head

If you can’t or don’t want to invest in a water softening system, consider tackling the problem in the shower itself. Choose a shower head filter for hard water. These are designed to mitigate the problem of hard water by filtering the water using mediums like granular activated carbon (GAC). Not all shower head filters are effective at reducing the effects of hard water so do your due diligence to find an effective product.

Consider a Water Softener

If you want to get rid of the hardness in your water, a water softener would be a good idea. It’s a comprehensive and effective solution that removes the hardness ions from the water, replacing it with sodium ions via a process called ion exchange.

Water softener’s come in a variety of models and sizes but finding the right one will ensure you don’t have hard water as a problem to deal with. However, be prepared for some ongoing maintenance and costs, if you do decide to get a water softener.

By softening your water, you can decrease irritation and prevent many of the health problems associated with hard water from continuing. 

Substitute Soap with a Cleanser

As mentioned above, hard water makes it difficult for soap to form a lather, leaving your skin with the annoying buildup of soap residue which contributes to dryness.

By reducing the amount of soap on your skin, you’re also reducing the dryness of the skin. So, instead of using soap, we recommend you use a cleansing milk or micellar water, both of which are more moisturizing and hydrating than regular soaps. 

Moisturize Often

Because hard water causes your skin to dry, you should always apply a moisturizing body lotion, especially when your skin is still damp. By doing this, you trap the natural moisture in the skin and prevent it from getting dry.

If you have sensitive or dry skin, it’s recommended that you use fragrance-free body washes and moisturizers. And if you’re looking for something more natural or organic, then you should probably resort to warm coconut oil as a moisturizer.

Some Other Suggestions

Here are some other suggestions to consider to mitigate the effects of hard water on skin.

Adopt a Healthy Shower Routine

If you’ve got hard water at home, it’s best to try not to shower for too long and avoid really hot or really cold water. We recommend you use lukewarm water and avoid washing your face too frequently. Also, instead of rubbing yourself down hard with your towel, dab your skin gently just to remove any excess water.

Use Thermal Spring Water

Thermal spring water has been used since Roman times to treat a wide variety of skin conditions such as dry skin, and it’s now commonly used for eczema, ichthyosis, and psoriasis. Another cool thing about thermal spring water is that it has antioxidant and anti-aging properties. It cleans your skin, protects it from irritation and inflammation, and moisturizes it. In fact, it works best as a moisturizer for people with oily skin instead of creams and lotions. So, it’s pretty much the opposite of hard water when it comes to skin treatment. It’s especially useful after a long stay in dry weather or air-conditioned rooms. 

Of course, thermal spring water doesn’t come cheap and may not be a viable option for most of us.

Wash Your Face with Bottled Water

Hard water from the tap may cause skin irritation or redness. So, using bottled water is a good option if you want to have a much better, more effective washing experience. It might seem like a costly option, but if your skin is particularly sensitive, it may be worth your investment.

Make sure to use an adequate amount of water to sufficiently rinse your face and prevent any product buildup. Another good alternative is no-rinse cleansing water, which can sometimes moisturize too.

Shower Away from Home

This might sound weird, but you should probably take every chance you get to shower somewhere other than your home (e.g. at the swimming pool or at the gym). Reducing the number of showers you take in hard water will ensure that minimal damage is done to your skin.

Also, if you’re going to do that, it’s recommended that you take a facial cleanser with you to wash your face with.

The Bottom Line

Hard water can be an annoying and difficult factor to contend with, especially if you have dry and sensitive skin. Hopefully, the solutions and recommendations listed above will give you some ideas on how to reduce the negative effects of hard water on your skin.

For the most comprehensive and long-term solution, we recommend installing a water softening system.

For a faster, cheaper solution, consider purchasing a shower water filter for hard water.

To learn about the effects of hard water on your hair, go here.

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