Do you know if your water is hard or soft? If you’re not sure, I mean what the heck ‘eh, water isn’t hard, it’s all soft!… until you pull out your most awesome diving-board belly flop… then it’s all pretty darn hard! If you have hard water, you’re probably already aware. Hard water means build up in kettles, residue in your shower and lime-scale everywhere else. It can also affect your skin! But why, what the heck is happening and if you don’t live in a hard water area, what happens to your skin when you stay somewhere that does? What is the effect of hard water on skin?
What Is Hard Water
To our eyes most water looks the same. It’s not coming out of our plug holes all brown, or grey, or green, (we aren’t living in a horror movie ‘ey) it all just looks like, well.. err… water! It’s nothing fancy and we aren’t used to thinking twice about the stuff… well until you visit a country where you shouldn’t drink the tap water! Then it’s all, where’s the next water bar?
Water is natural, it falls from the clouds, from our eyes sometimes (tears of job obvs!) and more importantly it comes outta the tap! We think of it as one thing, it’s water! Everything natural has a ton of other stuff in it, it’s just kinda crazy to say all the names of everything in there when you can just say.. ‘water’! I mean when a girl’s thirsty, she ain’t got time for that!
Water is kinda like our bodies, we all have a body, we call it a body, it is a body and we do a lotta stuff with it. Inside our bodies we have a heart, stomach, liver, brain… loads of stuff that makes a body, a body! That is like water, inside water you have a load of minerals, calcium, magnesium.. sodium… and a lot of other stuff in tiny, tiny amounts. Hard water has a lot of these extras, soft water has less.
What Is The Effect of Hard Water on Skin?
Whisked away for the weekend and you end up somewhere with one of those ‘to die for’ cast iron, free-standing baths #DreamBathroom. When you’re getting your relax on in that ‘good enough to be in vogue home’ bath, you’re also bonding with everything in the water. If your skin isn’t used to the amount of minerals in that tub, say it’s much harder than your skin is used to, then you could get some skin irritation.
1. Hard Water Can Make Your Skin Itch
Let’s take the guy sodium, that’s salt right. Remember the last time you swam in the sea? Did your skin feel a bit tight and sticky after you’d dried off? That’s cause sea water has a lotta salt in there and when the water leaves you, the salt stays. That’s what happens in hard water. Things that aren’t meant to be on your skin, make your skin want to get it off. That means it might end up a bit red and itchy, your body is telling you to itch it off.
So one effect of hard water on skin, is that it leaves minerals hanging around, which because your body isn’t used to them, can give you an almighty itch!
Another effect of hard water on skin is that it makes your ‘washing’ skincare products work differently, which affects your skin. If you get your ‘clean on’ in hard water, what you’ll find is you have to work a bit harder. What that means is those added extras in hard water pal-up with the actives in your showergel, shampoo, conditioners. Because they get so ‘pal-ly’ they aren’t available to clean for you.
The effect of hard water on skin comes when that ‘pal-up’ stays on your skin. See, there’s a chemical reaction that happens, these guys have chemistry! They make something you can think of as ‘soap-sum’ that makes everything way harder to wash off skin. That means irritants you find in your shower gel, stay longer than they are designed to. Then they irritate and you itch! If you’re reading this thinking – What shower gel contains irritants? Get a read of, ‘Why you should use the smallest, tiniest amount of shower gel EVER!’.
2. Hard Water Can Make Your Skin Dry
Another effect of hard water on skin – dryness. There are 2 things happening here. Firstly all that stuff left on your skin, plays with your skins natural barrier. That means it starts to lose its water proof defense to the world and you guessed it… it gets dry!
Secondly, hard water is not neutral, it has an alkaline pH, and our skin is acidic. They aren’t a match made in heaven. When you see ‘pH balanced’ on a skincare product, that means they have added some stuff to match the moisturiser to normal skin pH. That is awesome because it works with your skin, instead of trying to bend your skin to its ways. Also because there’s a lot of calcium, it has an affect on what your skin does, this is the sciency bit. Skin has a ‘calcium gradient’, all that means is there’s more calcium in some places than others, in this case, more calcium on your top skin layers than underneath. Calcium is like a messenger that says ‘Shed me now!’, more of it, and you’re gonna shed more. This can lead to dull, flaky, dry looking skin.
3.Hard Water Can Aggrevate Spot Prone Skin
Say What? Did you know that? If you have spot prone skin, then hard water could be making it worse. Hard water means a lotta ‘stuff’, the minerals found in water and that pesky product residue can get stuck in your skins pores. It’s like a lock and key finding each other, when that happens, spot prone skin does what it knows best to do. It makes a juicy little mountain to try and push the stuff out.
How to Stop Hard Water from Affecting Skin
Don’t worry, the answer isn’t move! Even though you’re not likely to convince your water supplier to super-soften your water for you, there are some things you can do to stop the effects. Hooray!
1. Get a Clip on Filter for Your Shower Head
We can’t take the water softener to the water-board, but we can bring the water softener to our homes! Whay! If you have hard water in your homes, then it’s not going to affect your skin in the kitchen sink, well… unless that is where you shower. Nothing wrong with that, I mean especially after a few pretty looking cocktails *wink wink*. So target that hard water and specially filter the stuff your gonna bath in. Check these shower water-softening filter options.
2. Use Products Designed for Hard Water
There are these special things called this fancy phrase of ‘chelating agents’, what does that mean? These guys stop stuff staying on your skin! They have a party and take the leftovers with them! Make sure your shampoo, conditioner, shower gel has some of these in, and waaaay less will end up left on your skin.
Chelating agents you’ll find in products designed for hard water: Disodium EDTA, Tetrasodium EDTA, Sodium Citrate (/Trisodium Citrate).
The quick ‘n easy way to tell is generally products that work well in hard water will be called ‘clarifying’ products and they’ll likely say things like remove mineral deposits. For example, try something like the Aveda Sun Care Hair & Body Cleanser (£19.50/250ml).
3. Avoid Shower Gel
If you took a read of ‘Why you should use the tiniest amount of shower gel you can’ then you’ll know why shower gel often irritates skin, and why, when you use shower gel in hard water, it’s going to irritate skin even more. Here is a trusty shower gel alternative to try – Bioderma Atoderm Shower Oil (£8.50/200ml) try this and you’ll be ditching irritating shower gel for a much kinder to skin alternative!
Do you have hard water at home? Have you moved and suddenly developed irritated skin? What showering products do you use at the moment? Let’s chat in the comments below…
Cheryl Woodman is a scientist & award winning skincare formulator who’s more friend next door than bow tie wearing professor. As creator of Honesty For Your Skin her aim is to help you care for your skin in the best ways possible. She’s founder of the natural & fragrance free skincare brand Honesty while also hosting 1 to 1 skincare coaching to help you get your best skin yet. Find out more here.