If you have issues with dry or irritated skin, these issues could be caused or exacerbated by showering and washing in hard water.
Here, we’ve shared what we know about the possible effects of hard water on skin.
📌 Key Takeaways:
- Washing or showering in hard water could cause an increased risk of skin dryness, eczema, breakouts, dandruff, and itchiness.
- You can prevent skin issues from exposure to hard water by installing a water softener system in your home.
- Remember, dry, itchy skin and related skin problems can be caused by other factors, including hormones, genetics, and your exposure to pollutants in your environment.
Table of Contents
🆚 Hard Vs Soft Water Recap
The main difference between hard and soft water is that hard water has a high concentration of hardness minerals – namely calcium and magnesium, as well as iron and several other heavy metals – while soft water has a low mineral content.
Water can be naturally soft, but most people achieve soft water in their homes by installing a water softening system. A water softener softens water by exchanging calcium and magnesium ions with sodium ions in a process known as ion exchange.
👩⚕️ How Does Hard Water Affect Skin?
The skin’s surface is a delicate balance of natural oils. The skin is also the biggest organ in the body, and it’s affected by the elements it’s exposed to.
Showering in hard water is thought to affect skin because it strips away the natural oils on the skin’s surface, drying it out, and forms a layer of soap scum that clogs the pores that would normally contain oil.
That’s why your skin will likely look and feel different when you shower in hard water versus showering in soft water.
📋 5 Hard Water Effects On Skin
Let’s take a look at 5 of the most common hard water effects on your skin.
Increased Risk Of Atopic Dermatitis
Showering and washing in hard water increases your risk of atopic dermatitis (a common form of eczema that causes itchy, cracked, dry skin), according to a 2018 study.
This increased risk is likely due to the high concentration of hard minerals in the water, combined with increased impairment of the skin barrier after being exposed to surfactants in shower gels and soaps. The study notes that high chlorine levels (as found in municipal water supplies) may also contribute to atopic dermatitis incidence.
Exposure to water with a high mineral content may also cause increased skin dryness.
A 2021 Danish study looked at the link between hard water and xerosis, or abnormally dry skin. It found that soft water was associated with a decreased probability of xerosis, while hard water was associated with an increased probability of xerosis, in people with no prior skin conditions.
It’s likely that hard water causes dry skin due to its mineral content. Mineral buildup in the skin’s pores prevents the skin from releasing its natural oils, resulting in dryness.
Hard water is also associated with acne and other complexion complaints.
A US-based dermatologist noted that his clients returning from Milan, which has water with a very high calcium content, would often return with some kind of skin ailment.
He explained that hard water alters the skin’s oils, causing them to become thicker and waxier rather than flowing “like a liquid”. This leads to an increased likelihood of clogged pores, causing complexion problems like acne and blackheads.
We couldn’t find any scientific studies to confirm that hard water definitely causes dandruff, but we read plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest it does.
Since hard water is known to dry out the skin, it makes sense that it would also dry out the scalp.
There are a number of causes of dandruff, and dry skin on the scalp is a big one. Dandruff occurs when the skin cells clump together, forming noticeable white flakes. It’s often associated with an itchy scalp.
Again, we were unable to find any studies that looked at hard water and its association with itchy skin in general.
But, from the studies into mineral deposits and itchy skin conditions like eczema, and more anecdotal evidence on the internet, we think it’s safe to assume that hard water and itchy skin are associated in some way.
The calcium and magnesium minerals in hard water react with soaps and shower products to form a soap residue on the skin and hair. This can clog pores and strip skin of its natural oils, causing healthy skin to become dry and itchy.
🚱 Other Claimed Hard Water Effects On Skin
The effects of hard water listed above are those that we feel have enough scientific or anecdotal evidence to support them.
However, there are a few other possible negative effects of hard water on skin that haven’t yet been researched or studied in detail.
- Skin aging – Hard water minerals may apparently form free radicals, which are associated with the breakdown of collagen, causing skin to lose its firmness.
- Dull skin – Some sources say that excess minerals and soap scum on the skin may cause it to take on a dull pallor.
- Rashes – We know that hard water can make some skin conditions worse, and it’s possible that exposure to hard water may lead to itching and rash formation.
Take these claims with a pinch of salt, since we don’t know exactly how true they are.
🔎 How To Prevent The Effects Of Hard Water On Skin
👨🔧 The best way to prevent hard water from causing skin problems is to install a water softener at your main water line.
A water softener works by exchanging water hardness minerals with sodium ions, which prevents water from forming scale and soap scum, and alters its properties to prevent it from causing skin irritation and dryness.
Soft water doesn’t form a coating on your skin’s epidermis, it doesn’t clog your pores, and it doesn’t affect the skin’s ability to release its natural oils.
So, with soft water, you won’t experience any of the skin conditions that you were experiencing as a result of exposure to hard water.
Water softeners are installed as POE (point of entry) units, upstream of your water heater, so they’ll soften the water flowing through your entire home’s plumbing system.
That means you can protect your skin from dissolved minerals in the water you wash your hands and dishes with, your shower and bath water, and the water you wash your clothes with. So your skin never has to come into contact with hard water at home.
📑 Final Word
Hard water has a myriad of effects on skin – but keep in mind that exposure to water with excess minerals isn’t the only cause of skin conditions.
Genetics, hormones, your diet and lifestyle habits, and exposure to chemicals and pollutants in your environment, could also be contributing to your sensitive skin, acne breakouts, or skin irritation.
Tackling a skin problem often requires removing or adjusting several likely causes to eliminate the issue entirely. So, switching to soft water might help, but you might also need to use sensitive skin-friendly soaps and laundry detergents, avoid itching your skin, or use medicated products to get your skin problem under control.
Speak to your doctor if you want more advice on how to effectively treat your skin condition at home.
Can hard water cause skin problems?
Yes, studies have found an association between hard water and various skin problems, including atopic dermatitis (a common form of eczema) and xerosis (abnormally dry skin). The symptoms of these conditions include itchiness, redness, and dryness.
How do you know if you have hard water on your skin?
You will know if you have hard water on your skin because the excess minerals make skin feel dry and almost sticky. Try washing your face with cold water from your bathroom faucet, then wait a few seconds before moving your mouth and eye muscles. If the skin in these places feels dry, you probably have a hard water issue.
Why is hard water making my skin dry?
Hard water may be making your skin dry because the hardness minerals are forming soap scum on your skin’s surface, clogging pores and preventing the skin from releasing its natural oils.
What is better for skin, hard or soft water?
Soft water is better for skin than hard water because it contains only a low mineral content, so it’s less likely to react with soap to form soap scum on the skin’s surface. Your skin should feel softer and better moisturized if you exclusively shower in soft water.