Soft and Hard: the effects of water quality on skin and hair


After moving to Hungary 6 years ago, I noticed a definite change in my skin and hair quality, compared to Norway. My shampoos never seemed to lather properly, my skin felt dry straight after washing, and my hair got a rough texture, and looked sad and dull. Me and my friends (all complaining of the same post- showering- scenario) attributed our skin and hair changes to the hard water quality, evident from the limy scale left on anything touched by it, including fossets, tea-kettles, and of course the obvious- bathtub.

I will choose to focus on hard water, because it’s skin perpetrator of the two.

Hard water: Hard water is water that has high mineral content (in contrast with “soft water”).  The most common minerals found in hard water are calcium, iron, zink and magnesium.

Effects on skin and hair:

1.    Hard water has an alkaline pH. It was mentioned in the post about facial cleansing that our skin has a slightly acidic pH value (5.5-5.6).  The basic quality of hard water will thus disrupt the acidic ph of the skin, resulting in skin dryness.

2.    The minerals in hard water make dissolving soaps difficult, and so may leave residues on your skin. Most soap is made with compounds of sodium and potassium, such as sodium stearate. Sodium stearate reacts with the calcium compounds in the water and produces calcium stearate. The ingredient found in soaps, sodium stearate, dissolves in water; however calcium stearate, the compound formed by the combination of hard water and soap does not dissolve. Soaps, again, have a higher ph, and so if left behind forming a film on the skin, together with the mineral deposits in the water, will cause further dryness.

3.    Recently a link between hard water and childhood eczema was found. Eczema is a skin condition where little to no natural moisture in the skin is found, creating very dry patches and sometimes painful, red inflamed skin irritations.  Scientists believe that the salts in hard water could be deposited on the skin causing dryness and irritation and second, it is possible that using hard water simply means that we use more soaps and shampoos for reasons listed previously, which can irritate the skin of eczema sufferers.

4.    Acne breakouts. The hard water-soap-curd mentioned earlier can clog pores and possibly cause skin infections due to bacteria being trapped in pores beneath the soap curd build-up, and so together with the oil-stripping and thus inflammatory effects of the water and soap precipitation, may give rise breakouts and congested skin.

5.    Dry and brittle hair. The mineral and soap deposits make your hair dry, dull and rough, and your scalp dry an flaky (dandruff). You may also find that colour fades more quickly.

6.    Hair loss might occur. Hair breakage and hair thinning due to blockage at the follicles are other consequences of bathing in hard water.

7.    Possible aging effects. Dermatologist Dr. Dennis Gross, founder of the MD Skincare line of products, discovered that impurities in tap water, such as iron, copper, magnesium, lead and zinc, can act as free radicals. Free radicals bond with healthy skin cells and immediately begin destroying them, setting off a chain reaction of cell destruction. This chain reaction can lead to the breakdown of collagen, cause redness and irritation, enlarge the appearance of pores and lead to the formation of fine lines, wrinkles and acne.

8.    Infections. Skin is more prone to germs when washed with hard water because it actually coats the skin with a dull film, due to the insoluble minerals in it. When this happens, the body's natural oils are unable to reach the epidermis of the skin, and this leads to failure in the skin's natural antimicrobial properties.

How to combat the dryness of hard water?

Try to:

•    Use less soap products to decrease soapy residue. •    Take shorter showers to reduce your skin's exposure to hardened minerals. •    Use store-bought water to wash your face only (the face is more sensitive to hard water). •    Apply shielding lotions to help protect against certain substances.

If you live in a place with hard water, and you own your own residence, investing in a water softener might be an option. Water softening methods mainly rely on the removal of Ca2+ and Mg2+ from a solution or the sequestration of these ions, i.e. binding them to a molecule that removes their ability to form scale or interfere with soaps. Removal is achieved by ion exchange and by precipitation methods.

Or, if you’re like me, “homeless”, opting for products to combat the effects of the hard water is another option. Dr. Dennis Gross has developed a skin-care line for this sole purpose. My favorite product of the line is the eye-cream (mentioned here).

For your face, try this clarins cleanser that rinses of with cool water and protects normal to combination skin from the drying effects of hard water. Formulated to defend the skin’s pH balance, this Gentle Foaming Cleanser with Cottonseed eliminates all impurities and excess oil secretions without irritation. £17.50, with free delivery from lookfantastic  : Clarins gentle foaming cleanser with cotton seed for normal/ combination skin.

For the hair try Redken hair cleansing cream shampoo, formulated for swimmers and product junkies to remove accumulated mineral deposits and product build-up. £8.85 from lookfantastic with free delivery, or the newly launched H20 hard water shampoo, and Conditioner , £7.95 with free delivery.

For the body you might want to try this shower/bath gel, formulated to combat the drying effects of hard water bathing, £ 22.50 with free delivery: Declor alguaromes toning bath shower gel.