Hard water out straight out of the faucet often contains some amount of impurities (or dissolved solids) which can affect our general health and skin depending on what is in the water.
Harsh components and debris that make the water hard can cause the skin to react with various symptoms, from mild and negligible to full-blown acne breakouts that will have you wondering what is causing your acne breakouts.
In this article, we will dive into the science behind how hard water can affect your skin, potentially serious consequences you can face if there are too many dissolved solids in your drinking water , how hard water causes acne, and how you can realistically protect your skin from contaminated tap water.
Table of Contents
What is Hard Water?
Simply put, hard water contains abundant mineral content, specifically calcium and magnesium.
Water becomes hard when the amount of dissolved calcium and magnesium increases beyond a certain point, making it difficult for traditional filtration systems to dispose of these minerals, which leads to deposits in our pipes and the water that passes through them, essentially making their way into our homes, our systems through the food we wash and the water we drink, and of course, our skin.
How Does Hard Water Affect Your Skin Health?
Hard water packed with minerals, metals, and contaminants is never good news for your skin, and prolonged exposure can lead to symptoms of inflammation, which can develop into permanent conditions that can impact your skin’s health and the overall quality of your life.
Therefore, here are a few signs that hard water is affecting your skin and putting you at risk of experiencing inflammatory conditions down the line:
Dry skin can be a skin type that you’re born with and inherited genetically, but it can also be a product of the environment.
Exposure to hard water is one of the most common causes of excessively dry skin. However, if you have always had normal or dry skin, telling the difference can be somewhat tricky.
Therefore, an excellent way to test whether hard water is behind the excessive and uncomfortable dryness is to wash your face with distilled or bottled water for a period of time and make notes of any differences you experience along the way.
Another symptom that commonly follows excessively dry skin caused by hard water is itchiness.
This happens due to calcium leaching into the water from old metal pipes and corroding fixtures.
Calcium is an alkaline substance, while the skin falls on the acidic side of the pH scale, which means exposing it to something opposite to what it needs to stay healthy will essentially lead to symptoms like dryness and chronic itchiness.
So if you are constantly feeling itchy after showering, and your skin isn’t showing any signs of rash or infection, hard water might be to blame.
Along with dryness and itchiness, redness can be another obvious symptom of a compromised skin barrier due to mineral buildup in the water you use on your face and body.
Some metals that also contribute to the water quality and hardness, such as iron, copper, and even lead and mercury, can start to cause sudden redness, often accompanied by itchiness and a stinging or burning sensation.
When accompanied by dryness, itching, and redness, flaking can be one of the most serious symptoms caused by hard water, as it is usually an early sign of contact dermatitis, an inflammatory skin condition caused by contact with an allergen.
In layman’s terms, this means that your skin is starting to rebel against components such as minerals or metals found in hard water, but due to being compromised, it cannot properly fight off the allergen, leading to recurring inflammation.
A potential explanation for why hard water could cause contact dermatitis is the high levels of chlorine it contains, which is a chemical added to our water supply to kill harmful bacteria.
However, this component can trigger a super resilient strain of bacteria known as Staphylococcus aureus, which already resides on our skin, to proliferate and produce toxins that cause the immune system cells in the skin to react with dermatitis-like rashes that start as symptoms of dryness, redness, irritation, and flaking.
The Link Between Hard Water and Acne
Hard water has long been suspected of causing acne, a stubborn inflammatory condition that appears on the skin due to the immune system’s reaction to an overgrowth of the C. acnes bacteria inside the pores.
A potential connection between hard water and acne may lie in the magnesium content inside the water our skin is constantly exposed to, which, like calcium, makes the water hard, abrasive, and irritating.
Magnesium is also known for its ability to change the composition of our natural skin oil and turn it into a waxy, comedogenic substance that, due to its mass, cannot push through the pores and to the skin’s surface, where it will lubricate our skin and prevent it from becoming dry and irritated, but it remains inside the pores, serving as food for the airless-loving, acne-causing bacteria.
Therefore, hard water may very well be the sole reason behind acne, but in most cases, it probably works in conjunction with other factors such as genetics, hormones, poor diet and lifestyle choices, and the use of comedogenic cosmetic products.
Ways to Reduce the Effects of Hard Water on Your Skin
If you suspect that the hard water in your household might be behind your skin issues, here are a few practical ways to reduce the harmful effects of the mineral buildup on your skin:
Install a Water Filter
Water filters are an excellent investment if you are dealing with unpleasant symptoms on your skin caused by hard water.
They work by removing impurities, including metals and minerals, from your water supply and can be a great way to ensure the water you use to shower and wash your face is as clean as possible.
Water filters also block small particles like metals from rusty pipes from getting into your water, which can further protect your skin from damage.
Set Up a Reverse Osmosis System
A more expensive and complicated, but ultimately much more effective way to eliminate exposure to hard water in your home is to set up a reverse osmosis system.
A reverse osmosis system removes sediment and chlorine from water by forcing it through a membrane that filters out particles as small as 0.0001 microns, which means it also removes the minerals that are potentially responsible for your skin woes from the water you get exposed to.
This ultimately “softens” the water and makes it more suitable not only for the skin but also for other household activities, like laundry or cleaning, as well as your cooking and drinking.
Lower Your Water Temperature
Higher water temperatures cause the hardened minerals in the pipes to dissolve, making it easier for these substances to find their way into the water that comes into contact with your skin.
This is why lowering your water temperature is recommended if you are dealing with hard water and want to reduce the harmful effects it produces.
Additionally, showering or washing your face with excessively hot water can further compromise the skin barrier and result in moisture loss, leading to uncomfortable dryness, itchiness, and irritation.
Use Distilled Water on Your Face
Distilled water is purified water that has been boiled and then condensed back into liquid form.
The boiling process has removed impurities from the water, including harmful minerals such as calcium, which can help reduce the effects of these substances on your skin.
Additionally, distilled water is especially beneficial for those with ultra-sensitive and reactive skin due to severe and prolonged barrier damage, overuse of cosmetics, autoimmune conditions such as psoriasis, or genetics.
Have an Excellent Skincare Routine
Having a skincare routine consisting of products that nourish, repair, and strengthen the skin barrier is an excellent way to mitigate the harmful effects of hard water on the skin.
Therefore, investing in products specifically designed to help soothe and protect sensitive skin is a must if you suffer from irritations and skin conditions triggered or exacerbated by contact with hard water.
Best Ways to Prevent Acne Caused by Hard Water
While hard water might not always be the sole cause of acne, it may very well exacerbate this condition, leading to discomfort and further skin damage.
However, if making major changes that will soften the water that comes into contact with your skin isn’t possible at the moment, the second best thing you can do is invest in an efficient skincare routine.
Here are some of the best ways to prevent acne caused by hard water:
Use a Mild Cleanser
Acne is a confusing and challenging condition that makes many people believe tackling it forcefully and aggressively will make it disappear.
However, in some cases, and especially in the case where other harsh agents, such as hard water, are involved, the best thing you could do to treat your acne is to focus on gentle and moisture-replenishing products, such as soap-free cleansers that won’t strip your skin off its natural oil but will do a fantastic job in preventing the accumulation of debris which can lead to clogging and bacteria-induced inflammation.
Apply a Hydrating Toner
Another excellent way to hydrate your skin while keeping the overgrowth of acne-causing bacteria and buildup at bay is to introduce a toner that contains mild active ingredients to your daily skincare routine.
A toner helps balance the pH of the skin, which makes it more difficult for bacteria to multiply, and will also provide your skin with moisture-replenishing hydration that will keep the barrier healthy and functioning.
Opt For Gentle Active Ingredients
Gentle active ingredients such as niacinamide and retinol can help reduce the appearance of acne and redness while being much more skin-friendly than harsher alternatives such as exfoliating acids.
Opting for gentle active ingredients that will balance oil production while preventing cellular debris from accumulating inside the pores is one of the easiest ways to reduce the appearance of this pesky and challenging condition.
Pick a Non-Comedogenic Moisturizer
As we already mentioned, hard water can strip the skin of its naturally protective components and expose it to pathogens that can cause day-to-day discomforts such as dryness and long-term conditions such as contact dermatitis and acne.
Therefore, using a moisturizer can help save hydration by creating a layer on the skin’s surface to prevent evaporative water loss and ensure your skin gets the nourishment it needs.
However, if you are already dealing with acne, chances are you are already on the fence about slathering creams and moisturizers on your face because many of them can exacerbate this condition due to the clogging ingredients they contain.
This is why you must be extra careful and picky when choosing a moisturizer and opt for something that will do its job without causing other issues or exacerbating the ones you are already dealing with.
Non-comedogenic moisturizers can help keep acne at bay and provide the skin with much-needed moisture and protection against the effects of hard water and other environmental pathogens.
Always Wear Sunscreen
Hard water that has made your skin dry and has caused conditions such as acne to thrive is a clear sign of a damaged skin barrier.
However, a damaged skin barrier means the skin will be more susceptible to environmental damage as the layer of protection from its surroundings is weakened.
This also means harmful environmental factors such as UV rays can cause more visible damage, such as hyperpigmentation, uneven skin tone, and even skin cancers, much quicker and more intensely compared to what it can do to healthy, hydrated, and protected skin.
This is why wearing sunscreen to protect the skin from its environment is an important step in every skincare routine, especially when the skin is already exposed to so much damage from everyday factors such as hard water.
Frequently Asked Questions
Drinking hard water can cause or exacerbate acne due to the excessive mineral content building up in our lymphatic system and overloading our body’s detox pathways, causing it to become stagnant and inefficient when moving waste away.
This also means components such as bacteria and viruses won’t be adequately cleared, essentially leading to a higher risk of skin-related issues and conditions such as acne.
Drinking water won’t directly clear acne, but it will help your body move waste more efficiently and filter out toxins from your system, which can result in an improved complexion over time.
Some people might notice their skin improving once they stop washing their face, and while this is definitely a solid sign the hard water in your household is a potential acne cause, eliminating cleansing from your routine can result in other skin-related malfunctions such as clogged pores, oiliness, and bacterial buildup, which will essentially lead to more acne.
Therefore, if your skin improved after you stopped washing your face, consider installing a water filter or other water purification options that will help reduce the mineral content of your water and improve your skin’s health.