Do you have dry, itchy skin? Maybe dandruff or eczema?
These skin conditions may be due to the hard water in your area. Hard water contains high levels of minerals like magnesium and calcium that can cause or exacerbate skin problems. We’ve compiled a list of the 8 harmful effects of hard water on your skin so you can see for yourself how bad it can be.
Fortunately, there are ways to soften your water and reduce the negative effects hardness has on your skin. We review the benefits of using a water softener along with other effective solutions to get you relief.
Continue reading to learn about the 8 harmful effects of hard water on your skin and how to solve this common problem.
What is Hard Water
Hard water is water that contains high levels of minerals like magnesium and calcium. These minerals can cause problems for your skin, hair, and nails. It also causes other problems like:
- scale build-up in your plumbing
- shortened appliance life
- water spots on your dishes
- dingy laundry
- increased detergent use
- staining and scale on your fixture
- higher energy costs for hot water
Most of the United States has hard water – more than 85% of households have this problem. Chances are you have hard water at your home, too.
Water hardness is measured in grains per gallon (gpg). The term grain comes from the ancient Egyptians. It is the weight of one grain of wheat. One grain is equal to 1/7000 of a pound.
Another measurement used for hardness is parts per million (ppm). This is a measure of the dissolved ions in water. One gpg is equal to 17.1 ppm.
Hardness (grains per gallon)
0 – 1 gpg
0 – 17 ppm
1 – 3.5 gpg
17 – 60 ppm
3.5 – 7 gpg
60 – 120 ppm
7 – 10.5
120 – 180 ppm
How do I know if I have hard water?
There are several ways to know if your water is hard. The simplest way is to look around your house. What do you see?
- Do you have white mineral deposits on your faucet or sink drain?
- Are your glasses spotted?
- Do you see scale on your shower doors and walls?
These are the most obvious signs of hard water.
You can also assess your water’s hardness by checking your hair and skin. If your hair is dry and brittle, you may have hard water. If your skin is itchy, dry, or just feels tight after you bathe, then you probably have hard water.
You can also test your water with a simple kit at your local hardware store. These kits are strips of paper that change color based on how much hardness is in your water. They are quick and easy to use, and not very expensive.
Once you know how hard your water is, you can take steps to address the problem.
Hard Water Skin Problems
Hard water can cause a variety of skin problems. We’ve known this for a long time.
The issues caused by hard water are due to the hard minerals themselves or how they affect the soap you use. Calcium and magnesium, the two minerals responsible for hardness, can buildup on your skin and plug your pores. This leads to all sorts of problems like dry skin and an itchy scalp.
The most common skin problems caused by hard water are:
- Eczema and psoriasis
- Dry skin
- Itchy skin
- Dandruff and irritated scalp
- Stiff and tight feeling skin
- Increased skin sensitivity
- Soap film left behind
Understanding what’s causing your skin problems can be very helpful. We all want to know why our skin is not behaving the way it should. When you know what’s causing an issue, you can look for solutions to clear up your skin and make it healthier.
1 – Eczema and psoriasis
Eczema and psoriasis have long been connected to hard water. In hard water regions, the incidence of eczema and psoriasis is significantly higher.
It is important to point out that hard water does not cause eczema or psoriasis. It does, however, make it worse if you already suffer from one of these skin conditions.
Researchers believe that an ingredient in shampoos and some soaps – sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) – may be the cause of higher cases of eczema in hard water areas. Hard water reacts with soap and shampoo to leave behind a residue that is difficult to wash off. This soap scum can contain SLS which is known to cause eczema.
2 – Acne
If you have acne, then washing your face and skin with hard water may be making the problem worse.
The minerals in hard water can cause an acne breakout by plugging your pores. In addition, the soap scum left behind by hard water can also aggravate acne.
It’s important to note – hard water does NOT cause acne. It just makes it worse than it would be if you were using softened water.
The problem with hard water is that it reacts with soap to make an insoluble scum that doesn’t wash off easily. This residue can irritate your skin, dry it out, and plug your pores.
The other challenge with hard water is the deposits that are left behind. The same minerals that leave scale on your faucet are left behind on your skin after you bathe. This coating causes skin irritation that can trigger an outbreak or make your acne worse.
If you are struggling with acne, try switching to a soap that is designed for people with acne-prone skin. You may also want to consider using a face wash that does not contain SLS.
3 – Dry skin
The biggest impact of bathing in hard water is the disruption it causes to moisture levels in your skin. This makes moisturizers and lotions less effective, which can lead to irritated or dry patches. Over time, your skin can dry out, leading to irritation and other conditions.
Hard water leaves deposits on your skin, just like it does on your faucet. The main deposit is calcium bicarbonate. This is a harmless mineral, but on your skin, it can cause irritation and plug your pores. The layer of invisible scale also prevents moisturizers from reaching your skin and doing its job.
When soap comes in contact with hard water, it reacts with the calcium and magnesium to form a precipitate known as soap scum. This insoluble substance is difficult to rinse off and results in a soap residue left behind on your skin. Soap contains skin irritants, which, over time, will cause dryness and irritation.
4 – Itchy skin
Hard water has two undesirable properties that can lead to itchy skin. First, it reacts with soap and shampoos to form a residue that is very difficult to rinse off. This residue contains soap – and soap has alkaline chemicals and other substances that dry out and irritate your skin. Since the hard water prevents this soap scum from being washed away, your skin dries out.
The second problem with hard water is the deposits it leaves on your skin. The most common one is calcium carbonate. Calcium carbonate creates a layer on your skin that can remove the natural oils in your skin. It also blocks moisturizers that you might apply. Both of these factors lead to loss of moisture and dry skin.
5 – Dandruff and irritated scalp
Everyone knows that hard water can damage your hair, making it dry and brittle. It also irritates your scalp and dries it out. The skin on your head is related to the appearance and feel of your hair. So, when the scalp is dry and irritated, it will show up in your hair.
Dandruff is a common problem that is made worse by hard water. The minerals in hard water react with soap to form a residue that is difficult to rinse off. This scum can contain SLS which is known to irritate and dry out your skin. Both of these issues can cause dandruff or even dry skin on your scalp that looks like dandruff.
6 – Stiff and tight feeling skin
A common complaint people have with hard water is that their skin feels stiff and tight after bathing. This is because the hard water leaves a residue on your skin that coats it and makes it feel dry and taut.
The minerals in hard water are deposited on your skin. In many cases, they plug your skin’s pores which prevents the natural moisturizing process from occurring. Our skin produces oils that help to keep it moist and soft. When these oils can’t reach the surface, your skin will feel dry and stiff.
7 – Increased skin sensitivity
Bathing with hard water can lead to dry skin. This is due to two factors: 1) the hardness minerals are left behind just like scale on your fixtures and 2) calcium and magnesium in hard water react with soap to form a scum that is hard to rinse away.
Both of these issues cause dry skin by either leaving a coating on your skin that prevents it from absorbing moisture from the air or by plugging your pores when inhibits the natural oils from moisturizing it. Over time, this can lead to an increase in skin sensitivity.
8 – Soap film left behind
Hard water makes it difficult to get a good lather from soap. The minerals react with the soap, producing a scum, rather than the suds we need to clean our skin. This reaction makes soap less effective and harder to wash off.
People with hard water often compensate by using more soap. However, this only produces more of the insoluble soap scum, which just makes the problem worse. The more soap you use, the more soap film you end up with on your skin!
Soft Water Is Better for Your Skin
As we’ve just reviewed, hard water causes a lot of problems for your skin. It can dry it out because of reactions with soap – it forms soap scum that doesn’t readily wash off. This residue irritates and dries out your skin.
The minerals in hardness – calcium and magnesium – are left behind on your when you bathe. The resulting deposits cause dryness and irritation, too.
Soft water doesn’t have the same negative effects on your skin. It doesn’t have the calcium and magnesium that is so problematic in hard water. In fact, soft water is beneficial because:
- It doesn’t produce soap film on your skin
- You don’t need to use as much soap to get a good lather
- Your skin won’t feel dry and stiff after bathing
- There is no increase in skin sensitivity
The bottom line is that hard water isn’t good for your skin – it can cause dryness, irritation, and dandruff. Soft water is better because it doesn’t have the same negative effects on your skin. If you’re having problems with your skin, try using soft water to see if that makes a difference. You might be surprised at how much better your skin feels!
What Can You Do About Hard Water and Skin Problems
Hard water is a fact of life for many people. If you’re having problems with your skin, there are some things you can do to help. Let’s review some of the strategies that might work for you.
Install a water softener
Water softeners work by removing the calcium and magnesium from your water. This eliminates the problems that these minerals cause for your skin.
You can install a water softener that treats all of the water that enters your home – this is known as a whole-house unit. You can also treat a portion of the water – such as the water you drink and bathe with.
If you have skin problems, a water softener is probably the best solution for you.
The downside to using a water softener is that it can be expensive to install and maintain. It also adds a small amount of sodium to your water, which some people find objectionable.
Learn more about the costs of having a water softener in your home by reading my article.
If you can’t install a water softener, there are still some strategies you can try. One is to switch to a soap that is less likely to react with the minerals in hard water.
Hard water reduces the cleaning capacity of soap by inhibiting the formation of suds. Soap lathers readily with soft water, but it performs very poorly with hard water.
Castile soap is a type of soap made from vegetable oil such as olive, coconut, palm, or any other plant-based oil. It works better with hard water than soaps made from animal products.
Brands of soap to consider for hard water are:
- Clearly Natural Unscented Glycerin Soap
- Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Bar Soap
- Kirk’s Castile Bar Soap
- Zest Bar Soap
Soaps that contain fragrances or dyes may irritate your skin. Bar soaps, bubble bath, and baby wipes may also be irritating or drying.
There are many soaps on the market that are made for people with sensitive skin – these will be less likely to cause problems if you have hard water.
Moisturize your skin
The biggest issue with hard water is that it dries out and irritates your skin. One way to counteract this is to moisturize your skin regularly.
Use a moisturizer that is appropriate for your skin type – oily, dry, or combination. Make sure you apply it after you bathe and before you go to bed.
If you have hard water, using a moisturizer may have limited benefit because the minerals in the water can coat your skin. Also, the type of soap you use may produce a scum that coats your skin, making it hard to apply moisturizers.
Use sanitizer rather than washing your hands
Frequently washing your hands with soap can cause dry skin or irritation if you have hard water. If you’re having problems with your hands, try using a sanitizer instead.
Sanitizers are available in many different forms – gel, foam, liquid, and wipes. They kill the germs on your skin without leaving it dry or irritated. Most hand sanitizers have glycerin or other moisturizing agents in them. These can help to prevent dry skin and counteract the effects of the alcohol they contain.
If you’re having problems with your skin, try using soft water to see if that makes a difference. You might be surprised at how much better your skin feels if you wash your hand less frequently.
Can soft water cause eczema?
Having hard water can be detrimental to your skin. The high mineral content can cause dryness, eczema or psoriasis. Softening your water reduces these undesirable effects.
There is no evidence to show that soft water causes eczema.
Does soft water cause acne?
Hard water is known to irritate your skin. It can also result in plugged pores. These issues are known to make acne worse and can even cause flare ups. Soft water does not cause acne. In fact, it reduces the likelihood of its occurrence.
What does hard water do to the human body?
Hard water is not harmful to drink. However, it causes problems with our skin and hair. Hard water reduces the cleaning capacity of soap, dries out and irritates skin, and can cause acne. It also increases the amount of calcium and magnesium in our bodies. While these minerals are not harmful, they can be bothersome.
Should I get a water softener to improve my skin problems?
Hard water causes a host of problems with your skin – acne, dryness, irritation, and worse eczema and psoriasis. Installing a water softener can solve these issues. If your skin is very dry, a water softener may not be the best solution – you might need to moisturize more often.
What is hard water rash?
When calcium builds up and settles on your skin, it can cause redness, itchy skin, and rashes. This condition is known as hard water rash.
Hard water can cause hard water rash.
What soap is good for hard water?
Hard water inhibits the formation of soap suds. This makes it harder to clean your skin and can even lead to skin irritation. Castile soaps are made to work in hard water. They aren’t perfect, but they minimize the formation of soap scum which can help with skin irritation and dryness.
Hard water can cause a variety of skin problems, the most common being dermatitis, acne, and dry skin. If you are experiencing any of these issues, it might be time to invest in a water softener.
Soft water is better for your skin – it helps keep it hydrated and free from soap film residue. If you’re not sure whether or not you have hard water, read my article here to find out. Fortunately, there are measures you can take to soften your water and improve the condition of your skin.