When we rack our brains for the cause of a breakout, we typically consider hormones, diet, stress and other common factors. But, when nothing adds up, it might be time to consider what we rinse our complexion with. No, we aren’t talking about face wash (although using one that isn’t compatible with your skin type could also cause problems) — we are talking about tap water.
The Effects of Tap Water on the Skin
“If you live in certain areas of the country [like Florida or Las Vegas] where water has high levels of minerals such as magnesium and calcium, you may suffer from dry skin,” says Debra Jaliman, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. “This type of water is referred to as ‘hard’ water,” she notes, explaining how the influx of magnesium and calcium in hard water dehydrates the skin and can be “disruptive to your skin’s microbiome.”
And while high traces of magnesium and calcium can dry out the skin and mess with its microbiome, Alissia Zenhausern, N.M.D., a naturopathic physician at NMD Wellness of Scottsdale, says it is important to consider the toxicants in tap water, which could wreak havoc on a compromised pH balance. “Some of the commonly found toxicants in your tap water include fluoride, chlorine, lead, mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), arsenic, perchlorate, dioxins, Dichloro- Diphenyl- Trichloroethane (DDT), Hexachlorobenzene (HCB), and Dacthal (DCPA),” she notes. “The amount of these toxicants found in your tap water will vary based on where you live,” she notes. To find out more about your city’s tap water, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has a tap water database that details contaminants and pollution sources. You can also find out whether or not your city has hard water by checking here.
In the case of breakouts and tap water, Zenhausern, says it is all about pH balance. “Your skin has a fairly acidic pH, which is important as it helps ward off foreign invaders including bacteria and fungus,” she explains. “The optimal pH of human skin is 5, whereas tap water has a pH of 6.5-8.5.” The differences in pH can lead to an imbalanced complexion, which “reduces its ability to ward off bacteria, which can lead to an increased susceptibility of the skin to break out.”
But it goes past just washing your face — ingesting tap water plays its own role in your skin health. As it turns out, drinking tap water and splashing it on your complexion at the end of a long day are really no different. “Abrasive chemicals like chlorine, high levels of metals, and minerals can lead to skin problems and breakouts,” notes Jaliman. “Water that is contaminated with chlorine and metals may weaken your immune system [which] can lead to skin problems. These contaminants can interfere with the skin’s natural oils, causing a breakout.”
Water that is contaminated with chlorine and metals may weaken your immune system [which] can lead to skin problems.
How Do You Balance Your Skin and Tap Water?
Jaliman suggests investing in a water filter “to help minimize the hard water damage to your skin.” When shopping for a filter, she says to first look for a dechlorinating one. “Make sure it has a replacement cartridge with a long life span. Some have to be changed more often than others, [so] choose one where the cartridge lasts 6-9 months.” Jaliman recommends the AquaHomeGroup Luxury Filtered Shower Head as it specifically filters out chlorine and other chemicals in hard water.
Adding a filter to your faucet or showerhead can “help to reduce the amount of calcium and other minerals that make skin dry.” To counter these toxicants, Zenhausern recommends installing a reverse osmosis system into your water pipe system. “This reverse osmosis system will reduce your exposure to these harsh toxicants and can be a great way to improve sensitive, acne-prone skin,” she explains.
In addition, Jaliman says micellar water is an excellent skincare product to have on hand, especially if you don’t have filtered water. Micellar water is a soft water formula with tiny molecules that gently lift away dirt and debris, leaving the skin squeaky clean without stripping the complexion of its natural oils responsible for nourishing and hydrating.
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