You need tap water to wash your face, rinse off your shampoo in the shower, and soak in a bath. It’s a given that water is essential for any beauty routine. We often use filtered water or purifiers to make tap water safe to drink, so does it mean that using regular ol’ tap water isn’t good for our skin and hair?
Meet the Experts
Gregga Prothero master stylist and founder of Gregga LA.
Dr. Marisa Garshick a board-certified dermatologist.
Natalie Aguilar dermatological nurse and celebrity aesthetician.
Shab Reslan a hair health expert and hairstylist.
Minerals and heavy metals make their way into water through the soil. But where you live and your city’s infrastructure can affect the number of minerals in the water, says Gregga Prothero, master stylist and founder of Gregga LA. “The types of industries around the water’s infrastructure will also affect the number of chemicals you can find in the water, so anywhere with a high concentration of large-scale agriculture or manufacturing can affect water quality,” adds Prothero.
To the naked eye, it’s impossible to tell if your shower water harbors a high level of minerals. A simple strip test is the best way to determine if your water contains heavy metals and minerals. If you just moved into a new home or are traveling, you may notice pre-existing skin conditions mysteriously worsening. Or, perhaps when you’re in the shower, you notice your soaps, cleansers, and shampoos don’t lather as well, says Dr. Marisa Garshick, a board-certified dermatologist. “That said, if you notice a change in your skin, speak with a board-certified dermatologist to determine what may be contributing to this change.”
Hard Water vs. Soft Water
Hard water contains excess magnesium and calcium, whereas soft water has fewer minerals and more sodium. As a result, hard water is more palatable for drinking, yet soft water helps products foam and lather more easily. “For this reason, hard water may impact the skin, causing potential changes in the hair and skin,” says Dr. Garshick.
It’s not that the minerals found in water are unnecessary — we need them for strong bones and teeth — but when they sit on the surface of the skin and hair, they leave behind small amounts of the minerals, which accumulate and build up. “Some people assume their dry, squeaky skin is clean, but it’s the residue of hard water minerals,” says dermatological nurse and celebrity aesthetician Natalie Aguilar. Hard water can also strip the skin of much-needed moisture and cause it to become itchy and de-sensitized. “If you wash your hands or shower and feel the need to moisturize immediately, you might have hard water,” she adds.
On the other hand, soft water does the opposite. Instead of having a drying effect, it can have an overly hydrating or softening result. “It doesn’t contain dissolved minerals, and because there is no mineral buildup, soft water leaves the skin feeling soft,” Aguilar says.
Not every water supply brims with high mineral content. Where you live dictates the content level, and some states and cities differ significantly from others, so your skin and hair may look better or worse when on vacation or traveling. For example, Aguilar recalls a trip to Iceland. “They have the world’s cleanest water because the volcanic rocks purify it, and the freezing temperatures clean the water. In addition, Iceland’s blue lagoon, a natural thermal hot spring, is rich in sulfur and silica, which are known to improve eczema and psoriasis,” she says. “Unlike many neighboring countries, Iceland gets its chlorine-, calcium-, and nitrate-free water directly from the source.”
On the flipside, desert water has a different effect. “In the desert, I could not style my hair as usual, and my skin felt uncomfortably dry,” Aguilar says. “I had a feeling it was the water, and then I learned that the Coachella Valley gets their water from four different sources.”
How Tap Water Affects Your Skin
Dry skin is the most common culprit of mineral-laden water. Hard water can impact the skin due to its high concentration of minerals, leaving behind a residue that can make the skin susceptible to irritation, says Dr. Garshick. Hard water is also known to cause disruptions in the skin barrier and even throw off pH levels. In addition, Aguilar says hard water strips moisture from the skin and can leave it feeling and looking dull and wrinkly.
If your skin is itchy post-shower, your water is likely reacting with ingredients and chemicals in cleansers, soaps, and exfoliators that can have an ‘off’ reaction and leave the skin with a layer of residue. Furthermore, if it feels like it has a film on it post-washing, the calcium and magnesium in the water may prevent cleanser or soap from thoroughly cleansing the skin, says Dr. Garshick. As a result, these remains can irritate the skin and instigate or worsen conditions like acne and eczema. In addition, the more sensitive the skin is, the more likely it is for the barrier to become compromised because the skin barrier isn’t strong enough to withstand the minerals.
Soft water does not provide a cure for any skin issues — it just doesn’t aggravate them, explains Aguilar.
How Tap Water Affects Your Hair
Hard water is damaging to the hair and can dry it out. Calcium, magnesium, copper, and chloride can leave a film on the hair and scalp. “The residue from hard water leaves hair never feeling not as clean and causes over-
If your hair feels like the shampoo isn’t rinsed out post-washing or emerges limp or dry, it’s likely because the water and your shampoo aren’t reacting appropriately. As Aguilar explains, hard water doesn’t lather soap well, so the hair doesn’t rinse clean. “Minerals from hard water build up on the hair shaft, making the hair feel heavy, greasy, and dry. In addition, your scalp might feel dry and itchy with visual buildup.” Therefore, it is beneficial to be familiar (if possible) with the type of water where you live and understand how it can affect your hair. It’s possible that those with greasy hair could experience a slight benefit from hard water since the dryness of present minerals in hard water helps clean the hair, says Prothero.
But no matter the hair type, it seems the cons outweigh the pros of using hard water. Calcium buildup is common in hard water, and Prothero says it creates ‘soap scum,’ just like what we associate with dishes. Poor water quality can also cause minerals to crystalize on the scalp, making the hair brittle. “The minerals can also block the pores on the scalp,” says Prothero. To make matters worse, Reslan explains that calcium can change hair color, and iron can interfere with other chemical treatments, like bleached highlights and straightening or relaxing services. That’s why most stylists say to wait 72 hours after a treatment to wash the hair. “The minerals in the water can create extra dryness that leads to color fading and extra frizz,” Prothero says.
Soft water can make the hair too soft — giving hair an overly slippery feel that lacks volume.
What Can You Do to Reduce Damage?
View this post on Instagram
Installing a shower filter, a water softener, or a small faucet filter is an easy way to help clarify your water. Dr. Garshick says you can also address skin conditions caused by hard water with standard recommended treatments. “For example, if acne worsens with poor water quality, committing to a skincare regimen that incorporates acne-fighting ingredients, such as retinoids and salicylic acid, may be helpful,” she adds. “Similarly, if eczema heightens, use gentle cleansers and moisturizers or micellar water, which does not require water to remove it.” Aguilar also advises her clients with sensitive skin to always splash their face with purified water after cleansing to remove any traces of minerals, chlorine, and cleanser.
Talk with your hairstylist about the right products to use to counteract the effects of your current water situation. Purifying ones that remove mineral buildup can make a significant difference — Prothero likes Malibu C Hard Water Wellness Hair Remedy, Davines SoluShampoo, and Davines Detoxifying Scrub Shampoo. Hydrating shampoos and deep conditioners are also helpful in reinstating lost moisture. And Reslan adds that an apple cider vinegar rinse can help lower the pH levels of the hair and break up any buildup from hard water. Sunday Riley Clean Rinse Clarifying Scalp Serum is a treatment that can create a healthier-looking scalp and refreshed hair. You can even use the rinse-out treatment first on dry hair to reduce your hard or soft water exposure.
We only recommend products we have independently researched, tested, and loved. If you purchase a product found through our links, Sunday Edit may earn an affiliate commission.