Most of us do not think about the water we use or drink on a daily basis. Up to 60% of the adult human body is made of water, and we would not be able to survive more than five days without it. We turn on a tap, wash our face, our hands and hair with it with no question as to the effect it will have on our skin. However, doubts are starting to surface about the tap water filtered straight to our homes. So here is a little more clarity on the impact that tap water has on our skin.
Depending on where you live, tap water can have varying amounts of minerals like calcium carbonate and magnesium. The more minerals there are in the water, the harder the water is. Hard water makes it more difficult for cleansers and other soaps to work effectively compared to soft water. In London, there is lots of calcium carbonate in the water, and that is what deposits chalky white limescale (the stains that can be seen around the faucet). Similarly there are a number of toxins that can cause a problem if they are found in abundance in the water.
Areas where lots of pesticides are used contain water with excessive amounts of mercury and arsenic that can be absorbed in the skin and cause sensitivity. High levels of minerals and metal content can cause acne, dryness and even eczema. But not all skin is the same and its reaction with water can change. It is thought that hard water can exacerbate sensitive skin, for example eczema sufferers. This is due to the excess amounts of soap needed to wash the skin and because of the interaction of the minerals to the cleanser. In a Nottingham study, there was evidence that primary school children living in hard water areas are 50% more likely to have eczema than those living in softer water areas.
Adding water softeners can treat hard water areas, however some reports have suggested that this addition can aggravate acne. Water softeners remove certain materials from hard water by using lime softening or ion-exchange resins, which could be a cause, making the water softer and more compatible with soaps. That being said, most people positively react to having softer water than hard water.
Tap water has a small effect on the pH of the skin; however upsetting the balance could potentially cause some problems and discomfort. The skin is slightly acidic and acts as a barrier and if this pH is disrupted it can cause a flare up, particularly in people with problematic skin. When the skin is more alkaline, it can be harder to retain moisture leading to a dry, tight sensation. Hard water tends to be more alkaline. Whether the water is hard or soft will play a small part in the pH but the products we use that affect skin pH more. Best to always use a slightly acidic cleanser, not soap.
There has been a new trend of substituting tap water with a micellar water or thermal water spray, which, contrary to belief, may not make a significant difference. To help protect against the toxins in the water and make a change, use a water softener or a water filter, which will filter out heavy metals.
Depending on the quality, tap water may have an effect if left on the skin. Contaminated tap water may have chromium, heavy metals, minerals, chlorine and fluoride- all substances that can affect the skin. There is no study determining the impact of what happens when tap water is left on the skin, but we do know that fluoride can disrupt the production of collagen, chlorine is an irritant that can cause itchiness and rashes (thus accelerating the appearance of fine lines too), high calcium levels increase the risk of eczema, heavy metals (iron, copper, magnesium, zinc) can react with the skin clogging pores and chromium can cause dermatitis. In addition, hard water makes it more difficult to rinse product off your skin, you can have a build up of soap or cleanser residue, also irritating the skin and clogging pores.
Studies have shown that those who change from hard to soft water have a decreased incidence of problematic skin like eczema. While there is not enough evidence to suggest your skin gets used to a certain type of tap water, you can become increasing intolerant of it as residuals build up.
So here are a few tips to avoid skin issue when using tap water:
- Use a slightly acidic cleanser
- Try no rinse cleaners
- Use cleansers without sulfates
- Use a water filter
- Eat well with antioxidants to help counteract the potential issues