Can Water Filters and Water Softeners Help Prevent Skin Problems?
When small, itchy red and white welts swarm your skin after a shower, you might chalk the adverse reaction up to something you had eaten the night before. But what’s to blame when those tiny, annoying bumps return with a vengeance the next time you shower?
While it may be tricky to pinpoint the culprit behind any skin problem without seeing a health professional, it sometimes boils down to what’s in the water. After all, unfiltered hard water can contain minerals and chemicals that leave skin dry, flaky, and lifeless and trigger symptoms of eczema and other skin disorders.
The good news is that filtering and softening your shower and bath water can help ensure your skin remains as healthy and nourished as possible during your cleansing routines and prevent common skin conditions.
How Unfiltered Water and Hard Water Can Cause Skin Problems
Many people don’t realize, but tap water can rob the skin of its natural radiance and suppleness. The problem is even worse for people with sensitive skin, although what’s in the water will also determine how much damage it can cause. First, let’s define unfiltered water and hard water to understand how they can contribute to common skin problems.
How Unfiltered Water Affects the Skin
Unfiltered water describes water that has not been treated to remove traces of various minerals, chemicals, microbes, gases, heavy metals, and other unwanted elements. This means unfiltered water likely contains different concentrations of potentially dangerous impurities and contaminants that can wreak havoc on your skin and overall health. For example, taking a dip in a swimming pool or enjoying a long, hot shower in chlorinated water can leave your skin dry and itchy, especially if you have sensitive skin.
Chlorine is a chemical commonly added to public water systems to help kill bacteria and microorganisms. However, high levels of chlorine can irritate the skin. It can dehydrate the skin and can cause inflammation and irritation. In some people, it can exacerbate eczema and other skin conditions.
Chlorine is also said to strip away natural oils from the skin, which promotes premature aging. On top of that, it does not distinguish between good and bad bacteria. Therefore, washing your skin with chlorinated water may eliminate skin flora that offers a natural defense against skin disorders, leading to skin conditions such as acne.
Long-term exposure to chlorine can cause skin irritations and itching. Ingesting chlorinated water damages the intestinal flora, which is crucial for digesting food and producing vitamins and other vital nutrients that our skin relies on to stay healthy.
Other common symptoms of chlorine exposure to the skin include rashes, dryness, redness, burning, stinging, scaling, chlorine burns, and further inflammation of hypersensitive skin from pre-existing conditions such as eczema, dermatitis, psoriasis, and other skin conditions.
How Hard Water Affects the Skin
Hard water describes water that contains relatively high amounts of dissolved minerals, primarily calcium and magnesium, and various trace metals. When rainwater falls from the sky (usually in a pure form), it absorbs the hard minerals from rocks and soil, which changes it from soft to hard water.
If your skin is sensitive and is repeatedly exposed to hard water, it can result in persistent dryness. You may find yourself moisturizing your skin several times a day, all to no avail. That’s because when water contains high amounts of calcium, it can change the skin’s oil chemistry, hindering its ability to produce natural oils that keep the skin supple.
In addition, hard water doesn’t dissolve soap very well, so it can leave residue on the skin after bathing or showering. When this happens, you might feel a thin layer of residue on your skin, and your skin doesn’t feel as clean even after rinsing. But even worse, this residue can disrupt your skin barrier, clog your pores, and leave your skin susceptible to acne breakouts, inflammation, eczema, pimples, rashes, itching, blemishes, and many other adverse skin conditions.
If you already have a skin disorder like eczema, or sensitive skin, using hard water on your skin can trigger flare-ups and breakouts and affect the skin on your scalp, causing dryness and an everlasting itch. It may even lead to other skin issues like bumps and razor burns.
More shockingly, hard water may cause your skin to age faster, says nationally recognized dermatologist Dr. Dennis Gross, M.D. This is because hard water can form free radicals that damage healthy skin cells. Besides adding fine lines and wrinkles on your skin to your to-worry list, it can also break down collagen, a structural protein that helps the skin stay healthy.
Other Contaminants in Unfiltered Tap Water That May Irritate the Skin
Besides chlorine and hardness minerals, there are several other contaminants in water that aren’t so skin-friendly. These elements include:
Arsenic is a chemical element naturally abundant in the earth’s crust and can be released into groundwater under certain conditions. In many parts of the world where groundwater is a vital source of drinking water, long-term exposure to arsenic can wreak havoc on the skin.
Research suggests that after five years, chronic exposure to arsenic can lead to the development of pre-malignant skin lesions, increased risk of skin cancers, and other skin changes such as thickening and pigmentation.
Other effects may include light and dark spots and thickened skin on the body’s palms, soles, and trunk. The likelihood of these effects occurring depends on how much arsenic you consume and whether you live in an area where the water is heavily contaminated with the chemical.
Arsenic is mainly present at high levels in groundwater, which usually comes from industrial and agricultural sources. Besides, certain pesticides contain arsenic, and the chemical is a byproduct of coal-fired power plants. It’s also used as an additive in poultry feed and a lumber preservative.
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs), such as pesticides, herbicides, fertilizer treatments, and other chemicals, are incredibly toxic to human health. Some of them are carcinogenic (cancer-causing), unsafe for skin health, causing contact dermatitis, blistering, pain, fungi, hyperpigmentation of the affected area, burning skin cancers, and other irritations.
Pesticides, for example, are toxic chemicals that can destroy more than just the pests they target. They can cause severe skin conditions such as allergic contact dermatitis, photosensitization dermatitis, primary irritant dermatitis, blistering, pain, fungi, hyperpigmentation of the affected area, skin burning, skin cancers, and other irritations.
Agricultural runoff is one of the main ways that pesticides enter drinking water. Reports in 2015 found that pesticides were used on such a large scale that they found their way into the tap water supply of 29 million Americans receiving water from 1,365 utilities across 27 states.
While chromium-6 is considered a human carcinogen (a cancer-causing substance or compound) when ingested by mouth or inhaled, exposure to this compound has been shown to have several adverse skin-related health effects, including skin irritation, severe skin rash, and allergic contact dermatitis.
Allergic contact dermatitis is long-lasting and severe with repeated skin exposure to chromium-6. Beyond that, contact with non-intact skin can lead to skin ulceration (AKA chrome ulcers). Chrome ulcers are crusted, painless lesions showing a pitted ulcer covered with fluid.
The skin acts as a protective barrier against bacterial infections. But sadly, even the skin itself becomes infected at times. When bacteria come into contact with your skin, they are usually unable to create an infection – unless there are no cuts, open wounds, or other breaks in the skin. However, when an infection does occur, it usually begins as small, red bumps that slowly increase in size.
Some of these infections are mild and easy to treat with topical antibiotics, but other conditions can be severe and require oral antibiotics. Some common symptoms of bacterial infection include tenderness of the skin and rashes. You may also experience other symptoms like itching and pain.
Signs of a more severe infection include blisters, pus, skin slouching or breakdown, and discolored and painful skin, among others. Bacterial skin infections develop when bacteria enter the skin through hair follicles or minor skin breakages resulting from animal or insect bites, scrapes, surgery, sunburns, burns, wounds, or pre-existing skin conditions.
If you swim in the ocean or water with high levels of certain bacteria, you’re more likely to catch a rash, itch, or more severe infections, depending on the strength of your immune system. This is because bacteria, such as total coliforms, fecal coliforms, E. coli, and others, only seem to occur in seawater but not freshwater.
Is Your Shower Water Causing Your Skin Issues?
If you want to know if your shower is spewing hard water, start paying more attention to your surrounding inside your home. Do you notice excess soap scum on fixtures and even your skin that isn’t budging, no matter how thoroughly you clean and scrub it? Is there white, chalky residue around your faucets or shower heads? Have your soaps and shampoos (even the most expensive ones) suddenly stopped lathering well? If you answered ‘yes’ to all these questions, your tap water is likely hard.
As for unfiltered water, there are several signs to watch for in your home to help decide if it’s the cause. These signs include:
- Chlorine smell. Your tap water smells somewhat like water in a swimming pool.
- Unusual taste. You notice a metallic, oily, or fishy taste.
- Sulfur smell. If you notice a rotten egg smell, it is likely sulfur, a naturally occurring mineral that is generally not harmful.
- A cloudy, foamy appearance. Many treatment systems do not filter out naturally occurring minerals that may give a hazy appearance. If the clouds and foam do not go away over time, they could be caused by bacteria, and the water should be tested as soon as possible.
- Blackening, dirt, or sediments in the sink. Government advisories and boil warnings. Local governments usually notify the public of known unsafe water issues.
- Low water pressure. This may signify that your pipes are clogged and corroded from sediment and scale buildup.
While these signs indicate unfiltered hard water in your home, to be sure, it’s best to perform a water test. A water test will confirm if your water contains hardness minerals and needs filtering and whether the problem is mild, moderate, or severe.
If you are on a municipal water system, you can ask the water supplier to provide you with the hardness level of the water they deliver, as well as a list of contaminants previously detected in the water supply. You also can request a copy of their latest water quality report for a more comprehensive rundown of contamination reports in your area.
If you have a private water supply, such as a private well, you can use a DIY home test kit (sold online or at local home centers or hardware stores) to check the water for hardness, contaminants, and impurities.
Alternatively, you can order a water test kit and send a water sample from your tap to a certified local lab for testing. Professional testing can detect pollutants that can harm your and your family’s skin and overall health.
How Water Filters and Water Softeners Can Help Prevent Skin Issues
Investing in a water filtration system and a water softener is a reliable and effective way to minimize exposure to harsh chemicals, contaminants, and minerals in tap water. A whole-house water filter allows you to enjoy filtered water anywhere in your home, even in the shower.
Typically, a whole-house filter uses different screening methods and technologies to rid water of as much as 99% of chlorine and other skin-threatening chemicals and contaminants. By removing chlorine, the system allows your body’s natural healing mechanisms to work correctly and can help prevent and alleviate skin disorders.
However, you’ll need to take a different approach to combat hard water. There are two primary choices for removing hardness minerals from your water: a salt-based water softener and a salt-free water softener. While there are several differences between the two types, both can significantly reduce hardness in water so that you can say hello to softer and healthier skin again.
Then again, you might prefer the convenience of a water filter softener dual system that combines the benefits of a whole-house filter and water softener. With this hybrid setup, the water passes through the whole-house water filtration system to remove unwanted chemicals, contaminants, and impurities and then goes through the water softener to eliminate hardness minerals, resulting in clean, filtered, softened water.
If you have a skin disorder or are suffering from skin irritations after a shower or bath, it is easy to blame a particular skin product you started using recently or a new food item you just added to your diet. However, something in your tap water could be the culprit behind those pesky skin problems. Unfiltered water typically contains chemicals and contaminants that can affect the skin in various ways, while hard water contains hardness minerals that can also be problematic for the skin. But luckily, installing a whole-house water filter system, a water softener, or a combo unit containing both can help prevent and alleviate eczema and other common skin conditions.
If you’re unsure which option is ideal for your budget and needs, you can speak to a Springwell Water Solutions expert to get the lowdown on the best model for your home.
- Chlorine Allergy: Could Chlorine Be Fueling A Rash & Your Allergy Symptoms?
- Hard Water: The Sneaky Culprit Behind Your Crunchy Hair and Dry Skin?
- 10 Surprising Beauty Benefits of Filtered Tap Water
- Water Softeners: What are They and How Do They Work?
Disclaimer: The information in this article in no way replaces the opinions of a health professional. The products offered herein are not intended to treat, cure, or prevent any skin disorder, disease, or other health condition. The contaminants mentioned are not necessarily in your water.