If you recently moved to Arizona and notice your skin feels especially itchy, dry and irritated, it might not just be the “dry heat” that’s to blame. In addition to super lower humidity levels, Arizona is also known for having very hard tap water. In fact, Arizona is one of five states that the U.S. Geological Survey lists as having the hardest water in the country.
Even those without skin issues will feel the effects of hard water on their skin — but for those that suffer from common skin conditions, these effects will be even more pronounced. In fact, recent studies suggest that living in a hard water area is associated with an increased risk of atopic dermatitis, a condition that causes skin to become flaky and itchy.
If you suffer from a condition like psoriasis, eczema, acne or rosacea, Arizona’s hard water could be making your skin issues worse. Read on to discover how hard water is impacting your skin health, plus tips on how to fix it.
Why Hard Water Makes Skin Issues Worse
Though it seems counterintuitive to think of water as an irritant, everything from water pH, temperature, and the concentration of particles of any kind can impact the health of our skin. Water hardness, however, is especially detrimental to skin health.
“Compared with soft water, skin exposed to hard water has increased dilution of the natural moisturizing factors and alteration of the corneocyte (outer skin cell) layers, resulting in increased disruption of the protective epidermal barrier.” writes Lily Talakoub, M.D., for Dermatology News.
In other words, the minerals in hard water can cause the top layers of skin to break down and be less effective at holding moisture and protecting itself from environmental pollutants. Hard water is also less effective at rinsing soap and residue off of the skin, causing it to build up and clog pores.
Over time, repeatedly exposing skin to hard water can lead to:
- Excessive dryness
Those with eczema, psoriasis, acne or rosacea may also notice exacerbation of their conditions with regular exposure to hard water. Learn more about how hard water impacts people with these common skin conditions below.
Hard Water and Eczema
Eczema is the umbrella term for several conditions that result in red, itchy, inflamed patches of skin. According to the National Eczema Association, more than 30 million Americans have some form of it, including atopic and contact dermatitis.
Eczema can be mild, moderate, or severe; can appear anywhere on the body; and can occur at any age, though it is more common in babies and children. The exact cause is unknown but is suspected to be a combination of genetic sensitivities and environmental triggers.
When something (including hard water) irritates the skin, the condition flares up and causes more itching and larger patches of red, scaly skin.
“Patients with eczema are much more sensitive to the effects of hard water than people with healthy skin,” says researcher Dr. Simon Danby from the University of Sheffield in South Yorkshire, England, who led a study exploring the effects of hard water on the skin’s outer barrier.
The study’s conclusion was that people with a genetic predisposition to skin conditions can be triggered by the calcium and magnesium in hard water. “By damaging the skin barrier, washing with hard water may contribute to the development of eczema.”
Hard Water and Psoriasis
Psoriasis can result in red, itchy and cracked patches of skin, which build up into areas called “plaques.” Like eczema, psoriasis is an autoimmune disorder in which patients can experience flare-ups or instances that come and go when their symptoms increase and then subside.
Dry skin is more susceptible to psoriasis, so the drying effects of hard water can be a double whammy for those with the condition. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that those with psoriasis take only one shower or bath per day, rinse thoroughly, and use moisturizer within a few minutes of drying off.
Hard Water and Acne
Acne is the most common skin condition in the United States, affecting as many as 50 million Americans each year, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Though it most commonly affects teenagers, it can occur at any age.
Acne is linked to bacteria on the surface of oil-producing glands under the skin that are stimulated by the adrenal glands. Diet, some medications, and stress can play a role, but acne is different with every individual.
Because the minerals and residue left behind by hard water can clog the skin’s pores, it can make acne symptoms worse. “The calcium settles on the skin and changes one’s own oil chemistry, which compromises the skin’s ability to moisturize itself,” says New York dermatologist Dennis Gross, M.D.
Hard Water and Rosacea
Rosacea is often mistaken for other skin disorders because it is also an inflammatory condition that results in redness, pimples and visible blood vessels in the face.
The primary cause is unknown, though like other conditions, it’s thought to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Most common among middle-aged women with fair skin, patients use topical medications, antibiotics and diet to control their symptoms.
As with acne, the irritation and clogged pores that often result from hard water can exacerbate rosacea. Patients learn to use only gentle cleansers on their skin, and dermatologists often recommend using distilled water to wash and rinse affected skin.
How to Protect Skin from Hard Water
Hard water can wreak havoc on your skin health, but there are steps you can take to keep redness, itchiness and irritation at bay. Follow these three tips to protect your skin from the harmful effects of hard water:
Invest in a Water Softener
Water softeners remove calcium and magnesium from your home’s tap water through a process called ion exchange. Water that is processed through a water softener is considered “soft” water, which allows soaps and detergents to lather and doesn’t dry out the skin as hard water does.
If you suffer from a skin condition, a water softener can be a great investment. According to a recent dermatological study, “water softening by ion-exchange [mitigates] the negative effects of hard water.”
Regularly Moisturize Your Skin
To counteract the drying effects of hard water, moisturize your skin with a cream or lotion that contains ceramides, which are fat molecules (lipids) that help the skin hold moisture.
In addition to replacing moisture leached away from the skin by hard water, recent studies also found that ceramides also help protect your skin from possible environmental triggers like air pollution.
Use Skin Cleansers and Soaps with Chelating Agents or Glycerin
Look for soaps or washes that include “chelating agents,” which prevent residue from building up on your skin, including citric acid, EDTA, or sodium phytate.
Clear glycerin soap may also be a good choice since it doesn’t react with hard water the way typical soap does. Plus, cleansers and soaps with glycerin also protect your skin from pollutants and can help hold in moisture.
Get a Water Softener for Your Home in Arizona
In Arizona, knowing how to mitigate the issues arising from hard water can make a big difference in your daily life, especially in terms of your skin.
A water softener removes excess calcium and magnesium from the water, transforming it into soft water and eliminating the problems that excess minerals can create. Plus, a water softener won’t just help your skin — soft water will leave your hair feeling cleaner, protect your appliances from chalky residue, and prevent mineral deposits from building up in your pipes.
With decades of experience serving homeowners in greater Phoenix, the experts at Clear Water Concepts understand the unique challenges of Arizona’s hard water. Contact us to learn more about water softeners, and to get a quote for water softener installation in Arizona.