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How to Achieve Great Hair and Skin Regardless of Your Water Hardness

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While traveling I have experienced the highs and lows of water hardness and its effects on my hair and skin. Water hardness refers to the level of calcium and/or magnesium minerals that water contains. The higher the mineral content, the harder the water. If it contains few or no minerals, it is referred to as soft water.

When hard water combines with soap and shampoo, the calcium and magnesium affects its ability to lather up. It forms soap scum which adheres to hair and skin. Conversely, when soap and shampoo is used with soft water, it lathers and cleans more effectively. In order to get products to lather in hard water, manufacturers use synthetic surfactants, which can be harsh and irritate your skin.

Unfortunately, most of us have no control over our water hardness because we rent or can’t afford the high cost of a water softening system for our home. But that’s okay because I’m going to share with you all the tips you need to get your hair and skin looking and feeling great, whatever your water hardness may be.

Did You Know?

There are 2 types of hard water, one can be made softer by boiling it, but the other cannot.

Find out Your Water Hardness

First order of business is to find out what kind of water you have. You can get this information by contacting your local council or water provider (these days this information is usually published online). Signs of hard water are usually quite obvious, such as:

  • Soap scum ring around the bath
  • White residue on the taps, showerhead and inside the kettle.

If you are still unsure, then you can purchase water testing strips or try this simple test.

The Effects of Hard Water on Skin

When washing in hard water, skin gets covered in a film of soap scum which can cause it to dry out and become itchy. Hard water can aggravate skin conditions such as psoriasis, dermatitis and eczema and soap scum can block pores and cause acne.

How to Resolve the Effects of Hard Water on Skin

  • Reduce the temperature of your shower (difficult to do in winter, I know). Hot water can inflame and dry out your skin.
  • Wash your face with lukewarm or cool water.
  • Capture and use rainwater to rinse.
  • Rinse with distilled water.
  • Use a moisturizing body wash instead of soap. They are better at foaming in hard water and contain moisturizers to counteract the drying effect of hard water.
  • Use a gentle soap free cleanser such as Cetaphil's Gentle Skin Cleanser. You don’t need foamy soap to get a good clean. Originally formulated for dermatologists, this cleanser is non-comedogenic (won't clog pores) and maintains the natural pH balance of your skin.
  • Consider using an anhydrous cleanser (one that needs no water) such as Ella Grace Organics Rose Water Facial Toner to avoid using water on your face.

  • Face wipes are especially useful when staying somewhere with really hard water.
  • Use a gentle cleansing, moisturizing toner. Try to avoid those containing alcohol which can further dry out and irritate your skin.
  • For those of you struggling with blocked pores, use a gentle moisturizing scrub once or twice a week to help unclog. If you find granule based scrubs too harsh, try using either a dry face brush or a chemical exfoliator containing glycolic acid or salicylic acid.
  • Use a clay based mask like Aria Starr Beauty Dead Sea Mask once or twice a week to help pull the soap scum out of your clogged pores. Packed with beneficial vitamins and minerals, as the mask dries it pulls out toxins and excess oils and gets rid of pimples, blackheads, and breakouts. It's also great for blemishes on the chest and back.
  • Always moisturize after washing.
  • For especially sensitized skin, use a product specially designed for sensitive skin to avoid further irritation.

The Effects of Soft Water on Skin

For some of us, soft water can clear up acne, but for others, it may make it worse. Soap likes to be used with soft water and it will foam up nicely, but it may feel like it does not rinse off properly. That’s because soft water leaves your skin feeling soft and “slippery”, almost as if you have already applied skin lotion. Many of us believe that clean skin should feel taut and “squeaky clean”, but this is not the case. You don’t want to completely strip your skin of its natural oils as this can lead to irritation.

Soft water lathers soap
Soft water lathers soap | Source

How to Resolve the Effects of Soft Water on Skin

  • If you feel that your skin is not clean enough, use a cleansing toner to help wipe away any excess residue.
  • Regularly use a face scrub to remove residue. If you find granule based scrubs too harsh, try using either a dry face brush or a chemical exfoliator containing glycolic acid or salicylic acid such as Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Lotion Salicylic Acid Exfoliant. The salicylic acid unclogs and diminishes enlarged pores, blackheads and acne breakouts. It also smooths wrinkles, reduces redness and builds collagen.
  • Use a clay based face mask, like the Aria Starr Beauty Dead Sea Mask mentioned above, once or twice a week to remove excess oil and clear pores.
  • You may find your usual moisturizer too heavy. In that case, switch to a lighter one that won’t don’t overload your skin and cause breakouts.

The Effects of Water Hardness on Hair

I have curly, dry, frizzy hair and love what soft water does for my hair. But we all have such different hair types and also ideas about what we consider to be “great hair”. What you need to workout through trial and error is what level of water hardness is best for you. Some people love the soft bounciness that soft water produces, but others find it a nuisance to style. Those with dry hair usually find soft water a god send, but those with greasy hair find it makes their hair even oilier.

Soft water can create soft, bouncy hair. But others may find their hair too soft to style or oily and lank.
Soft water can create soft, bouncy hair. But others may find their hair too soft to style or oily and lank.

The Effects of Hard Water on Hair

Soap scum can build up on hair and weigh it down. This can leave it looking and feeling dull, brittle and lifeless. With hard water you will find yourself needing to use more shampoo as the minerals interfere with the products ability to lather and foam. It also causes the scales on your hair shaft to stand up, making it more difficult to rinse clean. This makes it feel rough, fluffy, tangled and out of control. It may also be difficult to style and hold a curl. Furthermore, the soap scum and minerals can build up on the scalp and cause a fine, powdery type of dandruff.

Some types of heavy water can also contain minerals such as iron that slowly tint hair, causing light colored hair to become a tinted orange and dark hair to become a coppery red. For those that dye their hair, hard water can wash the color out quicker.

Hard water can make your hair frizzy and out of control
Hard water can make your hair frizzy and out of control

How to Resolve the Effects of Hard Water on Hair

  • Use a chelating shampoo like Mizani Phormula-7 Neutralizing and Chelating Shampoo once or twice a week. It's designed to remove excess ions and mineral deposits from the hair, leaving it healthy, shiny and moisturized. Or for a complete treatment, try the Malibu Hard Water Wellness Treatment Kit which includes shampoo, conditioner and treatment. These products are designed to remove both mineral and product build-up. But be careful as they can be quite drying so always finish with a conditioner and don't overdo it.

  • Rinse hair with a mix ¼ to 1 cup of apple cider vinegar (ACV) or white vinegar to 2 cups of water. Vinegar can help remove the dandruff caused by hard water. ACV is milder and often preferred by those with colored hair. However, some blondes find it can give their hair a red tone tint. In that case you should try using white vinegar instead. You will also need to play around with the dilution of it too, as everyone’s hair responds differently. Use more vinegar for oily hair and less for dry hair.
  • Rinse hair with ¼ cup of lemon juice mixed with 1 cup of warm water. This can remove mineral and soap scum build up as well as the powdery dandruff it can cause. It is also very effective for those with oily hair because it is an astringent which helps to shrink your pores and reduce oiliness. But be aware that it can lighten your hair, which is great for those of wanting to create natural highlights.
  • Capture rainwater and use this to rinse your hair.
  • Rinse with distilled water.
  • Use deep conditioning treatments and leave-in conditioners to add additional moisture to your hair. For those looking for natural alternatives, try coconut oil, argan oil, or almond oil.

Lemon juice can help to remove the buildup and dandruff caused by hard water
Lemon juice can help to remove the buildup and dandruff caused by hard water

The Effects of Soft Water on Hair

When washing your hair with soft water the shampoo will bubble and lather more easily than in hard water. Because of this, you won’t need to use as much. Soft water is considered to be much gentler on colored hair. It can leave hair feeling silky, but can also make it feel almost slimy, as if the product has not been properly been rinsed out.

For some, soft water can make hair feel soft and bouncy. But those with fine hair and/or prone to greasiness may find that it makes their hair limp and oily.

Can't Get the Same Hair as in the Salon?

They may use a water softening system. If you have hard water at home, then this may be the reason for the difference.

How to Resolve the Effects of Soft Water on Hair

If you find that soft water makes your hair too soft or lank and greasy, try the following solutions:

  • To give soft hair texture, use sea salt spray. On a budget? Then try making your own by mixing two teaspoons of salt and two cups of warm water in an empty spray bottle. Shake well and let the salt dissolve. Easy!
  • To get more volume, blow dry your hair using a round brush.
  • Use specialized volumizing shampoo, conditioner and styling products.
  • Don’t apply styling creams to the roots of your hair. It will make it too greasy and won't allow you to achieve volume from the root. Instead, try using the popular Batiste Dry Shampoo for greasy hair emergencies. Dry shampoo is also an excellent volumizing product and adds more texture or 'grip' for easier styling. To give hair lift, spray the underside of the hair roots. This also hides any remaining traces of the product.

Blow dry with a round brush to create lift and body
Blow dry with a round brush to create lift and body | Source
  • Swap your heavy conditioner for a light one. If greasy scalp is still a problem, then only apply conditioner to the ends of your hair, or not at all.
  • Lemon juice is an astringent which helps to shrink your pores and reduce oiliness. Rinse hair with ¼ cup of lemon juice mixed with 1 cup of warm water. Be aware that it can lighten your hair, which is great for those of wanting to create natural highlights.
  • Consider your shampooing technique – are you making sure that you are cleaning your entire scalp? Don't forget the back of your head which is often neglected and can become very greasy.
  • Many people with greasy hair swear by replacing their usual shampoo and conditioner with baking soda and diluted vinegar. Baking soda is applied to the scalp and then rinsed away with either ACV or white vinegar diluted in water.

Apple cider vinegar, white vinegar and baking soda remove mineral buildup and reduce oiliness in hair
Apple cider vinegar, white vinegar and baking soda remove mineral buildup and reduce oiliness in hair

Shower Filters: Do They Soften Water?

There are a lot of shower head filters that market themselves as both water purifiers and softeners. But choose carefully because many of them don’t actually soften water. For example, the shower filters that use KDF chlorine filters or charcoal filters remove chlorine and iron, but they do not remove calcium or magnesium. That means they do not actually soften your water. To soften water, you will need a filter that uses salt. These devices also attach to your shower, but are larger and require you to regularly replace the salt solution that is responsible for softening the water. Alternately, you can invest in an actual home water softening system.

Is it worth buying a shower filter?
Is it worth buying a shower filter?

Read More Related Hubs

How to Manage the Effects of Hard Water around the Home

Hard water creates limescale and soap scum which can be an expensive and frustrating problem. Not all of us are in a position to get a water softening system installed, so find out how you can effectively to manage it in your home.

© 2015 C L Mitchell

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9 comments

C L Mitchell profile image

C L Mitchell 13 months ago Author

Yes Lisa, it's a good cheaper alternative to getting a home water softening system.


Lisa 13 months ago

Another great solution is the ShowerStick shower water softener and filter from WaterSticks: http://www.watersticks.com


C L Mitchell profile image

C L Mitchell 21 months ago Author

Thanks for the positive feedback toknowinfo and camily lm. I hope this gave you some ideas for dealing with your level of water hardness.


toknowinfo profile image

toknowinfo 21 months ago

Thanks for a well written, informative, and interesting hub. I learned much from reading your hub. Voted up, useful, awesome and interesting.


camily lm profile image

camily lm 21 months ago from Nairobi Kenya

This is quite informative and well researched. Quite helpful.


C L Mitchell profile image

C L Mitchell 21 months ago Author

Thanks for the feedback Sunshine Days, I'm glad you found it informative.


Sunshine Days profile image

Sunshine Days 21 months ago

I recently read about how hard water can affect hair and skin, so I wanted to read this hub because the topic interested me. It was very useful and informative. Thanks for the tips!


C L Mitchell profile image

C L Mitchell 21 months ago Author

Hi Hannah, thanks for the feedback!


Hannah David Cini profile image

Hannah David Cini 21 months ago from Nottingham

A really well written and interesting hub. I knew hard and soft water would affect hair and skin but don't understand why. This was really educational. Thanks for sharing.

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