The Hard Truth: How Hard Water Is Affecting Your Skin

At the beginning of November, the skin on my face quite literally began to peel away. Not only that, but the places where it peeled turned into dastardly breakouts, which then transitioned into dry scabs because not even a nasty pimple could live long enough on the desert I called my face. My pores had turned into potholes, and my confidence was consistently plummeting alongside the winter weather temperatures. 


My skin was overbaked, and I was over it. 


It was an obscene sight, and it was in that singular moment that I was thankful to wear a mask in public and hide at least some of my reddened and peeling face.


I assumed this change in my skin’s balance could be attributed to the change in weather, so I decided to be more diligent in my skincare routine. Rather than washing and moisturizing whenever it felt convenient, I settled into a routine of washing and moisturizing twice daily using the Neutrogena Ultra Gentle Hydrating Cleanser paired with the Equate Daily Facial Moisturizer as a dupe for the Cetaphil product.


After a few weeks of maintaining this new routine, my dryness was still in the same state, yet my acne had worsened. 


To combat this, I decided to switch from my generic brand dupe to the Clean & Clear Acne Control Moisturizer. Not only would it bring my skin back to its former balance, but it would also clear up the accompanying acne. It was really a win-win, right?


However, another week passed, and I had seen absolutely no improvement. Once again, I decided to change up my skincare routine by purchasing the CeraVe PM Facial Moisturizing Lotion in hopes that my skin would be magically healed overnight. Unfortunately, no such miracle occurred, and after further testing, my skin remained in its damaged and broken-out state. 


I was frustrated and embarrassed by my skin, which caused me to look to the Internet for the solution to my problems. After some research, I discovered that washing your face with hard water can have damaging short-term and long-term effects on your skin. As I read a variety of articles from different reputable sources, it all began to make sense. As I read the symptoms and clues about hard water, I literally checked off every single box. 


I had finally found the root of my issues and could begin to solve it! 


Minneapolis, MN ranks in the top-3 of the hardest water sources in the U.S. with Indianapolis, IN topping the chart. However, this isn’t just a Midwestern problem–– research shows that 85% of homes in the US have hard water, yet only 30% use a water softener to combat this, so it’s quite possible that many of you are experiencing the same issues. 


But how do I tell if I have hard water?


Some of the most common effects of hard water are dry skin, irritation, acne and dandruff. Hard water can affect the health and balance of your skin and hair, so it is especially important to identify the problem and make some adjustments to combat it.


There are many ways to test for hard water, but one of the simplest ones is to begin by adding 350 ml (about 1 ¼ cups) of water into a clear bottle. Then fill the bottle with 10 drops of your favorite hand soap. Close the bottle and shake it thoroughly. If there are only a few bubbles, it means that the water is hard. You can also repeat the test with a few more drops of soap. If the number of bubbles in the water doesn’t increase, this is another sign that you have hard water. Cloudy water is also common in hard water and can be another indicator during your test.


Why does hard water affect my skin and hair in this way?


Hard water is filled with many minerals that have negative effects on your skin when used routinely. The main culprit of this huge issue, though, is calcium. 


Although calcium is good for your bones, it can negatively affect your skin when exposed in excess. 


Mineral baths can be rejuvenating and relaxing, but taking a mineral shower once a day wreaks havoc on your skin. The soaps we use don’t mix well with the calcium, which, in turn, clogs your pores and leaves soapy residues within them.


In turn, your skin reacts by drying out and becoming irritated. For those with eczema, this can lead to flare-ups. And if you don’t have eczema, you may develop it as a result of your skin’s constant irritation and dryness. This is a chronic disease that can affect your quality of life later on, which is why it is so important to make alterations to your daily routine to prevent the onset of more dangerous side effects.


Although calcium is the main miscreant, other minerals present in hard water, such as iron and magnesium, can form free radicals: atoms that can damage cells. In turn, these free radicals can cause aging and illnesses such as Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disorders, diabetes and cataracts amongst others. Preventing this now can severely alter the course of your health later in life.


What are some methods I can utilize to restore the balance of my skin?


Thankfully, the answer to this question is yes! Once you’ve identified your hard water, the next step is to begin to alter your skincare routine to restore it to its former state (or even better).


For many college students like me, it’s not feasible to completely change your water system by installing a water softener, but there are ways that you can change your daily routine to compensate for your dehydrated skin.


If your body is already dried to a crisp, try using a fragrance-free body wash. Because of the calcium deposits in the water, the soaps and dyes within your body wash are likely being clogged in your pores and drying out your skin. It’s a good idea to also avoid extremely hot or cold water; instead, use lukewarm water to prevent as much wear on your skin as possible. This applies both when washing your face and showering.


When you get out of the shower, you should try to pat down to dry off rather than vigorously rubbing and irritating your skin further. It may be beneficial to consider applying a moisturizing body lotion when the skin is still damp to prevent your skin from completely drying out. Refinery29 suggests Aveeno’s Creamy Moisturizing Body Oil. Not only is it soap-free, but it “is clinically proven to target the drying effects of hard water while balancing the skin’s natural moisture level.”


You can also try replacing your face wash with a gentle cleanser to limit the residue that gets stuck in your pores. Vogue recommends using Korres Greek Yoghurt Foaming Cleanser. Although it is a bit pricier than drugstore products, this cleanser “melt[s] away debris and make-up, leaving the skin feather-soft.” 


Personally, I already used a hydrating cleanser, so I didn’t have to worry about changing this part of my daily habit. And although washing your face is important, try doing so less frequently; try washing daily or even every other day. However, don’t entirely abandon your skincare routine––still apply your moisturizer, toner, and other products at the same intervals even when you skip the face wash.


Possibly the most valuable tool to combat hard water is a skincare product that includes a chelator, which is the only ingredient proven to remove calcium from the skin. Sephora sells Dr. Dennis Gross’s Alpha Beta Pore Perfecting Cleansing Gel, which includes a chelator to wipe away the calcium deposits and bacteria in your pores. Although it is on the pricier side, it would be an awesome item to add to your Christmas list. Not only will it prevent your hard water from affecting your skin, but it can also extract a multitude of other bacterias and deposits within your pores.


Although it can be an expensive endeavor, repairing your hard-water-damaged skin is important to your long-term health and wellness. By making simple changes to your daily routine and paying attention to what you wash your skin with and how you do so, you can drastically reduce the amounts of calcium deposits that root themselves in your pores and feel more confident and beautiful as a result.