Are You Showering In Hard Water? How To Tell + What To Do, From A Derm

mbg Editorial Assistant By Jamie Schneider
mbg Editorial Assistant
Jamie Schneider is the Editorial Assistant at mindbodygreen with a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan. She's previously written for Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare.
Are You Showering In Hard Water? How To Tell + What To Do

Most of the shower-time conversation tends to focus on length (are you staying in until your fingertips are pruned?) and temperature of the water (are you stepping under a scalding spray?). But let's take a deeper dive into the water itself: Are you showering in hard or soft water?

For some, the type of water can tip the scale between healthy and dry, irritated skin. But how do you know which type of water you have? Here's how to tell what's coming out of the tap. 

How to tell if you're showering in hard water. 

Hard water, simply, is water that contains a high amount of minerals, namely calcium and magnesium. Those minerals can change your skin's pH balance, which can then affect your skin microbiome (remember: Our skin microbiome prefers a slightly acidic pH of about 5). "Hard water tends to make skin drier and more sensitive, and it can leave your skin reddened," says board-certified dermatologist Loretta Ciraldo, M.D., FAAD, especially if your skin barrier is already compromised (say, if you have sensitive or eczema-prone skin).

However, assessing your skin shouldn't be the only way to tell if you have hard water; dry, itchy skin can stem from a range of concerns, and it doesn't always shed light on the shower. That said Ciraldo mentions a simple, at-home test to figure out if your water is hard:

  • Fill a bottle about ⅓ full with your tap water. 
  • Add a few drops of liquid soap and shake vigorously. 
  • If the water looks cloudy with not much foaming, you likely have hard water. 
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Have hard water? Here's what to do about it.

If you're living in an area with hard water, don't panic. Hard water isn't inherently bad, unless you notice any of the aforementioned skin concerns. Take it from Ciraldo: "Many people who have hard water don't need to do anything," she notes. If your skin can tolerate it, there's no need to sound the alarm. But if you are facing some dryness or irritation, here are a few to-do's: 

  1. Mitigate the drying effects with products: If you notice your skin feeling dry or itchy and think your water is to blame, perhaps tend to your skin with more hydrating ingredients. A few of note are Manuka honey, aloe, and colloidal oat. The latter is a particularly hydrating superstar, and Ciraldo touts it effectiveness specifically for hard water woes: "If you live in an area of hard water, you should consider using an oatmeal body wash or lotion," she's previously told us, as colloidal oat has been shown to soothe skin irritation and protect the skin barrier
  2. Think about your shower habits: Can you limit your rinses to once a day? We're certainly not telling you to forgo a wash after a sweaty summer afternoon, but if your lifestyle allows it, perhaps give it a go and see if any dryness or itch subsides. For some, just limiting showers to once a day can keep the skin feeling smooth. (As for when exactly to hop under the spray, we suggest an evening rinse is best for skin.) 
  3. Invest in a water softener: Even if you live in an area of hard water, there are tools that can remove certain minerals from the tap. According to Ciraldo, a water softener can be incredibly effective, if you've exhausted all other options: "[They] exchange calcium and other sensitizing minerals for sodium, which makes the water soft again," she says. It's not totally necessary to install (there are other, more cost-friendly things to try first), but it does approach the problem head-on. 

The takeaway.

Hard water can be drying on the skin, so if you're facing some scaliness that won't seem to let up (no matter how many body butters you slather on), it might be time to take a look at the tap itself. It's nothing to worry about too much, if your skin can handle it—but for some, approaching the water can change the game.

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