Is Hard Water Causing Your Rash?

Does Water Hardness Affect Skin?

Hard water is tap water that’s high in minerals such as calcium and magnesium. Hard water isn’t harmful, except the minerals prevent your soap from sudsing. Some people think that hard water is more likely to cause a rash than soft water.

Take a recent patient of mine: he moved his family to San Diego from the East Coast (good move this winter, no). After they moved here, they noticed their skin became dry and itchy. He blamed San Diego’s notoriously hard water and installed a water softener in the main water line. It was costly, but did it improve their skin?

A recent study from the UK looked at this question: Does hard water worsen eczema? The answer was, no, it doesn’t. Water hardness did not seem to have any impact on eczema, the most common skin rash.

What’s more important than the hardness of the water is the type of soap you use. True soap tends to strip the skin of its natural oils, leaving it exposed and irritated. Non-soap cleansers, of which Dove is the prototype, leave more oils on your skin, keeping it hydrated and protected.

My patient and his family didn’t get any better after installing a water softener (although he said they could drink our tap water without gagging now). I advised him to change to a moisturizing soap and to apply moisturizer daily.

San Diego is drier than most of the country, and the low humidity can be a shock to skin accustomed to humid air. Many people who move here find they have to moisturize more often than they did back home.  When they complain, I suggest they could alternatively move back to the East Coast this winter — no takers so far.

Photo: Angel Gonzalez, Flickr.

9 thoughts on “Is Hard Water Causing Your Rash?

  1. On a similar note, I’ve always wondered if hard water could contribute to hair loss, but I am sure it doesn’t. My hair loss started when I moved to a city with hard water, and I’ve heard countless reports of the same thing, but I’m sure it’s probably a coincidence. At one point I bought a chlorine filter for my shower to see if I would notice an improvement to my skin or hair, but I didn’t see a difference so I ended up abandoning it.

  2. I totally agree. We dermatologists practicing in dry climates get good at coaching patients on hydrating skin care. We need to ‘lock and load’ the water in the skin because the climate sucks is out. It’s done with skin care, not drinking gallons of water. It’s a shocker for the transplants from humidity.

  3. Hello there,
    didn’t find any other way to ask a question — so will ask here :)
    Re skin myths, could you please tell me (and the rest of us people who are on a verge of getting wrinkles) about facial toning. Facial exercises — do they help? Is there a point of doing them? There seem to be a rationale at first sight, because face loses muscle volume with age. But does the exercising help to keep it?
    Thank you very much!

  4. When I shower in hard water, I will develop a rash along my jaw line and on my shins. It is an intensely itchy rash. If hard-water showering for more than a day or two, I develop an inflamed hemmoroid and even vaginal infection symptoms (itching, burning). As soon as I return to soft-water showering, the symptoms disappear immediately (that very day!).

    I have suffered from these symptoms for 20 years. I once spoke with my doctor, who said maybe I was reacting to a particular mineral in our water.

    I have done “accidental” experiments many times over the years when we have unintentionally let our softener run out of salt. I know that very day as soon as I shower. I also have problems in hotels, but usually not as severe as our well water. We have lived in three different homes in the same area, and I have reacted in all of them.

    We have a water softener that we must keep running or else! But the salt expense is crazy, so I have been looking into other water treatments. Do you know if another water treatment approach besides softening would be effective?

    Please don’t tell me to moisturize because that only exasperates the irritation! This really is not about dry skin. This is a concrete reaction to hard water. I never have this rash or extreme itching except when I’ve showered in hard water.

  5. HI there
    could not find how to ask a question, So asking here. My 3 year old son develops a lot of small red bumps on his face more on cheeks. He even scratches them in his sleep. Tried talking to different doctors, they keep saying it will go away on its own! Not satisfied with this reply. Tried a couple of Eczema creams, did not work. Whenever he gets sick (Cold, Fever, Cough..) and we give any medicine, this condition worsens. Pl help.

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