Here is a question that comes up every now and again. Is soft water better for skin? Suzanne has noticed that her skin condition is better when she uses soft water. I’ll let her speak for herself.
Hi Colin, First let me say I’ve only recently found your blog but I think it’s great, very sensible advice, wish I’d known about it earlier. Perhaps you could answer this question for me? I live near London in a very hard water area. When I go to stay in other, more rural parts of the country, I am amazed at how good my skin looks and feels after just a few days. Is this because the water is cleaner, or contains less limescale, or is less chlorinated? My skin is sensitive but not dry, and I find that washing in water at home produces a ‘taut’ feeling, even if I use no soap or cleanser. I don’t get this feeling in soft water areas. To get rid of the ‘taut’ feeling, I apply moisturiser, very sparingly, but often find that I then get whiteheads, blackheads and milia, I’m often better off without moisturiser at all. How can I reproduce the wonderful results I get in soft water areas at home? Is it necessary to spend upwards of £500 on a home softener system – which may not do the job anyway as this is not ‘natural’ soft water? I have bought a ‘Rainshow’r’ chlorine remover, and was thinking of adding a little salt or some bicarbonate of soda to my bath water? Grateful for any suggestions! Suzanne
Okay, first the easy bit which in this case is the science. Hard water is what you usually get in limestone regions. It is rich in calcium ions. In fact where I grew up the water was almost saturated. This has lots of effects, including that you need to use more soap and dishwashing liquids.
Some people find it is also drying and irritating to their skin compared to soft water, as Suzanne says. This could simply be because of the higher levels of detergent that come into contact with the skin. It might also be an intrinsic effect of the water. You might imagine that somebody somewhere would know for sure, but if they do I don’t know where that information has been published. It is quite a believable notion. Calcium is a highly charged metal and it would not be surprising to see evidence that it has an adverse effect on skin.
But while there is no data on normal skin, there are some indications that hard water has an adverse effect on eczema. It seems to be something that at least some dermatologists recognise as a factor and that sufferers anecdotally confirm. Although this has got into the literature and pops up on websites, rather frustratingly a recent study in Nottingham failed to confirm it. This was only a four week trial so maybe there is an effect but it takes longer to bed in.
So should you buy a water softener? The benefits may not be huge and £500 is a lot to spend. Having said that you will get a saving in the amount of soap, shampoo and washing up liquid you need to use. These are all quite cheap to buy of course, and the softener will have running costs associated with it. I am afraid it is a tough call. I don’t think that there will be any difference between ‘natural’ soft water and the soft water you get from your softener if that is any help. The problem is the calcium in the hard water, and removing it should give you the same result however you do it.
I am afraid the chlorine remover will have no effect on the hardness of the water and is a complete red herring. Adding a little salt or bicarbonate might mitigate the effect of the calcium a little. It works by effectively diluting the calcium ions with less charged sodium ions. I am not sure how much good this would do in practice, but I suppose there is no harm in experimenting.
The study of softened water in eczema patients with negative results to which I referred.