Hard water is a common problem in many households. It can cause mineral build-up in the water supply, which can lead to problems such as hard water dermatitis.
Even though hard water doesn’t cause seborrheic dermatitis, it can aggravate the condition. Hard water causes buildup on the scalp and also reacts with soap and other detergents to form acids, which can damage the skin. There are a few things that you can do to protect yourself from hard water.
Let’s take a deep dive:
What is hard water?
Water is considered to be ‘hard’ if it contains high levels of minerals like calcium and magnesium. These minerals can cause a variety of problems, including a build-up on dishes, glassware, and utensils, a slimy feeling after washing your hands with soap, and seborrheic dermatitis flares.
Hard water is typically found in locations with high mineral content, such as limestone rock formations or areas near a river. It’s important to note that not all water is hard. Some areas have very soft water due to the presence of compounds like sodium chloride (salt) in the soil. But an overwhelming 85% of the USA has hard water.
If you’re not sure about your water, you can easily test it with a hard water test kit:
How does hard water affect the skin?
The minerals in hard water make it difficult for soap to clean your skin. When the minerals mix with the soap, a sticky scum is created that can’t be washed away easily.
This film can clog pores and deprive skin of its natural oils, leading to acne breakouts.
Hard water can also cause scalp and skin dryness, leading to flaking and dandruff.
In extreme cases, hard water has the potential to cause sunburn, making your body more susceptible to UV rays throughout the year.
Can hard water cause seborrheic dermatitis?
There’s a good chance you’ve heard that hard water can be bad for your skin and it turns out, that’s true!
Hard water doesn’t cause seborrheic dermatitis is someone who doesn’t already have the condition. However, it may be a trigger that causes SD flares. Hard water also worsens seborrheic dermatitis and makes it harder for you to treat it.
If you’ve never suffered from SD but have now developed a rash after moving to an area with hard water, you’re more likely to have hard water dermatitis (a direct skin reaction due to hard water). It’s best to see your doctor for a proper diagnosis.
How does hard water affect seborrheic dermatitis?
Even though hard water doesn’t cause seborrheic dermatitis, it creates havoc on your skin. Hard water is one of the most common environmental contributors to SD as it can cause increased irritation and inflammation in the skin.
When hard water reacts with soap it forms a soap scum that cannot be dissolved by water. This thin soap film is hard to wash off the skin and leaves a residue that block pores.
When our pores become blocked, it directly affects the skin’s production of natural oils. This creates a lack of moisture and also alters the pH balance of the skin, which can result in break outs, acne and bad skin.
I don’t usually recommend using only micellar water to clean your skin but in this case, it may be worth avoiding cleansers until you’ve soften your water:
While drinking hard water may not directly cause seborrheic dermatitis, it can lead to other health problems such as kidney stones or even hair loss.
Can hard water cause dandruff?
Hard water doesn’t just effect our body, it also damages the skin on our scalp and hair too. Our scalp and hair need lots of moisture to stay healthy and nourished. Hard water minerals react with shampoo to leave a soap residue in our hair. This residue becomes trapped leaving soap and hard minerals on your scalp. This results in a dry flakey scalp that can be painful and itchy.
Another factor that can contribute to seborrheic dermatitis is the high levels of calcium found in hard water. When this mineral builds up on the scalp, it can worsen flakes and dryness.
The minerals in hard water may also cause inflammation and irritation to our scalp.
You can use hard water hair treatments to dissolve crystals, leaving you with soft salon hair:
Tips for seborrheic dermatitis sufferers when you live with hard water
The easiest way is to use a water filter. This will help remove the minerals and metals that ‘harden’ the water. You can also try using distilled or filtered water when you wash your hair and face.
You can easily install these yourself:
Another way to prevent seborrheic dermatitis is to make sure you’re not using too much soap or cleanser. These products can dry out your skin and make the condition worse. Be sure to choose gentle soaps like Dove Soap that won’t irritate your skin either.
Use a moisturizer after bathing and before bedtime. You may also want to apply an oil-based product instead of a cream or lotion if you have trouble retaining moisture in your skin. Be very careful with oils. MCT oil and squalane oil are the only two oils I recommend at the moment.
Further reading: The 5 Best Face Moisturizers For Seborrheic Dermatitis
Use a clarifying shampoo one or two times a week. This will help remove any built-up residue from your hair and scalp. Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is commonly used as a natural remedy for dandruff and an ACV rinse after conditioning can help reduce build-up.
You can also try using a chelating shampoo, which is specifically designed to remove minerals like calcium and magnesium from your hair. Anti-dandruff shampoos like Head & Shoulders may also help.
There are quite a few ‘hard water shampoos’ on the market:
Another thing you can do is adjust the pH of your shampoo. If your scalp is too alkaline, it may be causing the itching sensation. Try using a shampoo that has a lower pH level, such as 5.5 or 6.0. Finally, you can try adding an acidifier to your shampoos and conditioners. Products like vinegar or lemon juice will help neutralize the alkalinity of hard water and reduce the itching sensation
Further reading: Can white vinegar treat seborrheic dermatitis?
Increasing your intake of fluids will help with dry scalp. You can also try using an oil like squalane to help moisturize and protect your scalp.
Apple cider vinegar can also help to dissolve hard water build up on the scalp . Mix one part apple cider vinegar with three parts water in a spray bottle, then spritz the solution onto your scalp. Let the vinegar sit in your hair for 1-2 minutes before rinsing it out. You can also use apple cider vinegar as a final rinse after shampooing and conditioning your hair.
Commercial ACVs use essential oils to mask the strong smell of ACV:
To balance the pH of your hair, apply an avocado mask. Mash up half an avocado, then apply it to wet hair. Leave the avocado in place for 15-20 minutes, then rinse it out thoroughly.
Having a diet high in vitamin B3 (niacin) helps keep the scalp healthy and free from flaking, making it less likely for seborrheic dermatitis to develop.
How do you soften hard water naturally?
There are many ways to soften hard water, and most of them are simple and affordable. One easy solution is to install a limescale filter. This will remove the source of irritation and itching for people with seborrheic dermatitis. The filter should be changed once a year to continue providing benefits to the skin and scalp.
Another way to soften hard water is by installing a filter system. This will not only soften the water but also prevent limescale buildup in pipes and appliances. Softening the water can provide significant benefits to people with seborrheic dermatitis, as well as save money in term.
To wrap up
While hard water doesn’t cause seborrheic dermatitis, it can worsen the condition. If you’re finding it hard to control your SD flares, it may be worth testing your water hardness to see if there is a correlation in your specific case. If you do have hard water, there are ways to soften it that may help improve your symptoms.