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How To Combat The Effects Of Hard Water On Your Skin And Hair


Frances McLaughlin-Gill / conde nast

Something extraordinary happens when you go on holiday. Your hair is the most lustrous it’s ever been, and seems stronger and more resilient. Your skin is somehow softer, without needing to be duly massaged with lotion. Your complexion? Positively glowing. Of course, snoozing until noon with your biggest dilemma being the choice between a margarita or a mojito does play a role, but otherwise, there’s something in the water.

The UK is home to some exceptionally hard water, with cities like London, Newcastle and Oxford among the worst afflicted. Aside from leaving something resembling tectonic plates atop your cup of tea, limescale and hard water can play havoc with your skin and hair.

From exacerbated eczema to lifeless locks, hard water can be the culprit for a myriad of beauty woes. Vogue investigates how to spot the symptoms, and how to solve them…

What is hard water?

According to Byron Bedford, who is CEO of ProEconomy (the company that treat the Royal Family’s water), it’s the mineral quality that affects the hardness. “It may have flowed through limestone and chalk, which leaves deposits of calcium and magnesium. Soft water, on the other hand, is largely free of minerals – falling rain, for example.”

Cosmetic dermatologist Dr Sam Bunting listed some of the tell-tale signs of hard water as “Soap not lathering sufficiently, your clothes feeling rough to the touch, a build-up of scale on your taps and a sort of “film” on shower doors or bathtubs.”

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How does hard water affect your hair?

Deborah Turbeville / conde nast

If you’ve been battling a flaky, irritated scalp and flat, lifeless hair, your daily shower could be to blame. Michael Lendon, Creative Director at Aveda, said “Your scalp is just skin – it needs just as much hydration as the rest of you. People usually condition the lengths of their hair, but the scalp doesn’t get the same nourishment, which makes dryness really common. Also, the porosity of your hair and the physical barrier it creates on your scalp means hard water gets ‘trapped’ somewhat, leaving minerals there.”

Trichologist Ricardo Vila Nova operates a clinic in Harrods, but see clients all over the world. He noted that he finds very different issues from country to country, thanks to varying levels of water hardness. “Hard water can irritate even the oiliest of scalps. Even if you think you have very fine hair that has to be washed daily to avoid it looking greasy, the hard water can dry your scalp out to be point where it becomes dehydrated and oily.” Likewise, if your scalp is already on the slightly dry side, hard water can push it over the edge into flaky territory. “Hard water also makes the hair flat,” added Vila Nova. “It erodes the hair elasticity and leaves the hair very rough, as it lifts the cuticle.”

Lendon and Vila Nova concurred that the best option to reverse the damage was to add in a weekly scalp mask to help lift away any mineral traces, use a gentle shampoo, and then finish with a scalp toner to hydrate and soothe.

Vogue recommends: Redken Clean Maniac Micellar Shampoo which uses negatively-charged micelles, just like micellar water, to attract postitively-charged dirt. £15.50, available at Lookfantastic.co.uk. Aveda Pramasana Scalp Cleanser uses salicylic acid to lift away debris, and tamanu oil to hydrate pre-wash. £24, available at Lookfantastic.com. Finish with Living Proof Restore Dry Scalp Treatment, which is enriched with hyaluronic acid and Vitamin B5 to soothe and calm the scalp after washing. £25, available at Spacenk.com.

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How does hard water affect your body?

Incidences of eczema and psoriasis are far more common in hard water areas, but even if you’re not suffering with them, you could still feel the effects. As Dr Bunting delineated, “Minerals being left to dry on the skin may clog pores and cause dryness, triggering breakouts, flaking and itching.”

Aside from just upsetting the delicate skin barrier, hard water saps the skin of moisture – hence why it’s so problematic for anyone suffering with a dermatitis-type condition. To combat the effects, you need not start stockpiling bottled water to bathe in. Instead, Dr Bunting suggested, “I’d recommend blotting the skin gently after you get out of the shower rather than vigorously drying, and showers should be kept brief and tepid, not hot. Then, apply a generous layer of a ceramide-enriched moisturising cream to the body to seal in moisture whilst skin is damp post-shower.” Using lotion while the skin is still damp “interrupts” the process of those minerals settling on the skin, while ceramides are vital lipids that help restore the skin barrier.

Vogue recommends: CeraVe Body Lotion has three essential ceramides and countless dermatologist recommendations. £13.50, available at Lookfantastic.com.

How does hard water affect your skin?

Deborah Turbeville / conde nast

Taking one’s make-up off after a long day – especially when aided by a thick balm cleanser – is surely one of the most gratifying feelings ever. However, when the water is so irritating, you may come away from the sink feeling more sore than supple. “When water contains high amounts of calcium, it doesn’t properly dissolve soap, meaning that there can be some residue left on the skin. This can contribute to sensitive, irritable and blemish-prone skin,” explained Dr Bunting.

Rehydration and re-balancing is the key here, by using a toner that can melt away any residue, and a moisturiser that will sufficiently restore your skin’s softness. If you want to remove the risk altogether, you could switch to a waterless, rinse-free cleanser.

Vogue recommends: Korres Greek Yoghurt Foaming Cleanser uses the lactic acid naturally found in yoghurt to melt away debris and make-up, while leaving the skin feather-soft – no need to rinse. £24, available at Revolve.com. Dr Sam Bunting Flawless Moisturiser has a lightweight gel texture, alongside brightening Vitamin B5 to help protect the skin. £25, available at Drsambunting.com.

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How can you treat hard water?

As Bedford explained, truly treating hard water can be a costly and labour-intensive process. “If you want to permanently soften the water and protect your whole home, I’d recommend getting a professional to fit a filtration system where water enters your house,” said Bedford. If you’re living in rented accommodation, that may not be an option, in which instance Bedford suggested, “There are some quick-fix options, such as fitting activated carbon water filters in jugs, directly under a tap or within your shower.”

Brands like Brita offer a range of tap filtering options, while Waterchef and Rainshow’r supply in-shower options.



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