The prairie provinces are known to Canadians for having hard water. In the US, hard water is much more common, and up to 85% of American households have hard water. What is hard water, and why does that matter? We look into what hard water means for your skin care and what you can do.
What is hard water, and where is hard water found?
Hard water is the common term for water with high mineral content, usually referring to magnesium and calcium, but can also include other minerals such as manganese or aluminum, iron, and zinc.1 Basically, hard water is water with minerals. As water seeps through the ground, it picks up traces of minerals (usually through limestone), and where these minerals are abundant, the water becomes hard.
In Canada, the prairie provinces, particularly in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, have hard water. In the United States, except for the coastal areas, hard water is everywhere throughout the Central United States. Most sources suggest that up to 85% of US households have hard water.2
Basic facts about hard water
- Hard water is not hazardous to health. It may even help provide some supplemental micronutrients that humans need.3
- The minerals change the taste of water. Many dislike the metallic taste, but people have varying preferences, and some prefer the taste of hard water.
- For older pipes, minerals may form and possibly damage them faster.
- Most people don’t like hard water – but most of its effects are relatively minor, such as a tendency to leave soap scum on the tub.
- Hard water may have some adverse effects on certain cooking or baking processes, although this isn’t well studied.4,5 However, it isn’t too hard to soften water – you can boil hard water.
Despite there being a lot of hoopla about hard water (mostly by selling water softening services), hard water is not a health problem. A study has looked into possible connections between hard water and various illnesses such as digestive health, cancer, reproductive health, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. However, no adverse effects were noted, and it even showed some benefits, but the results are still considered inconclusive.6
Hard Water and Skin
Most of the complaints with hard water have to do with the skin.
- Hard water makes it harder to lather, leaving a soapy film on your skin.
- It can also have a similar effect on laundry.
- The skin may be irritated by the minerals in hard water.
The main impact of hard water is that it inhibits the lathering effect of soap. In rare cases, your skin may be sensitive to the specific minerals that are in the water. In general, however, hard water itself is rarely an issue, as most people adjust their cleansing practices accordingly by using less soap or less detergent for laundry. This effect is most easily noticed when there is a change from the norm – when traveling to a location where the water is harder or softer. Here’s some advice for moving to an area that has hard water:
- Soapiness – use less soap in the shower. Don’t crank up the water temperature; it won’t help and only dry out and irritate your skin.
- Consider using bottled water or boiled water to wash your face, as facial skin is often the most sensitive.
- Have a moisturizer handy when you travel. It’s not just hard water – it’s the dry air on the airplanes, excessive air conditioning in the hotel, and the overall stress of traveling that you’re fighting together.
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2You can refer to a map here: https://www.modernhomepulse.com/hard-water/#Where_Is_Hard_Water_In_The_US
3Page 2: http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/dwq/chemicals/hardness.pdf
6Studies still continue, but most of the conclusions that are being reached are that the minerals may be neutral or confer a minor health benefit. It is extremely difficult (probably impossible) to isolate hard water as a factor in health outcomes, so epidemiological studies are the best we are likely to get.