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Bad Water, Bad Hair: High-Risk States

Have you ever looked in the mirror after a shower and wondered why your hair and skin don't look or feel as good as they should, even after using all the right products? Well, the answer might be flowing out of your showerhead. Let's explore how the quality of your shower water, particularly hard water, could be the unseen culprit behind your hair and skin woes and what actions you can take to mitigate these effects.

What is Hard Water?

Hard water has a high mineral content, primarily calcium and magnesium. Water becomes "hard" when it percolates through minerals such as limestone (calcium) and dolomite (magnesium), which dissolve and increase the mineral content of the water. The degree of water hardness varies significantly by geographical location, even within different areas of the same city.

Although these minerals are not harmful to health and are required for various bodily functions, their presence in water can harm hair and skin. When used for washing, hard water can leave mineral deposits on the hair and skin, leading to various issues. Hard water can impact the skin by interacting with soap to form a scum, which can reduce soap's effectiveness and leave a residue that may irritate the skin. This irritation can exacerbate skin conditions like eczema or dermatitis. Moreover, the minerals in hard water can also dry out the skin, leading to discomfort and potentially worsening existing skin issues.

Impact of hard and unfiltered water on the skin

  1. Reduced Lather Efficiency: Hard water makes it difficult for body washes and shampoos to lather, causing you to use more product. This affects not only your wallet but also your skin and scalp, as the excessive use of detergents can damage the skin barrier, particularly in sensitive areas like skin folds.
  2. Residue Buildup: The increased use of soaps and shampoos leads to more residue left on the skin. This residue can exacerbate skin conditions such as eczema and acne, leading to dry, rough skin textures.
  3. Chalk Particulate Formation: The interaction between body wash detergents and the minerals in hard water can create chalk-like particulates on the skin, which are drying and can irritate the skin, particularly worsening conditions like atopic dermatitis.
  4. Soap Scum Formation: Hard water causes soap scum to form on the skin, disrupting the natural skin turnover process and enzyme functions necessary for a healthy skin barrier. This impairment can increase transepidermal water loss, making the skin more susceptible to irritants and allergens, potentially leading to more frequent disease flares and increased severity, especially in those with pre-existing conditions like atopic dermatitis, rosacea, or acne.

Impact of hard and unfiltered water on the hair

  1. Dull and Lifeless Hair: Hard water reacts with shampoo to form a film on hair strands. This film reduces reflectivity, giving hair a dull and lifeless appearance and making hair heavier, which can decrease volume.
  2. Moisture Barrier: The mineral coating prevents moisture from penetrating the hair shaft effectively. Over time, this can cause the hair to become dry, brittle, and more susceptible to breakage and split ends.
  3. Scalp Issues: The buildup from hard water can clog hair follicles, impeding natural oil production. This can lead to dry, itchy scalp conditions, which, if severe enough, may inhibit hair growth and cause hair thinning or loss.
  4. Color Fading: Hard water is particularly harsh on colored hair. It can cause the color to fade faster by reacting with the dye, altering its chemical structure and affecting its longevity and vibrancy.
  5. Increased Hair Fall: By interfering with hair's natural growth cycle, hard water can induce premature shedding. Typically, hair grows, rests, and then sheds. Hard water may shorten the growth phase and prolong the shedding phase.
  6. Effectiveness of Hair Products: Traditional shampoos and conditioners often contain chelating agents that protect the hair from metal ions in hard water. However, shampoo bars might not have these agents, leading to unmanageable hair with prolonged use in hard water areas.

Impact of chlorinated water on the skin

  1. Dryness and Irritation: Chlorine strips away the natural oils that protect your skin, leading to dry, itchy, and irritated skin. This effect can exacerbate conditions like eczema, psoriasis, and other dermatitis forms.
  2. Compromised Barrier Function: The removal of natural oils disrupts the skin's barrier function, increasing transepidermal water loss (water loss through skin layers). This can leave the skin more vulnerable to irritants, allergens, and pathogens.
  3. Increased Acne Breakouts: Chlorine might contribute to drying out the skin excessively, which can trigger the body to produce more oil to compensate, potentially leading to increased acne breakouts.
  4. Premature Aging: Excessive dryness can accelerate the aging process of the skin, resulting in earlier appearances of fine lines and wrinkles.

Impact of chlorinated water on the hair

  1. Strips Natural Oils: Similar to its effects on the skin, chlorine can strip hair of its natural oils, leading to dry, brittle, and dull-looking hair.
  2. Weakened Hair Structure: Chlorine exposure can weaken the chemical bonds between proteins in the hair strands, leading to fragile hair that breaks easily.
  3. Color Fading: For colored or treated hair, chlorine can cause the color to fade prematurely due to its oxidative properties.
  4. Changes in Texture: Chlorinated water can make your hair texture feel dry and straw-like, making it difficult to manage and style.
  5. Scalp Issues: Chlorine can also irritate the scalp, causing dryness, itchiness, and dandruff.

Can high amounts of arsenic, lead, and fluoride in shower water damage hair?

High levels of arsenic, lead, and fluoride in shower water can significantly damage hair, causing a range of issues such as hair loss, brittle strands, and various scalp conditions. Arsenic exposure can lead to hair fall by disrupting growth cycles and drying out hair, making it prone to breaking while also causing scalp irritation that might inhibit hair growth. Lead exposure impairs hair growth, dulls the hair by disrupting natural oils and keratin, and weakens hair strands, increasing breakage. Fluoride, especially at high doses, can change hair texture, making it stiff and brittle, provoke scalp issues like dandruff and dry skin, and contribute to hair thinning by disturbing the cellular processes in hair follicles. Together, these elements can detrimentally affect hair health, emphasizing the need for effective water filtration and specialized hair care treatments to mitigate their impacts.

States with the Worst Water Quality

Research and surveys, including those from organizations like Water Defense and SpringWell Water Filtration Systems, indicate that some states have lower water quality than others. This poor quality primarily results from industrial pollution, aging infrastructure, and natural contaminants.

Mitigating the Effects of Poor-Quality Water

Whole House Water Softeners: Installing a water softener system is an effective way to combat the effects of hard water. These systems remove calcium, magnesium, and other minerals from the water, softening it and making it much more suitable for use on hair and skin.

Shower Filters: A more localized solution is to use a shower filter. These devices attach to the showerhead and can filter out many of the minerals that cause damage to hair and skin. Maintaining these filters with regular changes is crucial for their continued effectiveness.

Using Bottled Water: Although using bottled water exclusively for personal care is impractical and not economical, it can be used occasionally, particularly for the final rinse after shampooing, to help mitigate the effects of hard water.


In conclusion, the quality of your shower water plays a crucial role in maintaining the health and appearance of your hair and skin. Hard water, with its high mineral content, as well as chlorinated water, can cause a variety of issues, including dryness, irritation, eczema exacerbation, hair loss, and dullness. Arsenic, lead, and fluoride also pose serious threats by damaging hair structure, causing thinning, and leading to scalp issues. Investing in an effective shower filter or a whole-house water softening system can mitigate these effects by filtering out harmful minerals and contaminants. This not only preserves the natural beauty and health of your hair and skin but also enhances the effectiveness of your personal care products. By understanding the impacts of water quality and taking appropriate action, you can protect yourself from the unseen damages of low-quality water, ensuring your grooming rituals are as beneficial as possible. Advocating for better water treatment policies and infrastructure is also crucial in ensuring long-term solutions to water quality issues.


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MDhair Derm approved shower head (waiting list)

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Benefits Of Washing Hair With Filtered Soft Water


Q1: What exactly is hard water, and how does it affect my skin and hair?
Hard water contains a high concentration of minerals, specifically calcium and magnesium. These minerals can leave deposits on your skin and hair after washing, leading to dryness, irritation, and a dull, lifeless appearance of your hair and skin.

Q2: Why does my hair look dull and feel heavy after washing with hard water?
The minerals in hard water react with shampoo to form a film that coats hair strands. This reduces the shine and vibrancy of your hair and adds weight, making it appear dull and lifeless while decreasing its volume.

Q3: Can hard water cause damage to my scalp?
Yes, hard water can lead to scalp issues. The mineral buildup can block hair follicles, hindering natural oil production. This blockage can dry out the scalp, leading to itchiness and potentially inhibiting hair growth, which might even cause hair thinning or loss.

Q4: How does hard water affect colored hair?
Hard water is particularly harsh on dyed hair. It can cause faster color fading by reacting with the hair dye, altering its chemical structure, which impacts the color's longevity and vibrancy, leading to frequent color treatments.

Q5: What are the signs that my home has hard water?
Signs of hard water include spots on dishes and glassware, a white film on bathroom fixtures, soap scum in the bathtub or shower, stiff, discolored laundry, and frequent plumbing repairs due to scale buildup in pipes.

Q6: What states in the U.S. are known for having the worst water quality?
States like New Jersey, Georgia, Arizona, Ohio, Florida, Texas, Michigan, California, Pennsylvania, and Washington are known for poor water quality, primarily due to industrial pollution, aging infrastructure, and natural contaminants.

Q7: How can I protect my hair and skin from hard water at home?
Installing a whole house water softener or using a quality shower filter, like those available from MDhair, can significantly mitigate the effects of hard water. These filters remove excess minerals, protecting your hair and skin from damaging effects.

Q8: Are there temporary measures I can take against hard water if I cannot afford a water softener?
Yes, using a shower filter or rinsing your hair with bottled water, especially after shampooing, can help. Products designed for hard water use, like the specialty shampoos and conditioners from MDhair, can also be beneficial.

Q9: How often should I replace my shower filter to maintain its effectiveness against hard water?
It's crucial to replace your shower filter regularly, usually every six months, depending on the water quality and the product specifications. Regular maintenance ensures it continues to filter out harmful minerals effectively.

Q10: How can improving water quality contribute to environmental health?
Enhancing water quality goes beyond personal care; it includes advocating for policies that reduce pollution, upgrading infrastructure, and enforcing stricter controls. These changes improve our daily water usage and help sustain environmental health overall.

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Benefits Of Washing Hair With Filtered Soft Water

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