Like most people, you can thrive in life without ever really understanding what hard water even is. Yet, when it comes to your hair, water hardness is kind of a big deal. Even with the very best hair care products, your shower water could still ruin your routine. With that in mind, here’s everything you need to know about hard water, and its impact on the healthiness of your hair.
What Is “Hard” Water?
Have you ever had a soapy film left on your hands after washing them? If you've rinsed thoroughly, that residue you notice is not the result of stubborn hand soap refusing to release itself from your skin. No, that's residue caused by hard water, and it's not good for your hair.
Hard water is defined as having a high concentration of dissolved minerals, especially calcium and magnesium. Calcium and magnesium salts are naturally absorbed when pure rainwater passes through rocks, soil, and even sand. Hard water can leave mineral stains on our dishes and glassware, cause clothing to fade after washing, and cause limescale accumulation in sinks, bathtubs, and faucets. So, image what it can do to your hair...
How Do I Know If I Have Hard Water?
It’s safe to assume that the water pouring out of your shower every morning is, to some degree or another, hard water. According to the most recent statistics by the U.S Geological Survey, about 85 percent of American households wrestle with the effects of hard water daily. And the truth is, having hard water is never a matter of whether you have it or you don't. Rather, its a matter of 'how hard' your sink or shower water actually is.
The good news is that there are various techniques to determine what kind of water you have, so you won't have to spend too much time being a "detective":
Watch For Mineral Buildup On Dishes And Faucets
Minerals are left behind after hard water evaporates. You can easily see evidence of this after you remove your dishes from the dishwasher. If you notice water droplet residue on a glass, that’s hard water minerals left behind. The same is true for your appliances and faucets. Look for filmy, crystalline hard water deposits on the shower head, or a powdery white or greenish coating on and around your faucets. When these minerals accumulate over time in the shower and your sinks, you'll probably also experience low water pressure because they become coated to the point of blocking water flow. When you turn the water handle to maximum and don’t get adequate flow power, hard water may be the cause.
“Listen” To Your Hair
One of the best ways to determine if you have hard water is to examine your hair for symptoms like shampoo taking longer than usual to lather or spread evenly. There's a considerable probability that your hair is being impacted by hard water if your high-quality conditioner doesn't appear to work and your hair feels super dry after applying it.
Purchase A Testing Kit
In the end, buying a basic hard water testing kit is the most reliable method to identify hard water. They range in type and size, and are relatively inexpensive and easy to use. Simply put a test strip in a cup of water, wait a minute, and then compare your results to the color chart that was included with the test.
What Does Hard Water's Mineral Content Do To Your Hair?
Can hard water harm your hair? Absolutely. The inability of hard water minerals to bind to soaps, shampoos, and conditioners results in decreased effectiveness and increased usage. When the hair is washed repeatedly, minerals dissolved in the hard water form a layer that keeps moisture from penetrating the hair. Dry, rough hair is the end result. Additionally, buildup on the scalp from hard water can result in dandruff and itching.
An excellent example of what hard water can do to your hair is how dry and crunchy it feels when you let it air dry after swimming in the ocean. The mineral residue, salt (in this example), though at a considerably higher concentration than in typical tap water, is what gives your hair that crunchy feeling when the water evaporates.
Tap water minerals behave similarly in that hard water minerals can seep into wet hair strands and solidify as the hair dries. The crystallization leaves a deposit on your hair that keeps moisture from entering or leaving it. Drier, duller hair that is more prone to breakage are the signs of hard water on hair left behind.
It is important to know that hard water can damage hair of any type, although some hair types may be more susceptible to it than others. Hair textures that are very porous are more prone to minerals going further into the hair structure, which makes it more susceptible to hard water. Hair that has been colored or chemically treated also falls under this group. And, curly hair is already more prone to dryness, so it will also be affected by hard water to a greater extent.
Short-term hard water exposure is one thing, but the mineral accumulation over time can have a domino effect on other problems. In addition to making your hair dry and breakage-prone, hard water can also irritate eczema-prone skin and more.
Can Hard Water Cause Hair Loss?
Although using hard water frequently can cause hair breakage, it does not immediately cause hair loss. Research has shown that hard water does not directly impact hair's strength and elasticity. However, the high concentration of minerals in hard water, including calcium carbonates, magnesium sulfates, poisonous lead, and chlorine, can seriously harm the health of your hair.
The salts in hard water obstruct shampoos' ability to effectively clean hair and leave behind scum. This makes shampoos less effective at removing extra oil and unwelcome dirt from hair strands, giving the appearance that the hair is thinning. So, while hard water does not technically cause hair loss in and of itself, it does lead to hair breakage, which does.
How Can I Avoid Hair Damage from Hard Water?
There are many things you can do to both lessen and prevent hard water hair damage.
1. Install A Shower Head Water Filter
While some homeowners may want to install an entirely new and efficient water softener, it is pricey and impractical for those who live in apartments. Installing a water filter on your shower head is a simpler solution. Water filters reduce some buildup and residue on your strands by filtering out minerals like calcium and magnesium, two frequent causes of dry, brittle hair.
2. Use A Pre-Shampoo Hair Treatment
A pre-shampoo hair treatment can help to minimize the buildup of minerals that permeate the hair fiber by forming a barrier. Before washing your hair with shampoo, use one of the many available treatments to help eliminate any buildup that has already formed and to encourage a balanced scalp.
3. Use An Apple Cider Vinegar Hair Rinse
Acidic substances work effectively to correct the pH imbalance caused by hard water damage. Since most of us keep it in our cupboards, apple cider vinegar is an excellent example of something you already have on hand that can help. Using organic, unfiltered, unpasteurized apple cider vinegar is best. If you decide to use a home treatment, prepare a spray bottle with a solution of five parts water to one part vinegar. Spray the mixture on your scalp and rub it into your ends. After five minutes, rinse.
If that’s a little more work than you’d like to spend time on, you can always purchase a pre-made hair rinse which is sometimes also infused with extra beneficial ingredients like aloe vera and lavender extract.
4. Use Hydrating Masks And Leave-In Conditioners
Because hard water prevents your hair from absorbing moisture, purchase a jojoba oil, argan oil, or almond oil-containing leave-in conditioner or moisturizing mask. A leave-in conditioner will smooth out the finish and seal in the moisture.
Note: These solutions will only be a short-term fix until you find a more permanent hard water remedy.
5. Use A Lemon Rinse
Lemon's acidic nature aids in clearing buildup from your hair. Combine three cups of water with one teaspoon of lemon juice. After shampooing your hair, apply this rinse. After massaging your scalp, wait a few minutes. Thanks to its antibacterial qualities, your hair will shine and will also lessen dandruff brought on by hard water.
6. Eat A Healthy Diet
The absence of vital nutrients in your body can affect your ability to maintain healthy hair (and even lead to hair breakage). Add iron, proteins, and vitamin D to your diet as often as possible to ensure you get all the critical nutrients you need.
Related Articles: Food For Thought: A Look At The Relationship Between Foods & Hair
It might be difficult to wrap your head (and hair) around the effects that hard water can have. But since washing your hair is a vital component of caring for your hair, it's critical to understand the potential effects of hard water on your hair, and the best ways to protect it. If you have hard water, take the steps listed above and give your grooming routine a boost!