The UK has a large problem with Hard Water, over 60% of us live in areas which can be classified as ‘Hard Water Areas’. This is because much of the water supply in the UK comes from underground geological formations which store water. As rain water passes through the mineral rich porous strata of the earth and soil on its way to these water catchment formations it picks up a collection of minerals and metals which causes hard water. In fact Hard Water is merely water which has a larger concentration of minerals and metals imbibed within it. Primarily the minerals which cause water hardness are calcium carbonate, magnesium and dolomite, but any type of mineral or metal that is naturally found within the earth can also be present in hard water – such as zinc, lead, etc. The areas of the UK which have the highest concentration of hard water are in East England in counties such as Norfolk, Suffolk, London and parts of Lincolnshire.
Hard Water is perfectly healthy to drink and consume. There have been multiple studies which have actually pointed towards beneficial aspects of drinking hard water. For example in December 2008’s issue of the “Journal of Water and Health” a review of several studies on drinking hard water was published, this review concluded that magnesium in hard water may relate to lowering cardiovascular death. Another study in Denmark published in the “Environmental Health Perspectives” journal in 2010 showed more benefits to cardiovascular health in people who drank hard water but had low dietary intakes of magnesium.
From published studies we can certainly conclude that drinking hard water has a positive effect on us. Though when showering or bathing in hard water the minerals which were beneficial from a dietary perspective actually become hazardous. From an external perspective showering in water which contains microscopic hard particles of minerals and metals, which bombard the soft and sensitive epidermal layer of skin at high pressure is very similar to rubbing sand paper on skin.
Skin is the largest organ of the body and consists of a multitude of small pores which have a host of functions, including the release of oils and sweat. This function is imperative to the health of skin, the oils provide moisture to our skin and the sweat provides the body with the ability to release toxins which have been built up in the body. When we shower or bathe in hard water the microscopic particles lodge themselves in our pores and actually clog up these pores. This inhibits skin from functioning as it should, stopping natural oils from moisturising skin and thereby causing dry skin, redness, itching and flaking. In some cases of sensitivity this dryness can cause additional problems such as dermatitis or eczema. These natural oils and sweat which are released by our pores also have antimicrobial properties. When skin pores are clogged with hard water particles this natural antimicrobial action is inhibited and therefore higher levels of bacteria can live and breed on skin. This in turn can cause acne break outs and contribute to many other microbial skin ailments.
Hard water particles such as zinc, lead, magnesium, iron, copper and calcium can act as free radicals, breaking down collagen and elastin found in healthy skin cells as they make contact. This damages healthy skin cells and causes for skin to lose its natural protection from the sun’s harmful UV rays, therefore contributing to premature aging.
Finally the particles in hard water inhibit the ability for shampoos and body wash to foam and lather properly. When shampoos and soaps do not lather sufficiently, people tend to use more product to clean themselves. This not only causes negative financial repercussions but because more shampoo or body wash is being used and it is more difficult for these to be rinsed off a layer of not only hard water minerals can develop but also a layer of dry ‘soap scum’ develops upon the skin leading again to clogged pores and aggravation of sensitive skin types.
There are a multitude of methods for removing hard water, otherwise known as softening water, but only a few are actually suitable for the home environment. From expensive Ion Exchanging units, which add sodium into the water supply to counteract the hard particles in water (this method is not advisable as it increases sodium levels in water which could be potentially dangerous for those who are on a low sodium diet). Or Reverse Osmosis units which using high pressure forces water through a filter membrane which captures all the hard particles and only leaves water. Though Reverse Osmosis units also do have their disadvantages in a home environment as this procedure can be wasted on wastewater in a home. By far the easiest and cheapest solution to helping alleviate the hard water in a shower or bath is to get a shower filter or bath filter. In a shower water needs to pass through a shower head quickly to ensure that an adequate flow is maintained for a good shower experience. Because of this fast rate of flow a Shower Filter only able to remove a large portion of hard water particles, but not all. Yet there are distinct advantages of using a shower filter to help soften water, such as; its ease of use and installation, its affordability and the fact that it filters at the point of use rather than removing hard water from where it may be beneficial.
In conclusion there are benefits to having hard water in the water supply, when used as drinking water the minerals contained in the hard water can actually help maintain a healthy cardiovascular system. Yet it is vital to ensure that hard water is reduced at the point of bathing or showering, so that the hard water particles do not negatively affect the largest and most exposed of organs, the skin.