One of the most essential prerequisites for good health, and also our basic right, is access to clean drinking water. The human body is made up of more than 65 per cent of water. We are after all what we drink. Staying healthy and looking healthy requires a good intake (doctors recommend eight glasses a day) of water. This is essential to keep the organs functional, the skin radiant and hydrated and the hair shiny and healthy. Drinking plenty of water helps our body flush out toxins and facilitate wellbeing. And while the importance of clean water cannot be underscored enough, the fact remains that the water we consume, wash and bathe in is not entirely toxin-free.
A common problem we encounter is that of hard water.
So what exactly is ‘hard water’?
Dr Amit Bangia, Head of Department, Dermatology, Asian Institute of Medical Sciences, Faridabad, defines it as “water that contains high levels of calcium, bicarbonates, sulphates, magnesium, chlorine, iron and salts. The more the mineral content the harder the water is.”
Water is a universal solvent. “But these minerals make it difficult for any other substance to dissolve in water, especially soaps and detergents. If your water is hard you will have difficulty in getting soaps and shampoos to lather, in all likelihood you will use more of these for better results. Similarly, there would also be a problem in rinsing off, and the combination of hard water and soap residue left on the body can lead to irritation and dry flaky skin,” adds Dr. Bangia.
“There are many pointers to the quality of water supply in your home including the greenish sedimentation on the taps, deposits of soap in the washing machine and clogged plumbing, which are all caused by hard water,” he says.
Effects of hard water on skin and hair
“The undissolved substances in hard water break down the protective barrier of the skin and cause allergic reactions. A common complaint we receive during this time is of dry skin that persists despite liberal use of moisturizers. There are pimples and acne problems because skin pores are blocked by contaminants; skin becomes itchy and sensitive. Chlorine strips the hair of its natural oils leaving it rough and tangled. Hair loss is another problem. The skin, on the other hand, becomes itchy, prone to rash and sensitive to sunlight and hair loss. Nails and teeth too get affected and discoloured, and young children may suffer from diarrhea and stunted growth,” informs Dr Ramanjit Singh, senior consultant, Dermatology, Medanta Medicity Hospital, Gurgaon.
If our skin and hair is susceptible to the deleterious effects of hard water so are our clothes, towels and bed linen. We bathe and wash with the same water and the detergent residue left on the clothes can cause chafing and skin irritation and in a worst case scenario, eczema and psoriasis or severe dermatitis, says Dr Singh.
Chlorine strips the natural protective oils from skin and hair, causing excess drying and frizz. Dry hair can be coarse, static and prone to tangles and breakage. Dry skin can lead to blemishes and the development of wrinkles.
Remedies for hard water
The best remedy for hard water says Dr Singh is to try and make it better by using a water softener; a good option is to install Reverse Osmosis (RO) filtration unit, although along with the contaminants a lot of essential nutrients also get lost. For drinking and cooking purposes boil water before use to reduce its impurities.
If the hard water problem persists, here are some things Dr Bangia advises you can do to protect yourself from its harmful effects:
- Avoid soap, or use mild soap products and shampoos, especially in winter, to tackle the problem of soapy residue.
- Wash yourself properly and take shorter showers to prevent loss of natural oils and your skin’s exposure to hardened minerals.
- For proper hydration and to keep your skin supple and moist apply coconut/olive oil, a good moisturizer or a Vitamin C lotion, which has a scavenging effect on the chlorine present in water.
- Ensure a protein, vitamin rich diet.
These simple steps will ensure a soft and supple skin as well as protection against dry skin conditions.