The chances are that you’ve heard that hard water is bad for your scalp and hair, but most of us don’t take that idea into consideration, even when we’re experiencing damaged hair or a dry, itchy scalp.
We try countless shampoos, conditioners, and specialized hair treatments, but the results are often mixed. Well, if that sounds like your experience, it’s time to find out more about the water that you use.
Aside from being somewhat frustrating (and even annoying), hard water can cause regular damage to your scalp by drying it out, leading to itching, flaking, etc. Of course, it can also cause problems for your hair.
Here, we’ll dive into a few things most people don’t know about hard water, and we’ll run through some helpful solutions.
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To understand how common hard water is throughout the world, use the United States as an example: At least 85% of water used by consumers in the U.S. can be classified as hard water to some degree, so it’s no wonder we have scalp struggles no matter where we live.
Rainwater that comes from the sky isn’t classified as hard water. In fact, washing your hair with rainwater can be a solution, and it’s been known to soften hair. But, rainwater isn’t always readily available to everyone, and it’s likely you don’t want to wait around to have to wash your hair whenever it rains.
So, if our water supply from the sky isn’t technically hard water, how does water ‘become’ hardened? As it hits the ground, it soaks into the earth through rocks, dirt, and minerals. It can dissolve some of these minerals, like calcium and magnesium, so it begins to carry the minerals with it wherever it flows. As the mineral content continues to increase, the water becomes harder and harder.
Don’t be alarmed by the minerals – they are natural, and not necessarily harmful. Calcium can be beneficial in other ways, but in this particular fashion, it creates a buildup, and that’s not something you’ll want to have to deal with on your scalp.
While these minerals cannot hurt you in any way, they can certainly make things difficult when it comes to the overall health of your scalp, and the moisture allowed to reach it through the hair follicles.
Hard water has been known to be a problem for skin and hair alike for a long time. It can even cause eczema of the skin, so it’s no surprise that the minerals in the water can cause dryness and itching of the scalp.
Even using certain soaps and shampoos with hard water can cause more problems, because the chemicals in the shampoos can react with the minerals, and leave a sort of ‘soap film’ on your scalp, which can lead to even more itching.
Essentially, it’s a mineral reaction with your skin that causes the dryness. Calcium can build up over time, and magnesium can take away moisture from your skin.
Think about it – when you’re in the shower, water is typically falling directly onto your head, so your scalp is taking the brunt of it. That can cause more dryness and itching for your scalp than any other place on the body.
Calcium is considered an oxidizer, meaning it builds up and adds oxygen. This might not sound like a bad thing, but it can affect your scalp and hair negatively. Calcium that builds up on your hair can weigh it down, and dry it out. That dryness will eventually reach your scalp.
The actual calcium salts that build up on the scalp are what causes the dry, itchy feeling, and can cause a lot of flaking to occur, as well. When calcium reaches the scalp and builds up, it can also stop hair from growing on the scalp, and stop new hair from growing, as well.
Magnesium is another oxidizer that water brings in from the soil in the ground. Like calcium, it can dry out the hair and scalp, but it is quicker than calcium to go directly to the scalp, affecting hair follicles from growing and thriving, which can lead to quite a bit of flaking on the scalp.
If you consistently suffer from a dry scalp, one of the first things you should do is see if your house has hard water. You might already be able to see tell-tale signs, like rust spots forming around the drain of your shower, or darker lines around your toilet bowl.
But, you can determine the hardness of your water by calling your city officials. Your local water department should be able to do a test to determine the hardness in your actual water.
A water softener is the best way to eliminate hard water in your home, though they can be quite expensive units if you don’t already have one installed. However, the benefits can certainly outweigh the cost.
If you have hair problems, eczema, or dry scalp, a water softener will remove the calcium, magnesium, and other minerals that can build up.
Another option that can help with hard water on your scalp is buying a water filter for your shower. These are considerably less expensive, and typically just attach to your shower head with minimal installation.
While this won’t remove the hard water issue throughout your home, it will filter the minerals in the shower from coming through the water so that they won’t reach your body.
Some standard shampoos can have an even more negative effect on your hair and scalp when they react with the minerals in hard water. It can help to remove the minerals from your hair every time, fighting back against them reaching your scalp, and causing more problems.
Unfortunately, even clarifying shampoos can sometimes be harsh on your hair, since they strip a lot of things away, so it’s important to use them sparingly, whenever you’re experiencing dryness of the scalp.
An apple cider vinegar hair and scalp rinse can help to fight back against the calcium and magnesium build-up on your hair and scalp. Simply mix in one tablespoon of vinegar with about three cups of water, and massage the mixture into your hair.
Let it set for about ten minutes, and then rinse away. The vinegar will help to balance the pH of your hair, reducing flaking and itchiness overall, and leaving your hair feeling smooth and silky, and your scalp refreshed.
If hard water is a problem for your hair and scalp, you may need to choose a leave-in conditioner that can work with your hair throughout the day. While it won’t remove the buildup, most leave-in conditioners contain natural oils, like argan, jojoba, or almond oil. These can help to seal in moisture throughout your hair and scalp, reducing itching, dryness, and flaking overall.
As you can see, hard water is virtually everywhere, and while there are ways to eliminate the effects of it practically, they can get costly. The best thing you can do is soften the water (through a softener or filter), or regularly treat your scalp to fight back against the problems that can come from the minerals in the water.
Whether you use a vinegar rinse or a leave-in conditioner, you’ll likely notice a difference in the look and feel of your hair and the dryness and itching/flaking of your scalp.
Having hard water doesn’t have to mean the absolute worst for your scalp’s health, as long as you’re willing to take a few extra steps to understand how to treat it.