Hard water... Soft water… You’re probably already familiar with or have heard these terms on more than one occasion. We see it everyday—when we shower, when we drink, and even when it rains. But what’s the difference? Water is water, right? Actually, there is a noticeable difference between the two and each can have distinct effects on our skins.
Hard vs Soft - What’s the Difference?
Water can have different hardness levels depending on its mineral content. Hard water contains an abundance of dissolved minerals, like calcium and magnesium, and, depending on where the water is extracted, some waters can have a higher mineral content than others. Soft water, on the other hand, like rain water, is lighter and usually contains little to no concentration of these minerals. But aside from their differences in mineral content, they can also affect your skin in completely different ways.
Effects of Hard Water and Soft Water
For starters, hard water can reduce the life and efficacy of your soap, which is important considering the role soap plays in removing most of your skin’s impurities. To better understand why, let’s briefly explain what actually happens with soap when it comes into contact with water:
Soap is made up of a collection of molecules. Each pin-shaped molecule contains an end that bonds with water (the hydrophilic head) and another end that bonds with oils and fats (the hydrophobic tail). These molecules allow for a soap to lather and effectively remove dirt and grease from our skins. However, when these soap molecules come in contact with the calcium and magnesium ions in hard water, a chemical reaction causes magnesium stearate or calcium stearate to form. This waxy substance, commonly known as “soap scum” prevents soap from producing a healthy lather and even causes it to waste away quicker. Therefore, the higher the mineral content, the less “soapy” your soap is.
Hard water also negatively impacts your skin. The “waxy substance” left over from a shower can cause dryness, clog pores, and even affect your skin’s pH balance. Also, as these minerals dry on your skin, it can make skin feel itchy and prevent adequate moisture absorption, worsening symptoms of common skin illnesses like eczema or psoriasis.
The case is completely distinct with soft water. Since soft water has very minimal amounts of minerals (if any), it can prolong and even improve your soap’s effectiveness. It can also benefit your skin long-term, improving hydration and alleviating skin irritations and dryness.
It can be tough to know which type of water you’re dealing with. Nevertheless, there are ways to know which water you have by looking out for these characteristics:
You have hard water if:
Your skin feels tense, itchy, sticky, or dry after a shower
Your soap has very little lather
Your wet hands feel “squeaky” when rubbing them
Your soap water looks white instead of bubbly
Fortunately, if the water you’re using leans more towards the harder side, there are ways to achieve softer water using specialized filters that can help reduce or eliminate most of the mineral content.
Thus, if you experience persistent skin dryness or other issues, the water you’re using might be the explanation and knowing the difference between hard water vs soft water and how they affect your skin can help you take your skincare one step further.