Water is valuable to nearly every organ in your body and hair is no exception. But what about the water you use to wash your hair? Did you know that hard water from your shower could be destroying your hair? Yes, you read that right!
Good news is that you can detect the signs of hard water damage on hair.
Before we get into that, we first have to understand how we obtain our water and what makes it “hard”.
What Is Hard Water
Rain water is considered to be the purest form of water. However, when water from the rain reaches the ground, it travels through rock, soil, and other sediments, collecting mineral deposits from each, as it flows.
By the time this water reaches the pipes in our homes, it is no longer in its purest form; in fact, the water available to us in the taps of our homes are loaded with minerals like calcium, magnesium, iron, lead, etc.
The amount of minerals in water, constitute to how ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ water really is. The higher the mineral content, the higher the water hardness.
Signs Of Damage
Hard water can cause some serious havoc on the hair and make wash days quite a challenge.
Shampoos mixed with hard water won’t seem to form a lather and you will find yourself having difficulty trying to evenly spread it across your hair. Conditioners won’t feel like they are working either, leaving hair feeling dry, frizzy, and tangled (totally the opposite of ‘being conditioned’).
There will be a lot of mineral buildup on the showerhead, which can then transfer and remain on the scalp. Not to mention the poor shower experience you will have due to reduced water pressure from a clogged shower head.
And if you are wondering what it does to your hair, I was just about to get to that! I have categorized the ways in which hard water may be ruining your hair into 6 signs; we will talk about each one of them, one by one.
The immediate effect of hard water on hair is that it makes hair extremely dry and dull and this is mainly due to the disruption of the pH balance of hair. The pH of hard water is above 8.5, whereas our hair’s pH is normally between 4.5-5.5. When hair is washed in hard water, it’s pH level is changed from being acidic to becoming more alkaline, leaving hair feeling rough to touch, tangled, and difficult to manage.
Does this sound familiar?
Hair that is more alkaline has cuticles that are raised, which then prevents water retention and this results in under-nourished strands. Hard water rips apart keratin, the protective protein layer of hair, so that hair becomes more prone to holes and is easily damaged.
For hair to remain healthy, a healthy pH balance is crucial. The importance of balancing out hair’s pH ensures proper moisture going into the strands, sealing & protecting the cuticles, and restoring hair’s shine and elasticity. Instead, hard water strips away hair’s strength and luster, making it look dry and damaged.
2. Hair Thinning & Breakage
Hair thinning is likely to occur from hard water due to hair friction. As the scales of hair shafts are lifted due to hard water, hair fibers rub against each other because of increased negative charge, causing friction between the strands called static electricity (hair tends to have a negative charge in damaged areas).
This kind of friction eventually leads to hair more prone to breakage and hair thinning, especially near the hairline. Over time, those of us washing our hair with hard water will notice our hairline getting thinner and thinner and more of the scalp will be visible.
Hair will become tangled very easily and these tangles and knots will become difficult to brush or comb out.
3. Itchy, Flakey Scalp
Excessive minerals from hard water (especially calcium and magnesium) stick to the scalp and hair even after you are done washing your hair. With regular washing, calcium accumulates on the scalp causing hair follicles to eventually get clogged and thereby leaving strands deprived of much needed nutrients. This buildup of calcium is known as scalp calcification (Yes, that is a thing!)
The calcium deposits create an unhealthy and inflamed scalp, which leads to itchiness and over time, other scalp conditions like dermatitis, dandruff, etc may occur. Scalp calcification also leads to follicle miniaturization, where the size, amount and ability to grow hair is dramatically reduced.
If you are ‘scratching your head’ and thinking that your shampoo can wash away this ‘calcification’, then I hate to break it to you: that couldn’t be further from the truth!
The sulfates from your shampoo compound with the minerals in hard water and create a sticky film over your scalp and hair that is difficult to fully rinse out! Yes, even when you are done with your shower, all that buildup remains on your head. It is the equivalent of soap scum, but on your hair! So gross!!
4. Difficulty With Blowouts & Flat Ironing
We are only half way through- it still gets worse! But only to get better in the end, I promise!
Hair washed in hard water tends to be hard to style and difficult to manage. It doesn’t hold its shape as well, when you are styling with hot tools (blow dryer, curling wand, flat iron, etc). The intensely high amount of heat from these tools break down the cuticles that have already been raised by hard water minerals.
These minerals have also stripped the strands of its natural proteins, so it gets much harder for hair to be ‘pliable’ or bend in the way you want it to. This results in applying more heat to the damaged areas to get the desired styling. What is worse is that the high levels of heat cause the minerals to bind more firmly to the hair, creating a coating of buildup.
Blowouts and curls won’t last long because of this sticky coating and gradually hair will look and feel weighed down, limp, and greasy.
5. Strange Brassy Color
Minerals like chlorine, lead, and copper found in hard water may change the color of hair to a strange brassy kind. If you have dark hair, these minerals can add a reddish tint to the hair, mainly to the crown of your head as that is where most of the water from your shower head comes in direct contact with.
If you have blond hair however, you may find that your hair has a strange greenish hue! Sometimes these unwanted discolorations are in patches on different areas of your hair, ruining your overall hair color.
There is a certain level of corrosion that occurs to the pipes due to the minerals in hard water. The high iron content in hard water causes rust to form on the chrome shower pipes when oxidized (exposed to air). When water passes through this rusty metal, it attracts minerals like lead and copper, which then contribute to the discoloration of hair and accumulate on the scalp as you shower. How fun!
6. Perms & Dye Fading Faster
Lastly, perms and dye tend to fade faster when washed in hard water. Perm is any process that changes the natural shape and texture of the hair permanently, whereas a dye is the process of changing hair’s natural color.
Chemicals used in both these types of processes, leech hair of its natural moisture and hair then undergoes extreme temperatures, causing cuticle damage.
The hardness of water due to its high mineral content, contributes to stripping hair of all chemical processing. This results in faded color, wonky loose curls, dullness and excessive hair dryness.
You are left with discolored, dull, straw-like, brittle hair that is filled with tangles. And this can understandably be a real nightmare for anyone!
Save Your Hair
If you see any or all of these signs, then you are most likely using hard water too! Good news is that you can fix hard water damage to your hair! You no longer have to let hard water destroy your hair. There are a number of ways you can do this.
This post may contain affiliate links and I may earn a small commission when you click on the links to make a purchase, at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products I would use myself and all opinions expressed here are my own. You can read my full disclosure here.
The ultimate best way to mitigate the impacts of hard water on hair is to install a water softener to the water system of your home. This ensures that all the water in your home remains soft and free of hair-harming minerals.
Another step you can take if water softener is not a good option for you is to install a shower filter. These filters won’t necessarily make your water ‘soft’; however, they will definitely help to eliminate some of the minerals and some is definitely better than none! Keep in mind that since this is a filter, you will need to replace the old filters over a period of time to ensure that all the harmful minerals are continually being filtered out.
Here are four of my top recommendations for an affordable shower filter that helps to minimize the negative effects of hard water.
Description:100 % proprietary blend of KDFRemoves up to 99% of harmful chlorine5-spray setting shower head, brushed nickel finish with brass ball jointRubber grip dial for easy, no-slip rotationSelf Cleaning outlets that prevent clogsReplace cartridge every 6-9 month
Description:QMP540 is a backwashing shower filter that is disposable. Our filter has been shown to effectively remove damaging chlorine, iron, and sulphur at the source as well as help keep mold and mildew from forming in your shower.Our streamlined design allows for
Description:The High-Output Shower Filter (HO) contains a reversible filter cartridge that will filterer the shower water for one year. This high performance shower filter combines easy operation and maintenance with the ultimate in structural integrity and over-all
The next most important step you must take to help your hair recover is to remove the mineral buildup from your tresses. You also have to ensure that future buildup is prevented. How do you do this, you ask?
First of all, ditch your shampoo if it contains sulfates and parabens. Instead, switch to chelating shampoos that chelate or remove the excessive mineral salts from accumulating on your head. When looking for this kind of shampoo, look for keywords like “removes chlorine”, “gentle”, “ moisturizing/creamy”, “color-safe”, “contains EDTA ingredients”, “sulfate-free”, and the no-brainer, “removes hard water buildup”.
You could also go the “no poo” or “low poo” way and make your own shampoo that has simple, clarifying ingredients and store it in a repurposed glass jar/bottle. Alternatively, you can also make your own herbal shampoo with hair-loving ingredients. These are great alternatives for those of us who are trying to live a zero-waste lifestyle.
Second, invest in a good scalp scrub that aids in demineralizing the scalp. You can also make your own scalp scrub from ingredients you have at home or you can buy bentonite clay, which works in the same way. Massaging the scalp lifts away the buildup and also helps stimulate the blood flow to unclog the hair follicles.
Practice Better Hair Habits
“Your hair is like the crown you never take off” (I read that somewhere but have no idea who said it, so forgive me for not quoting the author!).
That being said, it is imperative to have a healthy hair care regimen so that the crown remains beautifully adorned over your head. You can easily achieve this by making small changes to your hair care habits. For example, if you can, stretch out the time between your wash days to ensure your hair actually breathes.
For the same reason, reduce the use of hot hair tools on wet hair and in general. However, if you must use heat, make sure your hair is about 70-80% air dry first.
Use a microfiber hair towel to dry your hair because it is much gentler than a regular towel. Include deep conditioning to your hair 2-3 times a week so that the strands remain well-nourished. Use a wide-tooth comb to gently comb out the tangles in your hair. Lastly, don’t forget to get regular trims to remove any split/dead ends from your hair.
Don’t let the signs of hard water hair damage freak you out! Remember that there are ways you can save your hair from hard water. However, the next time you are out on vacay or have moved to a new place, be sure to check the water first!
Do you know if you are using hard water to wash your hair?
How many of these signs have you noticed as well?
As usual, I love hearing from you so please do leave a comment or some thoughts down below!