Can Hard Water Aggravate Your Eczema?

Twenty percent of children and about 8% of adults suffer from eczema, a condition characterized by inflamed, itchy, and scaly skin. In the worst cases, you will see oozing and blisters. The hands, knees, elbows, and sometimes chest is where you will often find eczema. The constant itching and pain can also have a profound effect on your quality of life. Not only can its appearance be stressful, but it also causes a lack of sleep and poor concentration. It is a genetic condition, but these symptoms can be exacerbated by hard water. Studies have already been conducted showing that in areas with hard water, there is a much higher rate of eczema.

Hard water occurs when limestone dissolves into rainwater. Then it passes through the soil into our underground water supplies. It is mainly comprised of calcium and magnesium. These elements react in different ways with your skin.

First, the hard water damages your protective skin barrier. Next, once it mixes with soaps and detergents it creates a scum, which is left on your skin and everything else it touches. You may be familiar with that tight feeling your skin has after you bathe in hard water. This residue is also left on your laundry and bedding. Therefore, this causes irritations to your skin on a daily basis. As a matter of fact, most people use a water softener to ease their hard water issues.

But just how much does a water softener help your eczema symptoms? There have been two major studies done on how a water softener decreases the effects of hard water on people’s skin. We must note that both were funded by water softener companies, but the findings were interesting nonetheless.

University of Sheffield and King’s College London

The first study was done by a team in London, where hard water is a common problem. They placed ion-exchange water softeners in 1,100 homes, with children who had been diagnosed with eczema. After the study was over, they found that the high alkalinity in hard water contributes to changes in your skin’s pH levels. This shift disturbs your skin’s natural ability to protect itself, leaving you more prone to infections and other skin conditions. By significantly decreasing the number of surfactants in your water, you can improve your skin and lower your risks for eczema.

The lead author of the study, Dr. Simon Danby said:

“Patients with eczema are much more sensitive to the effects of hard water than people with healthy skin. This increase in sensitivity is associated with a genetic predisposition to a skin barrier defect brought about by mutations in the gene encoding filaggrin. Filaggrin is a structural protein important for the formation of our skin’s barrier to the outside environment. Up to half of all people with eczema carry a filaggrin gene.”

Kinetico Study

Kinetico, a water treatment company, conducted a study in 2011. The purpose was to see if their eczema prone participants would find some relief using a water softener. Twenty-three families were chosen to undergo the trial. Water softeners were installed in their homes and they were asked to fill out a survey after a three month period. The completed questionnaire revealed these results about its participants:

  • 83% said the water softener reduced the severity of their eczema
  • 78% were using steroid creams, and after the study, 70% were using less
  • 96% noticed smoother skin and softer hair
  • 91% said they were less itchy

It is well documented that eczema is more prevalent in people living with hard water. Of course, this leads many scientists to believe that it negatively impacts people’s skin health. To date, we have some studies indicating that there are potential benefits to installing a water softener for eczema relief. New follow-up research (to the London study) is attempting to more clearly define these advantages and shed light on this topic.

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