My colleague’s daughter recently moved to Las Vegas to start a new job and has been complaining about her hair looking all frizzy and dull. It has even started breaking. Apparently, all this is being caused by the type of water available in Vegas – hard water. This prompted me to research and dig deeper in a bid to find out more about the effects of hard water on hair. And more importantly, what are the signs of hard water on hair?
What is hard water?
Hard water is a term used to refer to the type of water filled with mineral content. Some of the minerals found in hard water include magnesium, calcium, sulfates, and bicarbonates.
The phrase “hard water” originated from the challenging nature of working or using the mineral-filled water that needs a lot of effort to be able to work with it.
Hard water needs more amounts of detergent, shampoos, and soap. This also makes its lathering ability significantly less compared to soft water.
Hard water may have negative effects on the healthy growth of all types of hair.
What is soft water?
Soft water, on the other hand, is water containing fewer concentrations of minerals (such as magnesium and calcium), compared to hard water.
This type of water also has no inhibition to its lathering ability due to the low mineral content.
This means that soft water does not form scum during cleaning activities. It also doesn’t leave calcium deposits in heating systems.
Soft water generally forms through rainfall or drainage basins like those found in rivers with low calcium content.
The water doesn’t usually have negative effects on hair. If anything, it only strengthens and makes the hair healthier compared to using hard water.
What kind of water is found in the US?
A whopping 85% of the water found in the US is hard water!
The ancient seabed covering a large portion of the water masses in the country contributes to a high concentration of limestone that makes the water extremely hard in many parts of the country.
Cities such as San Antonio, Tampa, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, and Phoenix are some of the metros with extremely hard water.
Only two states, Maine and Mississippi, have soft water occurring naturally in the entire nation.
The effect of such a vast area containing hard water indicates that many Americans (who don’t take some kind of action) are bound to deal with hair problems as a result of the high mineral content found in their water.
The number of minerals in your water
The amount of minerals in your water has a huge effect on the health of your hair.
Many people only notice a significant change in their hair after traveling to different places that have soft water.
A US tourist visiting Amsterdam, for instance, may realize that the general health of his/her hair improves significantly as opposed to the days when he/she is back home.
Even though you might consistently use the same hair products – such as shampoos and conditioners – the mineral content of the water you’re using plays a major role in the promotion (or lack) of healthy hair.
I heard of a lady who went on vacation to a country where soft water is used.
Her hair was soft and silky; she didn’t even need to use much product to get her curls popping. This was due to the reduced mineral content in the water.
Hard water is not the best if you’re after healthy hair.
The water, for instance, makes hair strands weaker and rougher, meaning that styling and general hair maintenance gets more challenging when compared to someone who is using soft water.
What are the signs of hard water on hair?
There are various signs that indicate the hard water in your house is taking a toll on your hair. They include:
- A very itchy and dry scalp
- Split ends on your hair
- Your hair looks weighed down
- Dandruff concentration
- Hair thinning
- Hair loss in some cases
- Stunted hair growth
- Frizzy and dull hair
The effects of hard water minerals on your hair
Minerals contained in hard water such as magnesium and calcium are responsible for causing harm to your hair.
The hair damage as a result of mineral build-up may or may not be easily recognizable.
The mineral coating causes the hair strands to get heavier, leading to the weighing down of hair. This also makes the hair appear dull.
No matter how much shampoo you use to clean your hair using hard water, the end result is always frizzy and dull-looking hair.
The minerals found in hard water also have a tendency of accumulating around the scalp. The minerals on the scalp may also end up forming dandruff which increases itching.
Itchiness leads to scratching which can cause injury to some of the hair follicles and result in some hair loss.
Hair thinning – a prominent sign of hard water on hair – originates from blocked hair follicles.
This is because, over a period of time, the buildup of dandruff can clog hair follicles, which can lead to hair thinning.
Stunted hair growth is another sign of hard water on your hair. The minerals in hard water create a challenging atmosphere for hair to grow.
There is no room to develop from the excess accumulation of minerals on the scalp.
Tips for washing hair in hard water
The following are some of the ways you can counter the effect of hard water on your hair.
Apple cider vinegar rinse
Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is known for its hair benefits that I’ve talked about extensively in this article. Some of the common hair issues that ACV handles include hair breakage and itchy scalp problems.
There are various reasons why we should use ACV as a rinse for hair exposed to hard water. First, ACV helps to regulate the pH and acidity levels of hair. Since ACV is acidic in nature, it solves the alkalinity imbalance found in dull and frizzy hair.
Second, ACV also acts as a disinfectant. It helps in controlling fungi and bacteria found on the scalp which cause issues such as itchiness or formation of dandruff.
Applying ACV to the scalp leaves the hair follicles open, therefore enhancing the healthy growth of your mane.
Finally, the vitamin-rich nature of ACV offers essential vitamins such as B1, B2, B6 and C which are essential for good and healthy hair.
ACV has an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) that helps to exfoliate the skin by removing dead skin cells and debris. In the same way, AHA helps to exfoliate the scalp. The AHA contained in ACV also helps to smooth hair strands.
How to use ACV on hair
- Mix a few tablespoons of ACV with water
- Pour the ACV mixture over clean hair
- Let the mixture penetrate your strands for a few minutes
Chelating and clarifying shampoos
A clarifying shampoo is one that helps to get rid of buildup in your hair.
They work by exfoliating the cuticle and breaking down residual product, such as that left on the surface of the strands by hair sprays.
This type of shampoo should be used occasionally, in cases where quite a bit of residue has accumulated on your hair.
Chelating shampoos, on the other hand, are usually stronger than clarifying shampoos and are used to remove chlorine and minerals that can cause damage to your hair.
Just like clarifying shampoos, these shampoos should be used occasionally because they can dry out your hair if they’re used regularly.
A chelating shampoo or clarifying shampoo is essential for hair exposed to hard water.
Regular shampoos are important in consistently keeping the hair and the scalp clean.
However, hair already experiencing a buildup of dandruff, itchiness or frizz needs a stronger shampoo.
Mineral build-up caused by hard water can be managed through the use of a shampoo that offers a deeper clean compared to regular shampoos.
The deep clean revives the bouncy nature of hair while restoring the hair’s original color and texture. It also leaves your hair soft and shiny.
If you are wondering which brand of shampoo to go for, I did a detailed review of the best shampoos for hard water areas.
How to use chelating shampoo
a) Use a small amount of the shampoo to massage the entire scalp until you get a desirable lather
b) Leave the shampoo in hair for approximately 30 seconds
c) Rinse and apply conditioner
Using regular conditioner and leave-in conditioner
Conditioners are instrumental in softening your hair strands after the shampooing process.
They are basically moisturizing agents that help to replenish your hair strands’ natural moisture that is stripped out during the cleansing process. (A good number of shampoos have a strong drying effect)
Regular conditioners are an effective way of dealing with hard water during your hair wash routine.
After cleansing your hair, apply some conditioner to help moisturize your strands.
It can also help protect your mane from unwanted hard water effects such as itching and dandruff build-up.
These are some of the best conditioners to use in hard water areas.
Leave-in conditioner is applied to the hair as moisturizers and helps to seal in moisture in your hair strands.
These conditioners come in handy for hair that has been feeling dry and looking dull and frizzy as a result of hard water use.
A good leave-in conditioner should be able to give your hair a soft and glossy look.
How to avoid contact with hard water
Using rainwater to wash your hair is one of the cheapest and easiest ways of avoiding contact with hard water.
Rainwater is the perfect choice for people looking to wash their hair with soft water. It’s way softer than regular tap water.
I was reading testimonials of ladies who were sharing their experiences after washing their locks with rainwater.
A majority of them said that rainwater did wonders for their hair.
For the city dwellers who are worried about pollution, the trick is to let it rain for a while and let the rain wash away the impurities and industrial pollutants from the roof and gutters.
After that, you comfortably collect pure rainwater and avoid the dreaded acid water.
One pundit explains that the slight acidity found in rainwater affects your hair the same way a vinegar rinse does.
The water is just acidic enough to close the cuticle, and not enough to damage it.
On doing further research, I learned that the low rainwater pH is not as a result of industrial pollutants.
The rainwater apparently reacts with carbon dioxide in the air to form carbonic acid, the same stuff used to carbonate soda.
One tip to remember is that rainwater can readily mix with hard water to neutralize the effects of hard water on your hair.
Mix hard water and rainwater using a ratio of 3:2, boil the mixture and give it time to cool down.
This helps to eliminate most minerals found in hard water. This is an important process for the sake of maintaining healthy-looking hair.
Using bottled water
A good number of people opt to use bottled water to wade off the effects of hard water on their water.
Using purified water is a safe option when looking for mineral-free options for washing your hair.
Even though distilled water may contain some minerals, it’s still much softer compared to tap water.
Star hairdresser Sam McKnight claims that rinsing your hair, post-shampoo, in mineral water is “crucial for washing out the hard water and helps to balance the pH of your scalp”.
Some people have reported that washing their hair with bottled water leaves their hair softer, shinier and even voluminous. The only disadvantage of this method is the cost of regularly buying mineral water.
Shower filters are filtering devices used for removing contaminants from the water you shower with.
They are perfect for those looking for healthy hair and better skin.
Showering in hard water can damage your hair and leave it weighed down, dry and brittle.
The best shower filters contain a filter that helps to produce soft, non-scaling water.
Municipal water contains a lot of chlorine that corrodes natural oils essential for moisturizing hair follicles.
Therefore, installing shower filters prevents chlorine from affecting our hair’s natural oils. This reduces effects such as dull and dry hair.
Shower filters also restore the hair’s natural texture by taming the frizz brought about by hard water.
Moreover, these filters also preserve the hair’s elasticity.
Find out what are some of the best shower filters for hair and skin in the market, as well as things to consider when buying a shower filter.
Water softening is a technique that removes the minerals that cause the water to be hard – in most cases calcium and magnesium ions – through a process of ion-exchange.
One of the main advantages of using a water softener is that it’ll protect your plumbings from hard water damage.
According to Harvey Water Softeners, a water softener has two cylinders containing resin.
During the softening process, millions of microscopic beads trap hardness minerals, softening the water as it enters your home.
The resin requires regular cleaning using block salt, which is a process a water softener performs automatically. The block salt is manually topped up when needed.
It’s important to note that soft water retrieved from using a water softener can be used for all other purposes except for drinking.
This is because a softener will only reduce hardness in water but will not change the existing total dissolved solid levels in the water.
Reversal osmosis systems
Reverse osmosis (RO) is one of the best ways to treat water for home use.
The reverse osmosis systems involve water purification approaches that focus on the use of a semi-permeable membrane to effectively remove unwanted minerals, such as calcium and magnesium, from the water system.
RO removes minerals from water systems, especially those found in households for healthy consumption and use.
Using Reverse Osmosis membrane technology reduces up to 99% of the chlorine contained in water.
An RO has a limited ability to remove large amounts of hardness because the membrane can permanently plug up with limescale.
It requires good pre-filtering to protect the membrane, with filters needing to be changed at some point (preferably annually).
An RO will prevent hair from being coated with soap film, therefore leaving it softer.
It also helps to save on shampoos and conditioners because you do not need to use a lot when using soft water.
Are there people who are affected by soft water?
Some people say that soft water leaves their hair with a greasy texture.
Apparently, for some people with flat or fine hair, soft water can cause your hair to look thinner, limp and lifeless. I haven’t come across a type 4 natural lady (or man) facing this problem yet.
For the people that have this problem, you can counter the soft water effects by washing your hair with a volumizing shampoo and a lightweight conditioner (or skip the conditioner all together).
There some good shampoos for soft water areas that I wrote about in another article.
All in all, soft water is less damaging compared to hard water.
With a balanced pH, soft water doesn’t contain minerals that might affect the healthy growth of hair.
Washing your hair with soft water requires little use of shampoos and conditioners, which can reduce your hair maintenance expenses.
Hard water requires the use of more shampoo, soap, and detergents that result in soap scum. Using soft water doesn’t come with such challenges.
If you are experiencing hair breakage, thinning, dryness, dandruff build-up or have an itchy scalp, please find out if you have hard water in your area.
Despite America having vast volumes of hard water, there are different ways to get rid of the minerals that adversely affect people’s hair.
The use of shower filters, water softeners or reverse osmosis systems can help make the water in your residence hair-friendly.
If you don’t have these facilities at the moment, please consider doing an apple cider rinse after washing your hair, or invest in a chelating or clarifying shampoo that gives your hair a deep clean by getting rid of mineral build-up.
Hard water harms the hair in many ways. However, the incorporation of the different approaches discussed above can help in protecting your hair from undesired hard water effects.