Read This Before Washing Your Face With Tap Water

Photo: Troels Graugaard/ Getty Images.
Okay, it wasn’t exactly surprising when we heard the sad news about bacon's effects on your health, but sometimes it feels like even things we thought were good for us are getting the ax (hello, fat-free yogurt). What will be next? Our beloved kale? So it is with a heavy heart that we broach the topic of water. You may have heard rustlings that good old H2O is on notice, too. Yep, it's true. Not drinking it — always hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! — but putting tap water on your skin.

There is really no way to get around washing your bod, your hands, or your hair with the stuff (unless you’re Serena Williams and you're ultra-fancy), but many people are opting out of using tap water on their faces. You're probably first asking, Why? followed by a, How is this even possible? Manhattan-based dermatologist Julie Russak, MD, is here to help address your questions.

“Hard water, especially, has a high mineral composition containing heavy metals like iron, copper, zinc, and nickel that can lead to redness and irritation, leaving the skin itchy and inflamed,” explains Dr. Russak, who recommends opting out of hard water to her patients with rosacea or hypersensitive skin. “It can also contain chlorine, which is very drying and strips the natural oils and proteins present at the top layer of the skin. Once this natural barrier is disrupted, moisture from the inside is lost and skin is exposed to the harmful elements from the outside, leading to redness and blotchiness, and over time to premature aging and the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Heavy metals can also react, oxidizing and creating more free radicals that can lead to the breakdown of collagen and elastic tissue in the skin.”

Have you ever noticed stains around the faucet in your bathroom? What gets deposited on the walls is the same residue that gets deposited on your skin.

Julie Russak, MD
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Yikes. But this all really depends on the type of water, and some water is "harder." "Have you ever noticed stains around the faucet in your bathroom?” Dr. Russak asks. “What gets deposited on the walls is the same residue that gets deposited on your skin.” You can find out just how hard your water is with a simple test or by looking up your area's drinking-water quality report.

Laure Seguin
, a French facialist based in New York, says that tap water is not only dehydrating, but also upsets the pH balance of the skin. “Drinking water is very beneficial to the skin, but tap water is not a pure enough form of water that respects the pH balance of your skin and therefore will upset it,” she says. Various studies back up this claim, while some say there is not sufficient evidence to prove that tap water affects the skin's pH.

Now, on to your second question. How do you wash your face without water? French women are at the forefront of the no-tap-water movement, often using micellar water as a replacement. (Garance Doré gave up tap water two years ago and says her skin has never looked better.) This makeup-remover-and-cleanser-in-one started getting buzz in the States a couple years back, but was originally developed in France in the 1990s to help combat the harsh Parisian water.
“Micellar waters are cleansers that don’t need to be rinsed," says Dr. Russak. "They will remove makeup, [but they also] contain cleansing molecules called micelles that trap and sweep away dirt and oil, making them great as an alternative to traditional cleansing. Squirt onto a cotton ball or pad and wipe it over skin and eyelids; no rinsing necessary.”

And if you use a milk cleanser, you actually don’t have to give it up when you give up tap water. Seguin suggests wiping it off with a toner, then spraying your face with a thermal water, like one from Avène, Vichy, or La Roche-Posay. But she warns: “Even when using mineral-water or thermal-water sprays, you need to pat the water into your skin or tap your face with a Kleenex so no water is left on the surface, to prevent dehydration. Also, always immediately apply moisturizer after you use any kind of water on the skin."

Dr. Russak warns that if you stop with the H2O, you have to remember to exfoliate to remove dead skin buildup and dislodge gunk in the pores. She suggests a dermaplaning facial or gentle chemical peel every so often to get the job done well. But although Dr. Russak knows just how irritating water can be, she says cleansing with it is still the most effective and gentle way to remove oil from the skin. Instead of giving it up completely, she suggests getting a filter or a water-softening system for your home, and looking for shampoos and moisturizers with EDTA, an acid that attracts minerals out of the water like a magnet and washes them off your skin and hair.

Though Seguin is staunchly against washing your face with water, she says if you must, you should spray your face with a mineral or thermal water afterward to balance the pH. “You can also put micellar water in a spray bottle and spritz the skin, because the components will help hydrate the skin as well," she says. Also, it's imperative to find a cleanser that will help keep your skin's pH balance, like Orlane Gentle Cleansing Foam.
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