London's Water Is Damaging Your Skin – Here's How To Stop It

You’ll have noticed that water tastes different across the country; some of us prefer hard, some prefer soft. London-dwellers are dealing with hard water. "In fact, it is among the worst in this regard according to my research," Dr. Dennis Gross, founder of the eponymous skincare brand, explains. "Specifically, the water in London is very hard because it is high in calcium. That, by definition, is what makes water hard." So what is bathing and showering in the hard stuff doing to our skin?
"Hard water is very bad for the skin," Dr. Gross warns. "Simply bathing in hard water may cause redness and dry skin. The calcium settles on the skin and changes one’s own oil chemistry which compromises the skin’s ability to moisturise itself. It also leads to large pores, acne, rashes, itching and rosacea." Bad news all round, then. You may have noticed that the density of the lather of your shampoo and soap is lower in London, too, and that they're often hard to rinse out completely. This is down to calcium, too, and means nails and hair may be weaker and more brittle as a result.
For Dr. Anjali Mahto, consultant dermatologist at Skin55 and author of The Skincare Bible: Your No-Nonsense Guide to Great Skin, the biggest concern for those washing with hard water is eczema. "Research has shown that hard water – water that passes through chalk and limestone rock and carbonates along the way – can damage the barrier of the skin and contribute to the risk of developing eczema as well as increasing its sensitivity." The causes of conditions like eczema are multifaceted, and hard water certainly isn’t one of them, but "people with a tendency towards eczema may suffer more if they live in an area which has hard water, as this can act as an irritant in some people, leading to potential skin dryness and flaring of the condition," Dr. Mahto explains.
While research shows the havoc hard water can wreak on our skin, for Lixir Skin founder Colette Haydon, it’s important to note that the minerals found in London’s water aren’t the issue. "Hard water has bad connotations, however I want to point out that it also contains lots of minerals which are in fact good for the skin. For example, we choose to drink bottled mineral water from brands like Evian, and there are a number of beauty brands that market themselves on replacing the water content in their products with mineral water, like Omorovicza, La Roche-Posay and Avène for example," Haydon argues.
She also points out that we’ve been travelling to mineral spas around the world for centuries – think of Bath and Budapest, and the circulation-boosting, pain-relieving properties of their hot spring baths. So if the minerals themselves are good for us, what’s the issue with hard water? "The problem is that the soaps and detergents we wash with aggregate with it, and this then clogs our pores – making soaps much harder to wash away."
Unfortunately, as calcium is a molecule, shower head filters won’t be able to remove it from London water; they can "only remove dirt and sand particles," according to Dr. Gross. The temperature of the water we shower and bathe in, though, will make a difference. "I would recommend washing your face and body with warm to lukewarm water, wherever you live," Mahto explains. "Avoid using very hot or cold water, as cold water is less effective at removing oils from the skin, and hot water can leave the skin dry and irritated." While showering less won’t resolve the issue either, Haydon says "it doesn’t hurt to be mindful about water wastage".
Those of us with sensitive or dry skin should take Dr. Mahto’s advice and look for tailored cleansers and body washes. "I would recommend simple measures such as using unfragranced emollient washes and moisturisers which are important in maintaining skin health, particularly those who are vulnerable to skin changes as a result of hard water." Aveeno’s Moisturising Creamy Oil with Colloidal Oatmeal (£5.13) is the perfect everyday bathroom shelf staple – it’s soap-free, and is clinically proven to target the drying effects of hard water while balancing the skin’s natural moisture level.
Dr. Dennis Gross’ skincare range also specifically targets this issue, and includes a chelator, the only known ingredient to remove calcium from the skin deposited by hard water. "These unique molecules actually remove the calcium from the skin surface and prevent their penetration," he explains. "They are essentially water-softening ingredients I add to creams, cleansers, moisturisers and serums. I do this because hard water is actually common all over the world, the idea occurred to me during my time in London." The brand’s latest drop, the Alpha Beta Pore Perfecting Cleansing Gel (£45), is something of a wunderkind thanks to its inclusion of hydroxy acids, which slough away dead skin cells, and snow ear mushroom, which maintains skin’s moisture levels.
While we may not be able to alter or avoid the calcium in the city’s hard water, thanks to a host of protecting and soothing products, we can take measures to ensure our skin doesn’t suffer because of it.

More from Skin Care

R29 Original Series