How Tap Water Could Be Messing With Your Curls

Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
If you've recently moved to a new city or state, you may notice something different about your hair. For once, the expression "It must be something in the water" is quite literal: Tap water could be messing with your curls. And, whether you have "hard" or "soft" water affects how, though there are benefits and setbacks to both. 

To find out which category your water belongs to, you can look at the shower head, drain, or faucet. If you have hard water, then you will see mineral deposits (white residue) in these spots. You can also test this by adding about 10 drops of dish soap to a cup of water. If it turns milky white, then it's hard. If it remains clear, then it's pure and soft. Many plumbing-supply stores will test your water for free.

Here's what your water type means for your curls.

Hard Water
Hard water is high in mineral content. Water is filtered through a number of minerals, including limestone and chalk (it depends on where you live). As a result, it's slightly altered — possibly grittier, grainier, and more calcified. This is why tap water might look, feel, and taste differently in different cities.

Although mineral water is great for internal health, it doesn't always want to work with our hair and skin. Sadly, we can't climb into our cities' aquifers and alter our local filtration systems. We can, however, buy products that better suit our hair's needs.

If you live in a region where the faucets spew hard water, you may notice duller, flatter strands and have trouble achieving volume or shine. Your shampoo will not produce much lather, even if it contains sulfates. Mineralized water is harder to completely wash out of hair. So, it's important to stock up on moisturizing butters and creams.

After shampooing and co-washing, use a butter in conjunction with a water-based, silicone-free serum like SheaMoisture 10-in-1 SuperFruit Serum to seal moisture without clogging follicles. Try using a cleanser marketed to swimmers — these are specially formulated for chemically altered and hardened water. To style, use Blended Beauty's Curl Styling Lotion, which is pH balanced — perfect for hard-water users.

When purchasing a shampoo, look for the EDTA compound in the ingredient list. It helps break down the extra calcium and magnesium your curls can do without. Another option is to do an apple-cider vinegar rinse once a month.

Soft Water
Washing hair and refreshing curls with soft water might make it feel greasy, oily, and super fine — which will naturally make you want to over-wash it. This, in turn, dries out curly hair faster, depriving it of the hydration it needs to thrive. It's also a major reason why soft water has been linked to hair loss. 

Use a lighter oil to seal and pre-shampoo with, like sweet-almond or grapeseed. You can also sprinkle a bit of baby powder onto your scalp, and then rinse it out whenever you shampoo. 

A rosemary shampoo, like this one from Aubrey Organics, will strengthen and moisturize your hair and scalp. Shampoo bars are a great option for soft-water users, too. Use a softening styler, like Alikay Naturals Dulce Hydrating Curl Lotion, to hydrate and add shine. To keep hair replenished without being weighed down, try a conditioner with essential oils and glycerin, like Burt's Bees Super Shiny Grapefruit & Sugar Beet

No matter your hair type, a dry shampoo like DevaCurl No-Poo Quick Cleanser will come in handy, especially on those days when you need to quickly refresh second-day strands.

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