Bath & Body Care Advice

Hard Water Versus Soft Water: Effects on Skin & Hair

From cleansing your skin every single night to using a weekly hair mask, you’re probably doing everything right in your beauty routine. So why are you still dealing with dry skin and crunchy hair? Blame your water. Hard water and soft water have different effects on your skin and hair—some of which may do serious damage.

What Is Hard Water?

Hard water has a high mineral content, meaning it’s packed with minerals like calcium and magnesium. This mineral content differs depending on where you live, because the water’s path through soil (where it picks up those minerals) determines the levels. Hard water is totally safe for drinking, showering, cooking, so on and so forth. The only thing it’s not ideal for? Your hair and skin.

“The abundance of minerals and chemicals in hard water can leave behind buildup,” says cosmetic chemist Ron Robinson of They prevent hard water from completely dissolving the ingredients in your formulas (as well as the grime you’re trying to get rid of) so washing with it can leave behind a film-like residue. On skin, that residue can exacerbate breakouts, dryness and even bring on irritation, especially if you have sensitive skin. That’s not all: Hard water can affect the skin on your scalp, too, causing dryness and that telltale itch.

As for your hair, it may feel like it does when you haven’t thoroughly rinsed out all of your shampoo. So, you might notice it feeling dull, limp or super-dry (think straw-like) to the touch. On top of that, hard water can also lead to faster fading and altered color in color-treated hair. “Minerals in hard water, like calcium and magnesium, bond to hair,” explains cosmetic chemist Al-Nisa Ward of Cosmetic Science Innovations. “This causes hair to look dull or discolored.”

There’s good news (we promise!). Most people can’t even tell if they have hard water. But if you can’t explain your dry skin and suspect your water, there are a few steps you can take. Try cleansing with micellar water like Vichy 3-in-1 Calming No-Rinse Micellar Solution, which removes tiny particles and doesn’t require rinsing with water. As for your hair, Ward recommends a clarifying shampoo. “Clarifying shampoos contain chelating agents, which bond to the excess minerals on the hair, allowing them to be removed,” she explains. They can be drying, warns Ward, so use it two or three times a month. (Dermstore suggests Leonor Greyl Crème aux Fleurs Treatment Cream Shampoo.)

Your worst-case scenario is to get a water softener installed in your home. But with these steps, you might not need it.

What Is Soft Water?

Soft water, on the other hand, only has de-ionized sodium in it (sometimes it’s natural, and sometimes it’s the result of water treatment). Like hard water, it’s completely safe for drinking, bathing and cooking. And, unlike hard water, it’s actually kind of moisturizing. (Some even say that soft water gives skin and hair a slippery feel.)

But it’s possible to have too much of a good thing—and soft water may flatten your hair or give it a greasy texture. “Soft water can make hair limp and lifeless,” says Ward. But it’s less damaging than hard water, and you can negate its effects by washing with a volumizing shampoo and lightweight conditioner. (Try John Masters Organics Rose & Apricot Hair Milk) Still, unless you have flat or fine hair, you might not notice its effects at all.


Whether you have hard water or soft water might not even be a concern to you. And, if you don’t notice any adverse effects, there’s no reason to treat it. But if you have adjusted your beauty routine and don’t notice any improvement, it could be worth checking out.

Freelance Writer

Deanna Pai

Deanna Pai is a freelance beauty writer in New York, NY. She's written for Cosmopolitan, Vogue, Glamour, Women's Health and Refinery29 (among others). You can learn more about her work and follow her on Twitter for lame jokes.