water impurities affecting skin thumb

6 Water Impurities that May Affect Your Skin + Prevention Tips

There are a bunch of water impurities that can cause your skin a lot of trouble aside from having an overall negative health impact. The following is a list with 6 of them. Some are basically omnipresent in U.S. tap/well water, others more unusual (thank god).

We explain what each contaminant can do to your skin and at the end provide useful prevention tips – mainly filtration advice – that will allow you to significantly reduce your exposure.

1. Chlorine

Chlorine is a very potent disinfectant which makes it a necessary evil to keep our tap water safe and clean. Necessary evil? That’s because chlorine is “extremely dying to the skin”, says Dr. Debra Jaliman, an American Academy of Dermatology Spokesperson in an interview with Insider[1]. Chlorine strips away natural oils promoting premature aging.

What’s more, chlorine does not distinguish between good and bad bacteria. Thus, washing with chlorinated water may kill your skin flora which can result in skin diseases such as acne. Long-term exposure can cause irritation and itchiness.

When ingested chlorinated water damages the intestinal flora which plays a major role in the digestion of our food and the production of vitamins and other essential nutrients. Again, the result can be acne and irritation among other non-skin conditions.

Rashes may occur when skin comes in contact with water containing higher levels of chlorine – think public swimming pools (but also some tap waters). Symptoms include:

  • Dry or chapped skin
  • Burning, stinging, itching
  • Scaly patches
  • Cracked and/or bleeding skin

2. Calcium & Magnesium

The common term for water containing elevated levels of calcium and magnesium ions is hard water. Hard water does two things:

  1. It damages our protective skin barrier by raising the skin’s surface pH from acidic towards alkaline – rinsing the skin with hard water can raise the pH for several hours. A damaged barrier may contribute to the development of eczema, a study[2] conducted by the University of Sheffield and King’s College London has shown. Symptoms include inflammation, dryness and often secondary skin infections. This is because without a properly functioning barrier our skin is exposed to pathogenic bacteria causing infection.
  2. The hardness minerals bind to wetting agents found in soaps and shampoos rendering them insoluble. As a consequence, they stick to our skin potentially enhancing the irritation.

What’s interesting is that “Patients with eczema are much more sensitive to the effects of hard water than people with healthy skin. This increase in sensitivity is associated with a genetic predisposition to a skin barrier defect brought about by [genetic] mutations (…)

3. Pesticides

Acute exposure to pesticides used in American agriculture is known to cause skin irritation among a range of other health symptoms. One example for such a pesticide is Atrazine. Atrazine is one of the most widely and most heavily used herbicides in the United States.

In fact, it has been so intensely used that it found its way into the tap water supply of 29 million people receiving their water from 1,365 different utilities across 27 states (numbers from 2015). How did it end up there? Two words: Agricultural runoff.

tractor spraying pesticides

That being said, it is unclear if Atrazine causes skin conditions when dissolved in much lower concentrations in water used for washing or drinking. And the same goes for all the other herbicides, fungicides and insecticides.

What we know is that Atrazine, to stick with our example, is a hormone disrupter that harms the male and female reproductive systems. But that’s a topic for another day.

*Numbers from EWG Tap Water Database

4. Chromium 6

Chromium 6 can cause skin irritation and in some cases an allergic skin reaction (allergic contact dermatitis). These conditions are also what the EPA has calibrated the current legal limit for chromium 6 in public drinking water for. A maximum of 100 ppb are deemed safe.

However, this standard was established back in 1991. The health guideline defined by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment is 0.02 ppb and relies on the newest scientific research. The standard is not based on skin conditions triggered by chromium 6, though, but rather general health implications.

How many Americans had chromium 6 in their tap water in the years 2010 – 2015? About 250 million, but none above 100 ppb.

*Numbers from EWG Tap Water Database

5. Arsenic

Ingesting arsenic-rich drinking water over an extended period of time, research suggests at least 5 years, can cause skin lesions and pigmentation changes.

But is chronic arsenic exposure realistic at all? Unfortunately, it is. The main source of arsenic in water is contaminated groundwater, and it is naturally present at high levels in the groundwater of numerous countries including the U.S. In addition, arsenic comes from industrial and agricultural sources. It was even once used as a pesticide, added to poultry feed, and used as a lumber preservative.

Altogether, over 70 million people in the country were served tap water with arsenic levels above health guidelines in 2015. For 392,000 people the legal limit was exceeded.

Please note: These estimates do NOT include people that have their own private well.

*Numbers from EWG Tap Water Database

6. Bacteria

We mention bacteria last as research suggests that skin-related health symptoms caused by bacteria – that is total coliforms, fecal coliforms, E. coli and others – in water only seem to occur with sea water, but not freshwater. In other words: You have to go for a swim in the ocean to have a chance to catch a rash or itch. And the water has to have high levels of several bacteria.

bacteria

Prevention

Prevention is the best medicine. So if you suffer from acne due to high chlorine content or irritation because you live in a hard-water area etc., there are certain measures you can take that will hopefully bring relief:

  • For chlorine, you could use a simple activated carbon filter to have the disinfectant removed from your water. One for your shower would make sense, obviously. Alternatively, you could treat the entire water in your home with the help of a whole house filter system. Or you install a small point-of-use filter under your bathroom sink. Boiling for several minutes or simply letting the water sit works, too, but is certainly less viable. The same applies to UV light treatment. For more information on chlorine filtration follow this link: best-osmosis-systems.com/how-to-remove-chlorine-from-water/
  • For calcium and magnesium, an ion exchange water softener can mitigate the negative effects hard water has on skin.
  • To eliminate chromium 6, reverse osmosis filter systems as well as some filter pitchers and the Berkey gravity water filter have proven to be very effective.
  • The following filtration methods will help you get rid of arsenic: Reverse osmosis, distillation, oxidation/filtration, coagulation/filtration, adsorptive filter media, anion exchange, activated alumina. By the way, removing arsenic from your drinking water is a great start, but don’t underestimate the potential impact of your diet. Food not water is the main source of arsenic exposure in the U.S. The biggest culprit: Rice and rice-based processed foods including cereal, pasta and rice milk.
  • For pesticide removal, you can choose any water filter that uses activated carbon – easy!

References:

About the Author Gene

Gene has been with BOS since the very beginning. She is head of content creation and has fully immersed herself into the home water treatment industry only to become an expert herself. Outside of BOS, Gene loves to read books on philosophy & social issues, making music, and hiking.

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