How damaging is tap water for our skin? - GAIA Filters

How damaging is tap water for our skin?

Author: Jessica Harris


It's been hailed as a skin elixir by supermodels and actress's alike who confess to drinking litres of it per day. So it's ironic to consider that while water is essential for our overall health on the inside, it could be detrimental in our quest for a flawless visage on the outside. Washing our face is a crucial part of any skincare regime and while we're constantly on the lookout for the best balm, oil, mousse and lotion to cleanse the day off of our face, there's a major component in our routines that could be hindering our efforts. Tap water.

Although we, in the UK, are truly fortunate enough to have some of the cleanest, most regulated water systems in the world, there's a whole host of trace nasties wreaking havoc with your skin. And we're not the only ones, as Parisian women confess to using micellar water over tap due to the hard water in the city, and the flawless ‘glass skin’ synonymous with Korean women is the result of using sparkling bottled water to wash their face. Excessive? Perhaps. But if stocking up on San Pellegrino is a step too far, we asked the experts what our options are.

What's actually in our tap water?

Officially, our tap water is completely safe to drink and wash in. However, this is partly due to the chemicals and minerals artificially added to it to ensure it meets strict tap water guidelines. These include chlorine (a disinfectant used by water companies to maintain hygienic conditions within the public water supply), and fluoride (introduced 60 years ago to reduce tooth decay in children).

“Tap water is probably the simplest thing you can use to clean your face – but there are some drawbacks, particularly with hard water (i.e. water that has a high mineral content),” says skincare specialist Dr David Jack. “In certain areas, tap water can contain high levels of dissolved chemicals such as chlorine, copper, zinc and iron.” But, it's the discovery of additional clandestine poisons such as lead and plastic microfibres, that could also be contributing to a whole host of skin concerns. The former, is thought to find its way into 8.9 million homes in the UK (particularly pre-1970s houses) through old lead piping, and is treated with another chemical, phosphoric acid, by the water companies to counteract its harmful health effects. The latter are believed to come from various sources including clothes made of synthetic fabrics, car tyres, paint and microbeads from cosmetics and have been found to contaminate 72 per cent of tap water samples in European nations, including the UK.

How does it affect our skin?

Fine lines, sensitivity, blemishes... whatever your skin woes, it's safe to assume that tap water has been low on your list of culprits but perhaps it's time to take a closer look at your faucet. “I often remind patients of the state of their kettle, or their shower doors” facialist Renee Lapino explains. “The same metals and chemicals that lend to limescale are the same agents that we’re leaving on our skin when we bathe leading to breakouts, clogged pores, blackheads and red patches, whereas the metal in the water will weaken our skin’s barrier function, which can cause irritation, acne, rosacea, eczema, as well as hyperpigmentation. Low levels of poisons in the water will damage our skin microbiome (our pre- and probiotic levels) which shows up as dry, dehydrated, dull skin that’s still oily yet flaky.”

An undeniable skincare conundrum, but you don't have to suffer with rosacea and blemish outbreaks to be unaffected as Lapino explains that those taking medications, have dehydrated or fair skin, and/or gut issues (due to existing internal inflammation) are more vulnerable to the elements as well as those looking to stave off the effects of ageing. “Research suggests that chlorinated water actually accelerates the ageing process, similar to the effects of extended exposure to the sun which include pigmentation and loss of elasticity,” explains Dr Rekha Tailor, a cosmetic doctor and skin specialist. “Chlorinated water can deplete the skin of its natural oils and hydration which in turn can exacerbate skin conditions such as eczema.” In fact, Dr Ophelia Veraitch, consultant dermatologist at The Cranley Clinic explains that several studies have shown “an association with hard tap water and the development of childhood eczema due to the presence of protein, filaggrin which is associated with eczema."

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