Hard truth and eczema: it’s something in the water
The truth about eczema and the effects water have on your skin and eczema condition.
Hard water damages our protective skin barrier and could contribute to the development of eczema, a new study has shown. In this article, you will find the truth about hard water and eczema and the effects it can have on your condition.
Researchers from the University of Sheffield and King’s College London have discovered that exposing the skin too hard water damages the skin protective barrier – which your body uses against outside threats such as harmful bacteria or sunburn – and increases the sensitivity of the skin to potential irritants found in everyday wash products such as soap or washing powder.
Hard water contains high levels of calcium and magnesium ions that bind to surfactants such as sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium lauryl ether sulfate (SLES) – which act as detergents or wetting agents – making them insoluble, so they precipitate onto the skin.
Can hard water affect you skins pH
Skin pH is normally acidic but hard water has high alkalinity which means it can raise the skin surface pH. A shift towards alkaline pH disturbs the skin’s natural function as a physical barrier and leaves it prone to colonization by potentially pathogenic bacteria which can cause infection.
You can measure your skin’s pH with a home test kit available on AMAZON click here!
Lead author of the study, Dr. Simon Danby from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Infection, Immunity and Cardiovascular Disease, said: “By damaging the skin barrier, washing with hard water may contribute to the development of eczema – a chronic skin condition characterized by an intensely itchy red rash.
“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 mutations in the gene encoding filaggrin. Filaggrin is a structural protein important for the formation of our skin’s barrier to the outside environment. Up to half of all people with eczema carry a filaggrin gene.”
New eczema research on Hard water – the truth about eczema
He said: “This new study reveals the mechanism by which calcium and magnesium ions in hard water, surfactants, and filaggrin interact to damage the skin barrier unlocking new information about how exposure to hard water could potentially contribute to the development of eczema.”
Symptoms of eczema (also called ‘atopic eczema’ or ‘atopic dermatitis’) include inflamed, dry skin and often secondary skin infections, which can affect any part of the body and every aspect of a person’s life – both physically and emotionally.
The new study, which was funded by Harvey Water Softeners, is published in the Journal of Investigate Dermatology. The team of researchers examined whether removing the calcium and magnesium ions using an ion-exchange water softener could mitigate the negative effects of hard water on the skin.
They found that using a water softener reduces the harmful effects of surfactants, potentially decreasing the risk of developing eczema.
Co-senior author of the study, Dr Carsten Flohr from the St John’s Institute of Dermatology at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London, said: “One in five children and one in 12 adults in the UK suffer from eczema, costing the NHS well over £500 million annually.
Young skin is more susceptible
“It is during the first few days and months of life that our skin is most susceptible to damage and most at risk of developing eczema. That’s why finding out if you have hard water is so important because it’s one trigger point for eczema that you can simple and effectively avoid.
“For that reason, we are now embarking on a pilot trial to investigate whether installation of a domestic water softener around the time of birth can prevent skin barrier breakdown and eczema in those living in hard water areas.”
The Softened Water for Eczema Prevention (SOFTER) trial will be undertaken by Dr. Flohr and his team from King’s College London and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centre at Guy’s & St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust in collaboration with the University of Sheffield team and colleagues from the University of Dundee, the Centre of Evidence-Based Dermatology at Nottingham University, Imperial College London, the National Institute for Health (Bethesda, USA), and Amsterdam Medical Centre.
Can a water softener help your eczema?
A recent study into hard water and eczema and the relationship showed that 54% of children are more likely to have eczema, compared to children who live in softer water areas.
Many of the manufactures of water softeners in the home will tell you that you MUST install one today. We never listen to all the marketing hype and decided to look into the benefits ( If there is some ) to installing a water softening system in your home.
Over 55% of people living in the UK, A full and in-depth study by the University of Nottingham’s Centre of Evidence-based Dermatology into the relationship between hard water and eczema symptoms. Nottingham is unusual in that one half the town has a soft water supply and other half has hard water and researchers from the Centre of Evidence-based Dermatology were surprised to find that primary school children living in the hard water areas were 54% more likely to have atopic eczema than children living in soft water areas. So was the local water causing or exacerbating eczema?
How did researchers test water softeners?
A team was formed and trails started named SWET – Softened water eczema trial
This trial was carried out in 2011-2012 but still holds true today, No further trial has proved the results incorrect. The trial was conducted with 336 children over a 16 week period.
The group was split into two and one group were told to continue using their normal eczema treatment and daily bathing and showering routine and the other group to do exactly the same, with one small difference. This group had a water softening system installed in their home for drinking, bathing and washing clothes.
Research nurses were assigned to follow up on the children at 12 weeks and 16 weeks. All the children had signs of improvement but it wasn’t accredited to the Water.
Unfortunately, the results showed no significate signs of improvement for either group nor did their itching reduce. The results were very disappointing, However, a number of parents said they were using fewer prescription creams than normal.
So why do 54% of children in hard water areas suffer more?
The study concluded that water softeners do not improve eczema conditions over the standard treatments for children with moderate to severe eczema. So how come children in hard water areas are 54% more likely to suffer from eczema?
One explanation that seems likely is that hard water reduces the effectiveness of detergents and washing powders that people use which mean they needed to use more. As we know, detergents and many ingredients commonly used in toiletries are known to aggravate eczema and trigger flare-ups. The idea has always been to reduce eczema trigger points and irritants.
Hard water forces us to use more detergents and chemical to get rid of the white scales deposits that hard water leaves behind and that’s why those children’s eczema was worse.
The truth about eczema is often confused and mislead. Reading studies and result from research like this is key to finding a suitable product or cure for your eczema.
So, would we suggest you rush out and spend a few hundred pounds/Dollars on a hard water softening machine? Hmmmm NO! Not really.
We just don’t think there’s enough evidence to suggest that Hard water is detrimental for eczema sufferers. In fact, some reports say that due to a large number of natural minerals in hard water it may even be good for your skin.
I think it’s all about how your own body reacts to the water, I know that when I go on holiday abroad my skin is always better and I put that down to two things. The sun and the salt in the water that I shower or bath in. I’m convinced it helps. So much so that I now use Dead sea salts in my baths.
If you think that hard water isn’t good for your eczema then go ahead and buy one. A very simple and inexpensive way to reduce the hard water that comes into contact with your skin would be to fit a shower head attachment that filters hard water. Available on AMAZON. No amount of money would stop me if I thought it would help me and my son.
You know your body best and every step you take towards easing your eczema is a step in the right direction.
Good luck in eradicating as many irritants as you can to help reduce your eczema.
Let us know how you get on.