Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease that causes skin cells to grow too quickly, resulting in itchy, painful patches of thick, red skin covered with silvery scales called plaques. There are various types of psoriasis, one being psoriasis triggered or exacerbated by hard water. Hard water contains a high amount of minerals like calcium and magnesium which can irritate psoriatic skin. If you have psoriasis and believe hard water may be worsening your symptoms, there are steps you can take to reduce flair-ups and manage your condition.
What is Hard Water?
Hard water contains a high concentration of minerals, specifically calcium and magnesium ions. These minerals make their way into ground and surface water by dissolving from surrounding soil and rock. The amount of dissolved calcium and magnesium determines how “hard” or “soft” the water is.
Water hardness is measured in grains per gallon (gpg) or milligrams per liter (mg/L). The higher the gpg or mg/L, the harder the water. According to the United States Geological Survey, water is considered:
- Soft at 0-60 mg/L or 0-3.5 gpg
- Moderately hard at 61-120 mg/L or 3.5-7 gpg
- Hard at 121-180 mg/L or 7-10.5 gpg
- Very hard over 180 mg/L or over 10.5 gpg
Hard water is found across the United States but is most prevalent in the Midwest, Great Plains, Florida, and New England regions. Well water in particular tends to be harder than municipal sources.
How Hard Water Impacts Psoriasis
The minerals in hard water, especially calcium, can have an irritating effect on psoriasis plaques. Here’s a look at some of the ways hard water exacerbates psoriasis:
- Irritation from mineral deposits– When hard water evaporates, it leaves behind mineral deposits on the skin. These deposits can cause irritation, itching, and cracking.
- Disruption of skin’s protective barrier– Hard water minerals bind with oils on the skin’s surface, disrupting the skin barrier. This allows irritants in and moisture to escape, worsening plaques.
- Increase in skin cell growth– Calcium has been shown to stimulate rapid turnover of skin cells. For those with psoriasis, it accelerates the already accelerated growth cycle, causing plaques to worsen.
- Inflammation– Calcium activates inflammation pathways and the release of inflammatory compounds that can flare psoriasis.
- Worsened symptoms after bathing/showering– Bathing and showering with hard water leaves mineral residue on the skin. As it dries, the skin becomes tight, itchy and inflamed.
Those with psoriasis find their symptoms aggravated after bathing or swimming in hard water. Outbreaks tend to occur most frequently on parts of the body that receive the most exposure to water, like the scalp, hands, arms, and torso.
Treatment Options for Hard Water Psoriasis
If you have psoriasis and believe hard water is exacerbating your symptoms, here are some ways to reduce flair-ups:
Install a Water Softener
One of the most effective ways to minimize the impact of hard water on psoriasis is to install a water softener. Water softeners work by using ion exchange resin beads that attract and latch onto the calcium and magnesium ions. This allows only softened water to flow through to your home’s pipes and fixtures.
Look for a softener that reduces hardness to the recommended level for sensitive skin of 0-3 gpg. The optimal water softness for psoriasis is 0-1 gpg.
Be sure to soften both hot and cold water lines. It’s best to soften water at the point it enters your home rather than at individual fixtures. Work with a reputable water treatment company for proper installation.
Using properly softened water for bathing, showering, and washing hands and hair will help prevent mineral residue from building up and irritating your skin.
Filter Shower Water
If a whole home water softener isn’t an option, you can filter your shower water alone. Shower filters fit the shower head and use filtering media like KDF (kinetic degradation fluxion), calcium sulfite, or polyphosphate to selectively remove hardness minerals.
Look for a shower filter certified by NSF International that reduces chlorine for additional skin benefits. Avoid crude filters as they become clogged quickly. Replace cartridges regularly as directed.
Install a Scale Reducer
Scale reducers, also called salt-free water conditioners, don’t remove minerals but change the structure of calcium and magnesium so they don’t bind to surfaces. This prevents scale build-up on skin and hair.
Scale reducers use a media like zinc and polyphosphates to transform hardness minerals so they stay in a suspended, inactive state. The water feels slick and softened without removing beneficial minerals.
Scale reducers require little maintenance compared to water softeners. However, they may not provide the same scale prevention and softening effects as a water softener.
Use Cleansing Products for Hard Water
Look for bath gels, shampoos, and conditioners formulated for hard water areas. These contain chelating ingredients like EDTA (ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid) that bind to mineral ions and prevent them from depositing on the skin and scalp.
Chelating cleansers help remove any mineral residue left behind from washing in hard water. Using them regularly helps minimize hard water’s drying effects.
Gently exfoliating allows you to slough off dead, dry skin cells. This helps remove any mineral deposits left on the skin from hard water while improving circulation.
Avoid harsh scrubs. Instead, use a soft washcloth, psoriasis-friendly scrub, or electric cleansing brush 2-3 times a week. Be extra gentle over patches of inflamed skin.
Exfoliating also allows moisturizers to better penetrate for hydration and healing effects.
Moisturize After Bathing
Applying moisturizer immediately after bathing helps trap moisture and prevent your skin from drying out. Opt for thick, creamy moisturizers that contain colloidal oatmeal, shea butter, ceramides, or hyaluronic acid.
If you have scalp psoriasis worsened by hard water, apply a moisturizing oil like argan, coconut, or jojoba oil to damp hair after washing.
Use Shower/Bath Oil
Bath and shower oils create a protective barrier on the skin to seal in moisture as you bathe or shower. They contain oils like sunflower, coconut, and olive oil to moisturize while helping prevent drying minerals from being deposited.
Apply shower oil before getting wet or add a capful of bath oil as the tub fills. Gently pat excess oil off after bathing.
Limit Bathing Time
Taking short showers and baths minimizes your exposure to hard water. Limit showers to 5-10 minutes max with lukewarm vs hot water. Take quick baths and avoid soaking for long periods.
Rinsing hair quickly with your head under the water stream also decreases contact with hard minerals.
Running humidifiers, especially in bedrooms, add needed moisture to the air. This helps counteract any drying effects on your skin from washing in hard water.
Look for warm mist or ultrasonic humidifiers which disperse minerals in the water as a fine mist. Change the water daily and clean it regularly.
Install Water Filter
Under-sink, countertop, faucet mount, or pitcher filters help remove chlorine and other contaminants that can irritate psoriasis. However, most don’t treat hardness. Reverse osmosis systems can remove some hardness but waste a lot of water.
If on well water with heavy sediment, a whole house sediment filter or iron removal system may help improve symptoms before softening. Avoid crude filters that release sediment.
Try Apple Cider Vinegar Rinse
Rinsing hair with a diluted apple cider vinegar solution may help remove mineral residue and improve scalp psoriasis. Mix 1 part vinegar with 1-3 parts filtered water. Rinse hair, let sit 1-2 minutes then wash as normal.
Test on a small area first to rule out irritation. Rinse with cool water to prevent a burning sensation on the scalp.
There’s evidence that eating an anti-inflammatory diet high in produce, whole grains, lean proteins, and omega-3s while limiting processed foods, gluten, and dairy may improve psoriasis. Staying hydrated and limiting alcohol intake may also help.
Preventing Psoriasis Flares
While you can’t completely prevent psoriasis flares, the following measures can help reduce episodes when living in a hard water area:
- Install a water softener or conditioner to remove/deactivate hardness minerals
- Use a shower filter to strip minerals during bathing
- Frequently exfoliate and moisturize skin after washing
- Limit bath/shower time to 5-10 minutes
- Pat skin dry and immediately apply moisturizer
- Look for cleansing products labeled for hard water
- Avoid harsh, drying soaps and excessive hot water
- Consider swimming in saltwater pools vs highly chlorinated pools
- Humidify air, especially during cold, dry months
- Stay hydrated and eat an anti-inflammatory diet
- Keep stress levels low and get 7-9 hours of sleep per night
- Wear gloves for wet work to avoid hand exposure
- Talk to your doctor about topical treatments to manage outbreaks
While hard water may not trigger psoriasis, it can certainly worsen symptoms. Take steps to reduce contact with hard water minerals to prevent irritation and flares. Keep skin moisturized and exfoliated. With the right treatment plan, you can manage psoriasis even in the hardest water areas.
Frequently Asked Questions About Hard Water Psoriasis
Here are answers to some common questions about how hard water impacts psoriasis and what you can do to find relief.
Why does hard water irritate psoriasis?
Hard water contains high levels of calcium and magnesium minerals that deposit on the skin. These mineral residues disrupt the skin’s protective barrier and excess calcium activates inflammation and rapid skin cell growth – two triggers for psoriasis flares. The minerals essentially over-sensitize the skin, causing itching, burning, cracking, and worsened plaques.
What level of water hardness is bad for psoriasis?
Water over 3.5 grains per gallon (60mg/L) is considered hard. However, those with psoriasis may notice irritation starting at levels as low as 1-2 gpg (17-34 mg/L). For minimal impact on psoriasis, aim for 0-1 gpg (0-17 mg/L) which is considered ultrasoft.
Does softening water help with psoriasis?
Yes, one of the most effective ways to prevent hard water from aggravating psoriasis is to soften it. Water softeners remove the calcium and magnesium ions so only softened water flows from fixtures. Soft water prevents mineral buildup on the skin and hair without irritation. Reducing hardness below 2-3 gpg is recommended for those with psoriasis.
What’s better for psoriasis – a water softener or filter?
Water softeners are better for managing psoriasis as they specifically remove minerals causing problems. Most filters don’t affect hardness. However, shower filters can help strip minerals during bathing. For whole-house treatment, a properly installed water softener provides the best relief.
Can I just soften my shower water?
You can install a shower head water softener or filter. However, it’s best to soften both hot and cold water lines at the main source entering your home. This provides softened water for all uses – bathing, washing, laundry, cooking, etc. – giving maximum mineral reduction for eased psoriasis symptoms.
What natural remedies help with hard water and psoriasis?
Exfoliating regularly, moisturizing after bathing, limiting bath time, and using humidifiers can help relieve symptoms when you have hard water and psoriasis. Apple cider vinegar rinses may remove some mineral deposits as well. Be sure to treat outbreaks as directed by your doctor. Diet and lifestyle changes may also provide additional relief.
Can I still wash my hair with hard water if I have scalp psoriasis?
You’ll want to take steps to filter or soften the water washing over your scalp. At a minimum, install a shower filter and use a chelating shampoo. Quickly rinse hair facing the shower stream. Apply oil to damp hair after washing. Limit hair washing to 1-2 times a week if possible. This minimizes contact between irritating minerals and your sensitive scalp.
With some adjustments, those with psoriasis can manage their symptoms even in the hardest water. Work to reduce your exposure to water high in calcium and magnesium, while providing moisture and care to the skin. Getting outbreaks under control and seeing improvements is possible by taking the right steps.
If you struggle with psoriasis flare-ups and believe your hard water may be making symptoms worse, know there are effective solutions. Installing a water softener or conditioner provides the most comprehensive way to avoid skin irritation by removing/deactivating hardness minerals. Shower filters, moisturizing, and exfoliating also help reduce the impact of washing in hard water.
While hard water exposure can certainly exacerbate psoriasis, managing your symptoms is possible. With a combination of at-home treatments and medications as directed by your dermatologist, you can reduce outbreaks for clearer skin. Adjusting your bathing habits, diet, and lifestyle factors may also improve your skin’s resilience.
Don’t hesitate to explore various options to determine the best hard water remedy for your situation. Finding the right approach will provide welcome relief from the itching, burning, and inflammation of psoriasis. With reduced flare-ups, you can enjoy bathing and everyday activities again without worrisome irritation. So take back control by minimizing hard water’s effects and finding your best path to calm, clear, comfortable skin.
Faizan Ahmad is a passionate medical writer and health enthusiast. He joined Quick Medico in 2023 as a place to provide reliable information and resources about health, diseases, and wellness topics.
Now as the editor-in-chief of Quick Medico, Faizan leads a team of experienced medical writers and health professionals. His goal is to make complex health topics easy to understand and provide readers with practical information to improve their health and well-being.
Outside of work, Faizan enjoys being in nature, reading non-fiction books, and spending time with friends and family. He brings his natural curiosity and passion for lifelong learning to every article he writes or edits for Quick Medico. Faizan lives in Islamabad, Pakistan, and looks forward to continuing to grow Quick Medico into a leading health information site that empowers readers to take control of their health.