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Hard Water Woes

Hard Water Woes

Woman washing her hair with shampoo

You follow the curly hair method, but you are frustrated with dry, tangled, frizzy hair and buildup even after switching to lighter hair products. Could you have hard water?

What is hard water?

Hard water is high in heavy minerals, such as calcium and magnesium. You know you have hard water if you get white buildup and spots on dishes or inside your dishwasher. Well water is often hard. 

Hard water adversely affects hair texture, fades hair color, and leads to excessive dryness. The heavy minerals in hard water can lead to calcium build-up in your hair. This build-up obstructs your hair from absorbing moisturizers from hair care products. Another problem is minerals crystallizing on your scalp and hair shaft, making the hair heavy, brittle, and often leading to hair breakage. Mineral build-up can interfere with the shampoo’s effectiveness, co-wash or low poo, and clog the pores. Clogged pores can cause itching and inflammation, making the scalp environment amenable to bacterial and fungal growth. Dandruff can become more severe as well.

How can you solve this problem?

I. Install a water treatment filter or water softener 

The best solution for a hard water problem is to install a water treatment filter or a water softener fitted to your tap or showerhead. Shower filters do not soften water thoroughly but do remove some of the minerals. Depending on your preference and budget, you can install a whole-house or point-of-use water softener. 

Here are some popular shower filters:

Water softener:

  • You can install a whole-house system, but a simpler one is the ShowerStick ($220) 

II. Use a chelating shampoo  

Another option is to use a hard water or chelating shampoo to clarify your hair. Specially formulated chelating shampoos remove metals, minerals, and the type of build-up caused by hard water. They are harsher on your hair than a clarifying shampoo. You should only use a chelating shampoo if you need it, as it may cause significant dryness. Use of a deep conditioner treatment after a chelating shampoo is highly recommended.

Commonly used chelating ingredients to look for include:

  • Disodium EDTA (Ethylamine Diamine Tetraacetic Acid)
  • HEDTA (hydroxyethyl ethylenediamine triacetic acid) 
  • Oxalic acids
  • Pentasodium Pentetate
  • Phytic acid
  • Polyphosphates
  • Sodium gluconate 
  • Sodium phytate
  • Tetrasodium EDTA 

Some popular chelating shampoos recommended for hard water build-up are:

  1. Malibu C Hard Water Wellness Shampoo

Ingredients: Water/Aqua/Eau, Sodium C14-16 Olefin Sulfonate, Cocamide DIPA, Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate, Butylene Glycol, Glycerin, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, PEG-120 Methyl Glucose Dioleate, Disodium EDTA, Sodium Lauryl Sulfoacetate, Panthenol, Hydrolyzed Rice Protein, PEG-16 Macadamia Glycerides, Polyquaternium 10, Linum Usitatissimum Seed Extract, Sodium Gluconate, Glucose, Citric Acid, Phenoxyethanol, Potassium Sorbate, Fragrance/Parfum, Limonene, Benzyl Benzoate, Linalool

  1. Sally’s Ion Hard Water Shampoo

Ingredients: Water, Sodium C14-16 Olefin Sulfonate, Cocamide Dipa, Sodium Chloride, Butylene Glycol, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Glycerin, Phenoxyethanol, Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate, Disodium EDTA, Fragrance, Sodium Lauryl Sulfoacetate, Sodium Gluconate, Peg-120 Methyl Glucose Dioleate, Potassium Sorbate, Panthenol, Citric Acid, Polyquaternium-10, Glucose, Linum Usitatissimum (Linseed) Seed Extract, Benzoic Acid, Ascorbic Acid, Blue 1, Hexyl Cinnamal, Limonene, Linalool

Other treatments for hard water:

  1. Ion Crystal Clarifying Treatment packets ($3)

Ingredients: Sodium Gluconate, Ascorbic Acid, Xanthan Gum, Disodium EDTA, Glucose, Citric Acid, Malic Acid, Polyquaternium-10, Allantoin, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice

  1. Malibu C Demineralizer treatment packets ($4)

Ingredients: Glucose, Ascorbic Acid, Sodium Gluconate, Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate, Disodium EDTA, Citric Acid, Xanthan Gum, Betaine

III. Are Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) Rinses effective in removing hard water build up?

Although vinegar has been shown to break down minerals often found in hard water, such as magnesium and calcium, which allows them to be rinsed off your hair; vinegar is not as effective as a chelating shampoo. Also, remember that ACV is acidic and works to tighten and seal the hair cuticle, which is great for high porosity hair. 

You can make your own ACV rinse, or purchase hair products that contain ACV.

For a FREE mini-guide to some hard water products head over to the SHOP page.

Scientific Resources We Find Useful:

  1. The structural implications of water hardness metal uptake by human hair. Evans, A. O., J. M. Marsh, and R. R. Wickett. International Journal of Cosmetic Science 33.5 (2011): 477-482.
  2. Investigation of the interaction between water hardness metals and human hair. Evans, Amber O.  Dissertation University of Cincinnati, 2011.
  3. Metals in female scalp hair globally and its impact on perceived hair health. Godfrey, Simon, et al. International Journal of Cosmetic Science 35.3 (2013): 264-271.
  4. Effects of hard water on hair. Srinivasan, Gautham, et al., International Journal of Trichology 5.3 (2013): 137.
  5. Scanning electron microscopy of hair treated in hard water. Srinivasan, Gautham, and Srinivas Chakravarthy Rangachari, International journal of dermatology 55.6 (2016): e344-e346.
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