Once we caught wind of the fact that tap water might be causing our breakouts, we had a minor freakout. I mean, just imagine how much tap water has touched our faces. Plus, what else are we supposed to wash our faces with? Water from the springs that run atop a magical mountain? Bottles of Evian?!
After we finished freaking out and looking at our sinks with disdain, we decided to get to the bottom of the tap water/breakout debacle. To do so, we reached out to Dr. Julia Tzu, the Founder and Medical Director of Wall Street Dermatology. She very kindly answered the following questions:
Does tap water actually cause breakouts? Why or why not?
“While there has been no solid published evidence linking acne breakouts to hard water, it is entirely possible that in a subset of patients with sensitive skin, daily use of hard water along with a harsher detergent-based cleanser can irritate the skin and induce acne flare ups.”
Side note from the author: Hard water is not treated and contains dissolved minerals like magnesium and calcium. As for soft water, it is treated and only contains sodium ions.
Is there any conclusive data or research stating that tap water causes breakouts? Or, have you noticed this trend based on personal experience?
“No, there is not. However, from personal experience, every time I travel to a new city or country, I find that my facewash interacts differently (you can feel the difference on your skin and hair) with the local waters, causing me to wash my face more or less frequently. Excessive facial cleansing can increase acne, based on my personal experience.”
How can you tell if tap water is causing your breakouts or if it’s something else?
“Continue your same daily routine in terms of both diet and skincare regimen (and everything else). However, switch your rinsing water to filtered water and see whether this improves your acne (or overall skin condition). If so, it is possible that hard water is the problem causing your skin issues.”
Are some people more sensitive to tap water than others? If so, why?
“Yes, patients with atopic dermatitis, also known commonly as eczema, are more sensitive to tap water skin irritation than others. Epidemiological evidence has suggested a correlation between prevalence of eczema and hard water usage, although one clinical trial evaluating soft vs hard waters on this population demonstrated only minor improvements when these subjects were switched to soft waters.”
If tap water is causing your breakouts, what should you do about it? How should you treat it?
“Before you go all out with purified or filtered water, try switching your facewash to a gentle cleanser formulated for people with sensitive skin. Also switch your moisturizer to a noncomedogenic, hypoallergenic moisturizer. If this doesn’t work, consider purchasing a water filtration system OR go visit your dermatologist. There are many prescription-based topical medications that can help with acne regardless of whether it is caused by hard water or any other factor.”