Hard Water & Hair: A Guide to the Signs, Effects & Solutions

Does your hair constantly feel stiff, dry? Does it look dull and dingy? Does your colour lose a little more clarity with every shampoo… even turn weird shades of green, yellow, orange or brown?

If you answered “yes” to one or more of these questions, it’s a sure thing you’ve got hard water. 

Hard water can really mess with your hair texture and colour, making it very hard to style and leaving you with zip zero shine. We’ve been there, and know first-hand how frustrating it is to deal with “hard water hair,” especially if you don’t even know you have it!

dr joe cincottaWell, fret no more! Today on the blog we’re diving into the signs of hard water on hair with the help of our in-house chemist, Dr. Joe Cincotta, PhD, to help you find out if hard water’s been stressing out your tresses.

And, we’ll share quick, easy solutions to bring your hair back to its shimmery, silky-soft best...with picture-perfect colour!

FIRST, A LITTLE BACKGROUND... WHAT IS HARD WATER?

hard water contents“Hard water” is water that has a high mineral content – especially calcium and magnesium – in comparison to soft water.

Hard water isn’t bad for your overall health. In fact, hard water is typically free of microbes and bacteria because of minerals like copper, aluminum and silver. And the calcium in hard water is actually good for your bones and teeth.
 

BUT WHERE DOES HARD WATER COME FROM?

rainwater harvestingIt can originate from various sources, including underground aquifers, wells, and reservoirs. As rainwater seeps into the ground, it percolates through layers of soil and rock, dissolving minerals along the way.

This mineral-rich water then finds its way into underground aquifers, which serve as natural reservoirs. 

When the water is pumped out of these aquifers or drawn from wells, it retains its mineral content, resulting in hard water.

Additionally, water that flows through city pipes can pick up metals and minerals like copper and manganese or even lead in older systems. In developed countries, water treatment plants typically remove “hard” minerals. That said, some treatment plants actually ADD minerals (magnesium, calcium) to tap water to improve drinking flavour, and even provide health benefits like stronger bones and teeth.

metals like iron, copper and manganese can discolor your natural hair color

“Unless you invest in an expensive whole house water filtering system or replaceable shower filters, you cannot avoid exposing your hair to hard water, no matter your water source,” Dr. Joe says.

“When you wash your hair regularly with hard water, minerals such as calcium and magnesium can build up and dull and weigh down your hair. Metals like iron, copper and manganese can discolour your natural hair colour or interact with hair colour chemicals, especially if you have light colour hair or highlights.”

HARD WATER EFFECTS ON HAIR

DOES HARD WATER DAMAGE YOUR HAIR?

While DRINKING hard water isn’t unhealthy, there are a number of hard water effects on hair to be aware of.

Every time you shower, the dissolved minerals in hard water leave a filmy buildup on your hair. And that filmy buildup wreaks havoc. Here are some of the effects of hard water on hair:

  • Makes the surface of your hair dull and coarse, and leaves your hair feeling constantly dirty and icky
  • Blocks critical moisture from getting into your hair, leaving hair dehydrated
  • Distorts natural hair colour (if your hair is colour-treated, it interacts with hair colour chemicals, which warps the tone)
  • Deposits on your scalp, which can cause itching, irritation and dandruff-y conditions.

The minerals in hard water can also affect the performance of shampoos and conditioners. They can reduce the lathering ability of shampoos, making it harder to create a rich foam that effectively cleanses the hair and scalp.

Conditioners may also be less effective in hydrating, smoothing and detangling the hair, as the minerals can interfere with their formulation.

The impact of hard water minerals on virgin hair alone is frustrating. But even more so if you have colour-treated hair, according to Dr. Joe. 

chemically processed hair is especially prone to mineral buildup from hard water

“This is because hair’s normal, natural negative charge increases when hair is chemically processed hair, so chemically altered hair is more magnetically attractive to positively charged metals in hard water. So when you have colour-treated hair, it literally is a magnet for metallic elements in water."


Starting to sound like your situation? The thing is, you can actually see and feel “hard water hair” happening.

Did this ever happen to you? You go on a trip, take a shower, use all your usual hair and skin products, but ugh! Something’s not right. Your skin feels like sandpaper, your hair is like cardboard!

So, you load on lotion, but that just feels worse. The answer is: You are in a super-hard water zone, and have coated yourself with mineral scum!

CAN HARD WATER CAUSE DANDRUFF?

dandruff in hair

While not a direct cause of dandruff, hard water can exacerbate the condition by irritating the scalp and making it harder to rinse away hair products.

This can potentially lead to flakiness and an unhealthy scalp environment.

DOES HARD WATER MAKE HAIR GREASY? 

oily hair close-upHard water can make hair appear greasy due to mineral buildup rather than increased oil production. Additionally, hard water can even reduce the effectiveness of other hair care products, preventing them from properly cleaning and treating the hair...even undermining the efficacy of styling products so you can’t get the sleek or voluminous results you want.  

DIFFERENCE IN HARD AND SOFT WATER

In contrast to hard water, soft water has a low mineral count. This allows for better lathering of shampoos, resulting in cleaner, smoother, and shinier hair.

It helps maintain the hair's natural texture and moisture, and can reduce the amount of product needed for effective cleaning and conditioning.

Overall, soft water is generally more beneficial for hair, preventing the issues commonly associated with hard water.

HOW CAN I TELL IF I HAVE HARD WATER AT MY HOUSE? 

Aside from telltale signs on your hair, hard water mineral deposits might cause:

  • Dry, itchy skin
  • Faded, scratchy, rough-feeling clothes
  • Sluggish appliance behaviour (dishwasher, washer, dryer, heating units break down and seem to have shorter lifespans)
  • When you inspect your bath and kitchen, physical signs of hard water are a dead-giveaway:
    • Mineral buildup around water fixtures
    • Soap scum in bathtub and shower, on curtains and tiles
    • A rimming ring of colour around water in the toilet
    • Spots on dishes and glasses

HARD WATER HAIR CARE: WE’VE GOT YOU COVERED 

What’s the best way to deal with hard water and the problems it creates?

The no. 1 solution is to improve your water source. You can do this mechanically by overhauling your plumbing and installing a complete water filtration system (major time and ££) or installing a filtering shower head (mixed reviews, depending on what minerals are in your household water).

Some people suggest catching rainwater in a barrel (it’s naturally soft) to wash your hair. But first you have to strain out debris and mosquitoes. (No, thank you.)

You can buy gallons of bottled water (must be distilled, not mineral water) to wash your hair. (Expensive, inconvenient and a definite eco no-no.)

If you’re unable to change the source of your water, then finding the right products is the way to go! 

BEST HAIR PRODUCTS FOR HARD WATER

We recommend looking for hair care products specifically designed for hard water. These products are formulated to remove mineral buildup and restore moisture to your hair. 

(Warning: there are a LOT of harsh products on the market and damaging DIY methods floating around the blogosphere. Read this before you do something that takes your “hard water hair” situation from bad to worse!)

it was obvious to our Color Wow team that there is a widespread need to remedy the discoloring and dulling of hair caused by hard water

“It was obvious to our Color Wow team that there is a widespread need to remedy the discolouring and dulling of hair caused by hard water,” Dr. Joe explains.

color wow dream filter“And that the mineral detoxes available were complicated and harsh. So developed a powerful, yet simple, quick and very gentle solution called Dream Filter. 

Before shampooing, you spray it on dry hair and wait 3 minutes. Dream Filter gently lifts away dulling and discolouring minerals that have built up on your hair and they are rinsed away when you shampoo.”

A major innovation and bestselling mineral detox for hair, Dream Filter’s breakthrough formula works like a magnet to attract and encapsulate minerals for ease of rinsing away. 

before and after using color wow dream filter
  • Removes minerals found in water that darken, stain or distort colour
  • Extracts minerals (like copper) that interfere with colour processing
  • Removes elements which leave a dulling film that makes your hair feel rough (calcium, manganese, aluminum)
  • Leaves hair brighter, shinier and silkier in just 3 minutes

Its formula is ultra-gentle and non-stripping, so you can use Dream Filter as often as you need to. Even every day! Which is key if  you swim in a chlorinated pool or live in a very harsh hard water zone. 

How do I use Dream Filter?

color wow shampoo and conditioner range
  1. Apply to dry hair before shampooing.
  2. Spray evenly to saturate hair thoroughly.
  3. Wait one to three minutes before shampooing.
  4. For best results, follow with Color Wow Color Security Shampoo and Conditioner (both sold separately).

    IMPORTANT: Do NOT use immediately after colouring your hair. Wait at least 5-7 shampoos.

    Need a little more convincing? We’ve compiled some Dream Filter reviews into this article so you can read up on why our global Color Wow Fam is obsessed! 

    By understanding what hard water is, how to identify its presence, and the impact it has on the texture of your hair and the tone of your hair colour, you can take proactive steps to prevent and treat damage and discolouration.

    Whether through specialized hair care products, home remedies, or whole-house water softening systems, you can enjoy healthier-looking hair and colour that looks fresh and vibrant despite the challenges of hard water.

    --

    Read more hair care tips and tricks on the Color Wow Blog:

    Dr. Cincotta holds a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from the City University of New York, and is currently VP of Research + Development at Color Wow.

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