What Causes Eczema? The Hard Facts about Water

Hard water harms our skin’s protective barrier and could trigger the onset of eczema, warn leading UK doctors. Whilst eczema costs the NHS £500 million annually, effecting 1/5 children and 1/12 adults; water softeners provide a simple solution to better skin health.

Hard water harms our skin’s protective barrier and could trigger the onset of eczema, warn leading UK doctors. Whilst eczema costs the NHS £500 million annually, effecting 1/5 children and 1/12 adults; water softeners provide a simple solution to better skin health.

The Problem:

Research conducted by two of the UK’s top universities, Kings College London and the University of Sheffield, has uncovered the direct correlation between exposure to hard water and skin sensitivity. In a study first published in October 2016, researchers discovered that the effects of such exposure includes damage to the skin’s barrier – the body’s main protection from external threats such as sun burn and bacteria – and heightened skin sensitivity to irritants found in washing powders and soaps. As the main author of the study Dr Simon Danby from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Infection, Immunity and Cardiovascular Disease explains:

By damaging the skin barrier, washing with hard water may contribute to the development of eczema – a chronic skin condition characterised by an intensely itchy red rash. Patients with eczema are much more sensitive to the effects of hard water than people with healthy skin.

Hard water is highly alkaline and consequently raises the pH level of the skin which is normally acidic. It contains high levels of calcium and magnesium ions, which attach to surfactants such as sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium lauryl ether sulfate (SLES) and turn them insoluble so that they precipitate on the skin’s surface. As a result, the skin pH shifts towards alkalinity, disturbing the skin’s natural role as a barrier and leaving it susceptible to infective bacteria.

In total eczema costs the NHS £500 million per year, with one in five children and one in twelve adults suffering from the condition. Our skin is most vulnerable to damage at the start of life and therefore babies and young children are most at risk of developing painfully sensitive skin and eczema.

The Solution:

Water softeners provide a simple solution to the problem of hard water. When water flows through a softening system the calcium and magnesium ions that cause skin irritation are trapped by millions of microscopic resin beads and exchanged for sodium or potassium (salt) ions. Water softeners are engineered to regenerate themselves. As the resin beads collect increasing amounts of calcium and magnesium ions they begin to lose charge, however with the addition of block salts the beads are regenerated, and the calcium and magnesium ions are harmlessly washed away.



Article References:

https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/news/nr/eczema-treatments-research-hardwater-skin-conditions-1.731633

https://www.kcl.ac.uk/newsevents/news/newsrecords/2017/09-September/The-hard-truth-about-eczema-it's-something-in-the-water.aspx

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written by

Tristan Colbeck

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