Washing your face is an important part of any skincare routine, and as such, we're always on the lookout for products that will leave our pores clean and our skin soft. But what about the other thing that’s touching our face as we wash? Tap water. We often use water purifiers to make it as safe as possible for drinking, so does that mean tap water could have detrimental effects on our skin?
In Paris, many French women avoid washing their face with tap water due to the city’s notoriously “hard” water that’s full of minerals like calcium and magnesium that can leave your hair and your skin parched and peeling from dryness. Instead, micellar water is seen as a better option for cleansing.
So, should we start researching what kind of water the city we live in has, and then stop washing our face? We spoke with New York City-based cosmetic dermatologist Michele Green, M.D. about tap water, and what we can all do to help make sure our skin remains as nourished as possible during our cleansing routines.
Meet the Expert
Michele Green, MD, is a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist based in NYC. She is the founder of MG Skin Labs.
Is Tap Water Bad For Your Skin?
According to Green, tap water can have some ill effect on your skin, but how much depends on your skin type. “Yes, tap water can definitely damage your skin, especially if your skin is sensitive,” she says. “However, for some people it may not affect their skin, so it varies from person to person.”
It will also depend on what kind of water your city has. All tap water has minerals, but the amount of minerals in the water will determine how much stress you could be putting your skin under. “It’s the minerals that the water contains which can be damaging to the skin,” Green tells us. “Normally tap water contains high amounts of heavy metals such as calcium, magnesium, copper, zinc, and iron.” The amount of these minerals will be much higher with hard water, which Green says is the worst for your face.
“Hard water contains high volumes of calcium and magnesium. Such minerals like these makes it really hard for the water to form a solution with soap,” she says. “With all the impurities in hard water such as iron and magnesium, they can form free radicals that can simply damage your healthy skin cells. So soft water is definitely better for the skin because it’s much gentler as it contains little to no extra calcium or magnesium or other heavy metals.”
What Kind of Damage Can It Cause?
If your skin is sensitive and is repeatedly exposed to hard water, Green notes that it could do anything from cause surface dryness to even exacerbate acne: “Tap water can cause dryness, irritation and even breakouts because it can clog your pores,” she tells us. “It can also make your psoriasis worse or any other skin condition.”
The minerals in the water, she says, are too heavy for most people — so it can disrupt our skin’s natural barrier and leave it unprotected. “It forces the skin to be exposed to other harmful substances and also moisture is lost from within,” she says. Additionally, it might speed up the loss of collagen in your skin: “These heavy metals can cause oxidative reactions to occur, causing more free radicals to form which can eventually lead to the breakdown of elastic tissue and collagen — the two most important things that keep our skin looking healthy, firm and youthful.”
What Can You Do To Minimize the Damage?
While micellar water is a fantastic option if you want to completely eliminate tap water from your skincare routine—in France, the cult favorite is Bioderma Sensibio, and luckily it’s also available in the U.S.—there are steps you can take to make washing your face at your bathroom sink better for your skin. First, do a little research on what kind of water your city has. If it’s soft water, you likely have little to worry about.
However, if it’s hard water, Green says a water softener can work wonders. “Water softeners are specifically designed to eliminate harsh minerals found in hard water such as calcium, magnesium, and iron,” she says. ‘This will help make the water less harsh on your skin and it’ll make it easier to use for everyday purposes.”
Of course, tap water is still okay to use on your skin once in a while, like when you shower—just be sure to add a lot of moisture back to your face immediately afterwards, like by using a good serum and moisturizer.
Danby SG, Brown K, Wigley AM, et al. The effect of water hardness on surfactant deposition after washing and subsequent skin irritation in atopic dermatitis patients and healthy control subjects. J Invest Dermatol. 2018;138(1):68-77. doi:10.1016/j.jid.2017.08.037
Henning MAS, Ibler KS, Ullum H, et al. The association between water hardness and xerosis-results from the Danish blood donor study. PLoS One. 2021;16(6):e0252462. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0252462