Can Water Softeners Cause Skin Problems?

The mineral concentration, specifically magnesium and calcium, in water is what determines its hardness or softness. As the mineral concentration diminishes, the water softness increases. Soft water is more favorable for washing as compared to hard water since soft water uses less detergent. Soft water lathers easily making it very convenient to wash with. This makes it a favorite choice for many. The same argument applies when it comes to bathing. On the question of which between the two causes skin problems, hard water is known to be the culprit. However, some people react negatively to water softeners.

Effects of Hard and Soft Water on the Skin

The water you use to bath affects the outcome of your skin. Soft water causes a slick and slippery feeling. Due to the high mineral content in hard water, a scummy residue will be left on your skin after you take the shower. This scum can also be seen on different surfaces of your bathroom. Apart from leaving scum on your skin and bathroom surfaces, hard water may cause clogging in the water drainage system. The same thing happens to the skin pores. Your skin pores will be clogged immediately after you shower with hard water. The clogged skin pores will then cause the skin to breakout and you will eventually begin to suffer from terrible skin conditions like eczema and acne.

What leads to skin breakouts when you bath with hard water?

Many people may fail to understand why the skin breaks out after bathing with hard water. The body produces natural oils which are distributed via the skin pores. When clogging occurs on the pores, the oils become trapped leading to formation of pimple like blemishes. Pimples are not the only things that you get from hard water; you will also experience an itchy and irritated skin. Your skin also feels very dry causing you to use a lot of lotion as you try to get rid of the dryness. Your skin is no longer lubricated since the natural oils can no longer do their work, which includes holding moisture. With hard water, your skin is likely to age faster.

How Water Softeners Work

In order to get rid of the hardness in water, you need to purchase a water softener. It is the most permanent and most effective solution for dealing with hard water dilemmas. There are various water softeners in the market. Some are salt based while others use potassium. The only way to get rid of hardness in water is by removing magnesium and calcium. When hard water is passed via a water softening system, magnesium and calcium ions are removed in a process that involves ion exchange. After this process, the water becomes soft and no traces of scum can be detected.

Skin Problems Caused by Water Softeners

Despite the fact that soft water is supposed to give you a healthy and exceptional skin, some people may react differently to water softeners. If you are one of those people who itch like crazy after showering with water that has been softened, then you could be sensitive to the chemical properties in the softener.

Most people react to the chlorine in water softeners. After you report the case to your local dermatologist, the first thing that they will advise you on is the change of your bathing soap. When this doesn’t work, your case is now confirmed; you skin is sensitive to the softener. Increased chemical dermal absorption is the reason why people experience itching. Water softeners remove the scum that was acting as a barrier on your pores leading to increased absorption. This itching has high chances of causing skin breakouts which will then lead to bleeding. To minimize the itching, you can choose to add a carbon filter.

In general, hard water has more adverse effects on your skin. Unless your skin is sensitive to the water softener, you should always use soft water to shower. Soft water might not be a cure for various skin conditions but it helps to get rid of irritation and improves the health of your skin.

35 Comments
  1. Reply janis bush May 4, 2017 at 3:25 pm

    I just spent 3 weeks on the East Coast. I was without softened water the entire time. I have itched for years on my back and scalp…..have Fibroyalgia and was told the itching is an artifact of the Fibromyalgia.

    ON my trip, the itching went away.

    Home from my trip and a week back into our home softened water system, I am itching again. I wonder if the soft water is the culprit not the Fibromyalgia.

    I guess I should try washing with the “hotel soaps” first instead of deodorant soap to rule out the chemicals in my soap at home,.

    Help?

    • Reply bettie January 22, 2018 at 1:46 am

      put a rain barrel and try to pan bath for awhile. It is naturally soft water with no chemicals and leaves the skin feeling wonderfully soft and no itching or burning. the medium used in the softner can and will cause problems with excessive itching if you have an allergic reaction to it as both me and my husband has had. maybe a shallow well being put at your home may help as most shallow wells contain acidic water (soft). They say that soft water is bad for you, but I grew up drinking water from a spring head and never felt better in my life. Give it a try and let me know how that you feel afterwards.

  2. Reply Rosanne Kouris May 29, 2017 at 12:21 pm

    We just moved into a new home in the country with well water. The home has a water softener, something our previous home did not have. After a few months, I noticed I was getting itchy skin and thought that maybe I was just getting older and needed more moisturizer. That helped a bit, but I started to notice that my skin itched the most right after a shower, especially my ankles and feet. What the heck? There wasn’t any redness or breakouts, just intense itching that could not be stopped by scratching.

    I suspected the water, since the soap I was using was the same I had used for years. I read somewhere that vinegar helps with itchy skin, so I tried that on my feet. YES! It did improve, but not totally. I eventually stopped using soap altogether, though I still use shampoo on my hair. But NO soap on feet, arms, legs, tummy. Then I spritz down with vinegar – full strength – rub it in and the briefly rinse it. It has help immensely!!

    I had noticed that after washing my hands with soap in the softened water, it seems like you can never get all the soap off. A little bit of vinegar immediately takes away the slippery feeling and makes it feel like your hands are actually clean. It works the same in the shower.

  3. Reply Michael Taylor August 4, 2017 at 11:38 am

    We had a water softener fitted in February 2017. In June 2017 I developed a subdermal very itchy rash; no redness but the skin was ‘bobbly’. I was prescribed anti histamines. A few days later my wife developed the same symptoms. We changed our soap to no avail. We then both developed spots of various sizes on our skin treated with anti histamines, antibiotics and steroid creams. Very gradual improvement in spots but no effect on the itching.
    Three weeks ago we suddenly realised that the only thing that had changed in our environment was the fitting of the water softener.
    We used the bypass valve and reverted to our original hard water.
    The itching has reduced by about 85% and the skin eruptions are also rapidly going away.
    We are going to have the water softener removed.

    • Reply Donna Mcgkldrick January 30, 2019 at 5:22 pm

      I’m having the same reaction since October 2018

    • Reply Spencer Barnes August 5, 2017 at 2:41 am

      Sorry to hear that Michael, it’s a shame not everybody gets along with softened water.

  4. Reply Julia Ferguson August 6, 2017 at 6:53 am

    Michael did you check the type of salt you are adding? We had to change to the pure salt kind – we had the Morton’s salt that adds a chemical cleaner to it and many people report itchy skin and hives. I would check that before removing possibly? We just went thru this, used our shop vac to suck out all the salt/brine at the base of the unit.

    • Reply Danielle September 18, 2018 at 6:52 pm

      Hi julia, what is the same of the salt you use?

  5. Reply Pam September 21, 2017 at 5:23 am

    I have a water softener. I went out of town for 4 weeks did great with the hard water but 3 or 4 weeks after I got back home my skin started burning badly and still is and very dry. Is it my softened water ? Yes we have changed the salt to everything sold. Thanks

    • Reply Robbie February 28, 2018 at 6:03 pm

      Hi

      Which water softener salt is chemical free? Thanks

  6. Reply roma matthew November 2, 2017 at 6:26 pm

    we have water softener in our apt my skin just burns and i am so itchy

  7. Reply UGH December 16, 2017 at 3:37 pm

    Water softeners make your skin feel disgusting. It can NEVER be rinsed! I never feel clean now. My skin is PEELING from the water softeners! This horrible? Why do people invent USELESS things that you pay money for and are harmful like this? Same with vertical blinds and the like. Useless, annoying and harmful!

  8. Reply Glen December 22, 2017 at 5:56 pm

    This article seems to give the impression that water-softener-softened water is less likely to give you skin problems than hard water. That is false, but thank goodness all the comments here are clearing up the misconception with all the anecdotes. Anecdotal evidence is not great, but the completely unsupported misconception that water-softener-softened water is safer for skin than hard water is not something anyone should be dispersing. For a much better article on this matter see this:
    https://www.thoughtco.com/difficulty-rinsing-soap-with-soft-water-607879

    It is absolutely undeniable that water-softener-softened water does not wash away soaps and shampoos as well as hardened water does. When washing skin with soap and water-softener-softened water, many people will need to be extra thorough because the over-abundance of sodium and potassium ions and lack of calcium and magnesium in the water-softener-softened water will prevent the water from bonding and clearing away the soap. This in-turn can lead to rashes. Natural soft water (like rainwater) is not hard, but does not contain the over-abundance of sodium and potassium ions found in water-softener-softened water, so it is safer for you skin than water-softener-softened water.

    Water-softener-softened water is nice on your plumbing but more dangerous for your skin than hard water.

    I happen to be like the many others that have developed rashes or itching due to water-softener-softened water. For me, it manifests as a rash on my hands when I am forced to use water-softener-softened water for more than a couple days. I know to be extra thorough when using the water-softener-softened water, but still I usually get a rash after a few days of use because it is so difficult to get the soap off. With “hard” water, I have NEVER developed a rash on my hands, and I can wash my hands and take a shower in less than half the time I need to take using the water-softener-softened water.

  9. Reply Robbie February 28, 2018 at 6:02 pm

    Well hindsight always being 20/20, we had a water softener installed and a drinking water only reverse osmosis water filter. after showering my skin is very dry and itchy and lots of itching red bumps. Hair is dry and brittle. Changed soaps, nothing. I have taken to heating a pan of the drinking water on the stove and rinsing my hair and skin with that and it is a bit better . Now of course after spending over $1000 on the water softener I want to try a different salt. We have the Morton in there now.

    Can anybody be recommend the salt that is chemical free?

    Thank you

    • Reply Danielle September 9, 2018 at 11:59 am

      Hi, since you posted this, have you changed your salt? I have the exact same problem & my husband was told my dermatologist he has “Grover’s Disease” which is basically “itchy red bump disease”. I need a solution because I dread washing my hair due to the damage the salt has caused.

  10. Reply Eva Sumter April 9, 2018 at 11:31 pm

    Wow! We have Morton’s as well and I have been very itchy. We been having a water softener and have been enjoying it until now since we switched to Morton’s. This comment confirms I’m not imagining my itchiness.

  11. Reply margaret April 27, 2018 at 4:46 pm

    Same thing for me, we moved to an apartment that has soft water. My skin started to have itchy spots on my knees stomache back. I started using exema cream didnt help, this went on for a year and the just now I decided to check this out on the internet and found this page where others have the same problem with soft water. ugh.

  12. Reply Afgaret July 20, 2018 at 7:14 am

    Has anyone found that their eyes sting when the face is washed in softened water?

    • Reply Donna Mcgkldrick January 30, 2019 at 5:27 pm

      Yes very much, they turned red and crepy!!! Very upset with water softner

  13. Reply gzhdilkov September 14, 2018 at 10:25 pm

    Afgaret,

    I just got a water softener last week and am having eye problems that I never had before. Was trying to find some answers. Your question is mine as well.

  14. Reply Amanda Schultz October 23, 2018 at 3:05 am

    I have had eye itching and dryness , and irritation, and even felt it was effecting me in other areas with extreme itching. We installed a water softener and reverse osmosis system a month ago and I am showering at my moms and drinking bottled water it effected me so severely. My doctor told me not to use it at all.

  15. Reply Kayleigh October 28, 2018 at 10:42 am

    I have had little bumps all over my body – more so on my stomach and chest – and thought maybe it was the all natural soap that I had been using.

    I just got back from a 2 week trip and the little bumps that I had pretty much disappeared during my travels even using the all natural soap!

    I had a new water softener installed less than 2 years ago and use Morton’s and now am suspect of the softener system and/or the settings.

    I will try adjusting the system to use less Morton’s. Maybe that will work?

  16. Reply Caroline November 22, 2018 at 3:29 am

    Ok so I’m not going crazy. I have scratched my sling til it has bruised. I have begun to wonder if I have a weird underlying disease that causes intense itching. But…now I’m thinking it has to be the water. We installed a Water Stick in our shower because we have hard water and you can’t rinse shampoo out with it. This makes the water soft which is great for the hair but my arms and legs are a disaster.
    We use Morton salt without iodine or anti/caking agents so I’m not sure what to do but I can’t continue to scratch this much. Ugh

  17. Reply Judy December 17, 2018 at 11:54 pm

    Uuuhhg ever since we installed our water softener my face has been getting painfull breakouts! I thought it was just a detox but now it’s been over a month dot-dot. Maybe I’ll try a different salt

    • Reply kara December 20, 2018 at 4:32 pm

      Judy I am having the same problem. Ever since I put in a water softener my body has been itchy and then I get breakouts on my face that hurt. Let me know if you find a solution. I have been showering at the gym ugh it is horrible.

  18. Reply Beverly Napoli December 30, 2018 at 3:58 pm

    I have been going crazy with what started out as a rash behind my ears and on my shoulders. I was diagnosed with eczema, prescribed prendnisone an oral steroid, and told to use a lot of lotions. The steroids got rid of the rash immediately, but it came back in a month or so. Meanwhile I had a house guest for a month who reported a similar rash when she returned to Napa. Her condition cleared up immediately upon using some benedryl. I went to a dermatologist who prescribed gabapentin. He told me to keep upping my dosage until I was able to “control the itch”. I got up to 600 mg every 6 hours, and I was still itching like crazy at night and I was do groggy I could hardly get out of bed in the morning. This dr told me to keep taking the gabapentin and that it would take a long time to work. I quit the gabapentin. I went back to the dr’s office and saw a different dr as the gabapentin prescribing dr was not available, however he did tell me over the phone that it was not an allergic reaction so no he did not recommend allergy testing. So now I see this new dr who tell me to stop using all products and that I should do allergy testing! He said he could fit me in in March, it was December 27th!!! Meanwhile I had started using the Morton’s salt pellets in my water softener several months ago. I dumped it out and went to lowe’s this morning only to find out that Morton’s is all they carry. And it was the yellow bag that says it keep rust from forming, that I had been using. So I went to Home Depot and bout Sun Gems again. I hope this works…but I also bought free and clear detergent and I’m doing a bunch of laundry as well. Plus I talked the dr into prescribing the oral steroids again because I can’t take the discomfort not only from the itching and inflammation, but also from quitting the gaberpentin!

  19. Reply Susan Shifman January 24, 2019 at 7:31 pm

    I’m having terrible itching all over my body. I’m unable to do anything because of scratching all the time. I recently purchased a kitten from a shelter, so I immediately thought it could be my kitten. Now after reading this I am convince it is the water softener. I really prefer having soft water, but not if this is the outcome. I’m continuing taking Benadryl to help with the itching.

  20. Reply Jill January 30, 2019 at 5:31 pm

    I switched restaurants and all of the sudden broke out everywhere I came in contact with water. I thought it was soap and chemicals. Nope. It was the water softener……

  21. Reply Jeremy March 27, 2019 at 6:29 am

    I have been searching frantically over the internet trying to figure out why I suddenly broke out in itching hives. I didn’t add two and two together until reading several blogs. It started just a day or two after I switched to Morton’s salt because I was in a hurry and picked it up at a nearby grocery store! It’s a common them I’ve read now and and it has to be the reason! I’m going to empty my salt tank out and go back to the stuff they sell at Lowe’s. Don’t use Morton’s!!!!!!!!!!!!

  22. Reply Donna Mcgkldrick April 29, 2019 at 5:09 pm

    This is my 3rd water softner, everyone broke me out and now I have scars from scratching so much!!! When I unplugged the tank everything was fine, my eyes and neck got it really bad!!! I will not try a 4th…. This is in one year!! 10-18-19 till now

  23. Reply Not-itching-now May 4, 2019 at 7:41 pm

    I lived with my grandparents through college, and they used water softener for all their water (every drinking water!). I had skin issues then, but not as severe. Moved out for grad school, went to a place where river water was used, and my skin never looked better. Every time I visit my grandpa now, I notice an immediate difference in my skin- it goes from soft, supple and smooth, to angry, itchy and VERY dry. I have to use twice as much lotion to calm it down. I have had a long history with eczema, and while there are environmental triggers, the most obvious, and by far the most widespread on my body is the use of detergents with dyes and fragrance, coupled with water softener. I’ll take stained dingy clothes any day over the persistent misery that is caused by softener.

  24. Reply MARTHA ELIZABETH OSORIO June 1, 2019 at 4:07 am

    ok I’m having a lot of issues too – has anybody try different kind of salt like pellets or potassium?

  25. Reply Anupa June 6, 2019 at 2:27 pm

    We just installed water softener and my mouth skin feels like I have eaten something hot and feels burned. Is this from the Softner

    Thanks

  26. Reply Anupa June 6, 2019 at 2:32 pm

    Just installed water softener. My mouth has feeling of I have eaten something hot. Feels as if skin is pealing. Please advise.

  27. Reply Stephanie July 2, 2019 at 8:32 pm

    My parents, from whom I rent, recently installed a filter on the well. Not only does the water taste nasty now and have to be run for 10-15 minutes every morning just to become palatable, but my 7-year-old has started complaining of severe itching with every bath. She occasionally breaks out with tiny bumps too. It always goes away within 8 hours, but it’s so annoying. And our water used to taste so good. I’m mildly allergic to sulfites so drinking the softened water isn’t doing me any favors, either.

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