Your shower water might be the reason for your bad hair day. Hard water — water that is high in calcium and magnesium — is common throughout the US. While it isn’t a health concern, it can negatively affect your hair and skin if you don’t use a shower filter.
“City water is typically recycled and treated to make it safe for use and consumption,” explains Amanda Buechner, trichologist and Function Hair Council member. “Chlorine, sodium chloride, magnesium carbonate, bicarbonates, sulfates, calcium, iron and aluminum can be added to the treatment process to remove particles [and] kill bacteria, parasites and viruses. This makes the water safe for consumption but oftentimes not great for the hair structure and scalp.”
“The chlorine and heavy metals, in particular, strip out the natural oils in our hair and our skin and are the root cause of many of the issues we spend so much time, money and effort trying to resolve — brittle hair, split ends, frizziness, change in hair color, eczema, acne, rashes, even hair loss,” share Arjan Singh and Ryan Babenzien, founders of Jolie.
Buechner also notes that “without a shower filter, the chemicals used in water treatment plants can wreak havoc on the hair,” especially with permanent treatments like hair dyeing or keratin treatments. “These elements can also interact with hair serums and styling products, causing a chemical reaction in the hair,” she says. “Some of these elements will create a crystallizing effect on the hair when mixed with certain ingredients in hair products. This can leave the hair feeling dry and brittle, causing breakage. The hair can become hard to manage with frizz and tangles. The scalp is also at risk of becoming dry and flaky.”
Likewise, hard water can cause skin dryness and make it more difficult to find an effective skin care routine. “One published study tested people with normal skin to the effects of hard water and found that there was a greater residual of an irritating substance, SLS (often referred to simply as sulfates), in people who washed in hard water versus soft,” says Dr. Loretta Ciraldo, a Miami-based board-certified dermatologist and founder of Dr. Loretta skin care. “Also, the amount of water loss from the skin, and subsequent drying, was greater when skin was washed in hard water,” she adds. “For people who have underlying sensitive skin and a form of eczema called atopic dermatitis, they will get worsening of their rash and increased skin itching when washing in hard water.”
How to identify hard water
People who have hard water in their homes may notice soap scum buildup in their showers or that their glassware has water spots or a cloudy film after doing the dishes. This is because calcium in hard water reacts to soap and creates a residue.
To know the exact level of water hardness, Ciraldo recommends getting a hard water testing kit.
For a quick test, “you can also put some liquid soap into a bottle you’ve filled with your own tap water,” the dermatologist says. “If you shake the bottle and don’t get sudsing, this is a sign you have hard water.”
Benefits of a shower filter
Since the shower is where we’re most exposed to tap water, installing a shower filter is worth the investment to protect your hair and skin from the chlorine, metals and minerals that can lurk in the water.
“[A shower filter] helps increase the efficacy of all the topical hair care and skin care products we combine with water (such as your favorite shampoo or serum),” Singh and Babenzien say.
Long-term benefits include skin that is “better hydrated, less red or sensitive,” according to Ciraldo, while Buechner notes positive hair effects like ”fewer tangles, better manageability, more shine and moisture balance within the hair, better color absorption and longer-lasting color.”
The experts we spoke to said there are only benefits to trying a shower filter — the only risk is not using one. Ahead, find the best shower filter to upgrade your hair and skin care.
Best built-in shower filter
$119 $75.02 at Amazon
Buechner recommends Aquasana’s premium shower filter. While the brand has several models available, including standard shower head and handheld shower head options, this version is top rated on Amazon. “Aquasana is a great shower filter for better-looking hair and skin and is A+ rated with a one-year warranty,” Buechner says. It uses multi-stage filtration with KDF-55 and coconut shell carbon to remove chlorine and other contaminants. KDF-55 (which stands for Kinetic Degradation Fluxion) filter media uses a copper-zinc alloy to convert chlorine, heavy metals and harmful bacteria into neutral elements that won’t affect the skin or hair. You’ll need some plumber’s tape for installation, and the filter’s chamber isn’t the most visually pleasing, but it is one of the most effective filters out there.
Jolie’s shower head is an attractive option that is available in several colorways and comes with everything you need to install it, including a wrench and plumber’s tape, plus a bonus scented ceramic tile that you can keep in your bathroom. “We designed [the shower head] to remove the most amount of chlorine and heavy metals for the longest period of time. We achieve that via the use of the ‘Ferrari of water filtration’ — KDF-55 and calcium sulfite,” Singh and Babenzien share. Both KDF-55 and calcium sulfite are more effective at filtering water than carbon, ensuring a chlorine-free shower.
Best built-in handheld shower filter
$65.13 at Amazon
Sprite’s KDF-based shower filters use Chlorgon, a patented redox filtration media, to purify the water. Its universal in-line model is comparable to the AquaBliss (below), but for those looking for an integrated filter, the handheld model is a great option. It looks sleek, feels hefty and features seven spray patterns. One consideration to note is that Sprite’s handheld shower head filter needs to be replaced after three months, whereas the in-line filter has a six-month life span.
Best budget shower filter
This fan-favorite shower filter features 12 stages of filtration — including redox media to chemically convert contaminants — to eliminate chlorine and sediments from the water. The in-line design is compatible with handheld, fixed and rain shower heads, and no tools are required for installation. With over 27,000 5-star ratings, one reviewer writes, “I could tell the difference within my hair and skin right away!”
A spa-like option at an affordable price point, Voesh’s shower filter infuses the water with beauty benefits from vegan probiotics that help support the skin’s microbiome and oatmeal powder to soothe the skin, while vitamin C removes chlorine and other impurities. It also features botanical oil aromatherapy and comes in five relaxing scents. The screw-on installation doesn’t require any tools, so it’s super simple to transform your shower into a spa treatment.
Best shower filter for well water
$80 at Hello Klean
Not all wells have hard water, but it is more likely for wells to have hard water because the water supply is coming from underground where minerals are present in the soil, resulting in higher mineral content in the water. A multi-stage filtration system is recommended, like this in-line filter that uses KDF 55, calcium sulphite, activated carbon and ceramic beads to purify the water and filter out chlorine, iron, copper, lead, cadmium and nickel. Hello Klean’s filter is sleek and sustainable, with an aluminum casing and recyclable refill components. The cylindrical filter works with most shower lines, but for taps that are close to the wall, the brand also has a shower adapter.