Lately, the natural hair community has been buzzing over the benefits of using rice water rinses, but the effects of using hard water on natural hair have been discussed for the past several years.
Frequently asked questions about include:
- How does hard water affect your hair?
- Can hard water damage your hair?
- Does hard water lead to hair loss?
- How can you protect your hair from hard water?
An Overview of the Effects of Hard Water on Hair
The International Journal of Trichology recently conducted a study that compared the tensile strength of hair that’s been treated with hard water against hair treated with distilled water.
Here is a brief breakdown of the findings:
A Scientific Case Study: Can Hard Water Damage Hair?
During the study, strands of hair measuring at least 15 to 20 centimeters in length were taken from 15 female volunteers. Each hair sample was cut in half to allow for direct comparison.
Half of the hair samples were submerged in the hard water and the other half submerged in the distilled water. The overall duration was only 10 minutes, but the study was conducted over the period of a month.
A strength tester was then used in order to determine how tensile and elastic each hair strand was after its corresponding treatment.
The study found that the tensile strength and elastic nature of each hair sample showed no discernible difference when treated with one form of water over the other. Therefore, according to this study, hard water doesn’t reduce the tensile strength of hair.
Although this study doesn’t completely rule out other negative effects on the hair, so we recommend operating on the safe-side and taking some precautions.
Most U.S. Households Suffer from Hard Water
It’s often said that once you go natural, water should no longer be avoided like the plague. While the premise of that statement is ultimately true, there are a few things about water that you should be concerned about even after you go natural.
Over 85% of the households within the United States have hard water. This statistic was pulled from a water study performed by Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech).
Hard water characteristically has high levels of calcium and magnesium which can really have negative impacts on your hair – leaving your hair feeling dull and lifeless.
If you believe that you have hard water, you can use water test strips or a water test meter to measure your overall water quality. To mitigate the effects of hard water build-up on your hair, you will need to use a chelating shampoo.
Chelating shampoos, which are similar to clarifying shampoos that remove product residue, are formulated to remove excess ions, minerals, chlorine, and metals from the hair.
If you’re dealing with hard water, we recommend purchasing a chelating shampoo or a hard water shampoo. Three favorites are Mizani Phormula-7 Neutralizing and Chelating Shampoo, Kenra Clarifying Shampoo and Malibu Water Wellness Treatment Kit, although some additional examples are available in our natural hair products guide.
Over the long term, we recommend using either household water filters or shower head filters designed to soften hard water (see popular water filters).
DIY Homemade Chelating Hair Rinse
Citric acid, commonly used in shampoos and conditioners to adjust the pH, is a chelating ingredient. It’s possible that it won’t work as intended to help mitigate the effects of hard water, but it’s worth trying for the do-it-yourself crowd.
The basic recipe for the homemade chelating hair rinse is to mix one part lemon juice to four parts distilled water. You can wash your hair as you normally would, use the chelating hair rinse with heat, rinse it out and condition your hair.
As per usual with do-it-yourself hair treatments, this will likely take a little trial-and-error to master.
Don’t Wash with Hot Water
Be sure not to use hot water when washing your hair to avoid stripping the sebum from your scalp. Wash your hair with lukewarm water and after conditioning be sure to do a finishing rinse with cold water to close (or smooth) the cuticle.
Wash Often Enough, But Not Too Often
Shampoos that are marketed through professional salons have the fastest growth rates according to consumer studies. The problem is that there various types of shampoos; one for nearly every type of situation that you can imagine. New naturals and experienced naturals alike can easily get confused choosing a shampoo.
However, even after you settle on a shampoo that you really like, it’s important to make sure that you’re not washing your hair too often. In our natural hair 101 article, we note that you must figure out how often you need to wash your hair. There really is no “right” answer.
Everyone’s hair is different and the products and elements that you’re exposed to every day are different than any other person. If you’re over washing your hair, it might start to look dull. However, it’s important to wash often enough to remove product build-up that can adversely affect your hair.
If you’re a new natural looking to determine how often to wash your hair, you can begin by washing your hair once each week. Pay close attention to how your hair reacts to your washing regimen for several weeks and make changes when needed until you have perfected your regimen.