What is Eczema?

Eczema is a debilitating condition, also known as Atopic Eczema or Atopic Dermatitis, that causes the skin to become red, dry, cracked and itchy. 

Although it does affect adults, eczema is especially common in children, often presenting before a child reaches their first birthday and lasting well into adolescence. As many as one in five youngsters suffer from eczema at some point during childhood.  

Regardless of age, however, living with skin conditions, like eczema, can affect the way you look and feel about yourself. It can make you self-conscious and have disrupt personal and social relationships and everyday activities. 

So, to stop eczema or at least to seriously get on top of it as a condition can be a huge relief and always something worth aiming for. 

At SJ Water Softeners, we have had personal, first-hand experience of how eczema can impact the younger generation and we are convinced that soft water can play a key part in helping eczema sufferers overcome or significantly reduce its distressing effects.    

Is there a difference between dermatitis and eczema?

Although the terms “dermatitis” and “eczema” may overlap in how they’re used, specific types of skin conditions are better known by just one of the names. For example, many doctors use the terms “atopic dermatitis” and “eczema” interchangeably but wouldn’t use the term “contact dermatitis” in place of “eczema.”

Infections and Eczema | National Eczema Society

What causes eczema?

There is no one specific reason why you get eczema. It can be hormonal, but other reasons include poor diet, household chemicals, fabrics and fragrances that come into contact with the skin, trauma and stress, hot weather and sweating – and hard water. 

In fact, hard water contributes to a number of skin conditions, like eczema. As an example, if you wash in hard water, you’ll find you have to use more gel, soap or shampoo to get a decent lather. Because hard water is abrasive, when you come to rinse it off, it doesn’t necessarily wash away all the residue, which can remain on the skin can, irritating and aggravating any underlying dry skin conditions

The NHS website lists “water – especially hard, chalky water or heavy chlorinated water” as a common irritant of contact dermatitis.

Atopic eczema – NHS (www.nhs.uk)

How does hard water cause dryness of the skin?

The reason water is hard is because of the prevalence of magnesium and calcium ions. For the non-chemists, here’s what happens. These magnesium and calcium ions bind to surface active agents, such as sodium lauryl sulphates, which act as detergents or wetting agents. This makes them insoluble, so they collect on the skin. At the same time, our skin pH is naturally acidic (pH is the figure used to express the acidity or alkalinity). But hard water has high alkalinity and when it comes into contact with the skin it increases the skin’s optimal surface pH.

By doing so, the skin’s natural function acting as a physical barrier or protection against unwanted bacteria is disturbed. And once the skin’s protection levels are lowered, the body becomes more susceptible to infections. Things like eczema and other dry skin complaints.

Reduce eczema symptoms with a water softener

Research shows that conditions such as eczema and dry skin are worsened by hard water. Not only that. You can actually protect your family from the discomfort of these skin conditions and others by installing a water softener.

Eczema – What the Scientists Say

What effect does hard water have on eczema, or atopic dermatitis? It’s a question that scientists at The University of Sheffield have studied. They wanted to see how skin reacts to different types of water and whether it creates any type of skin irritation. 

The aim was to assess the effects that particles in hard water have on the skin, like sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) and magnesium and calcium mineral deposits.  To ensure optimal accuracy, the tests were carried out on hard water, softened water (from a water softener) and chlorinated versions of both.  

In particular, the scientists were looking for the ‘filaggrin’ protein (FLG) amongst the tested participants. FLG is a genetic mutation in some people and is known to cause eczema, although if you carry the gene, it doesn’t automatically mean you will have any skin issues. Here is what their findings revealed. 

Who were the tests carried out on? 

With the approval of the NHS Ethics Committee, a total of eighty people, comprising a mix of men and women aged between 18 and 56, took part in the study, which was carried out in a controlled environment. 

The participants were assembled into four groups.

  • 20 with healthy skin
  • 20 with the FLG protein and no eczema issues
  • 20 with eczema or FLG protein
  • 20 with eczema and the FLG protein.

The hard water and soft water used in the study was taken from the same properties in Essex. Eight sections of each participant’s body were immersed in water and two parts were left alone, to act as a base point of reference. Those taking part didn’t have any idea whether the water they were being washed in was hard or soft. 

For authenticity, across the entire sample group, the washing process consisted of 5 seconds of water, followed by 30 seconds washing, then another 5 second rinse.

The findings revealed that people’s skin was affected differently, depending on what type of water was used for washing. But the study proved, beyond doubt, that anyone with a skin condition, especially eczema, living in a hard water area and frequently washing in hard water, would most likely make the problem worse. 

The key points were:

  • For anyone already suffering from eczema, washing with hard water made the condition worse.  
  • Washing with hard water increases exposure and deposits of irritant SLS that can cause redness and irritated skin – eczema. 
  • Hard water created an irritable skin barrier which caused eczema in healthy skin. 
  • Patients with the FLG protein were more likely to develop eczema, whether or not they had previously experienced the condition. 
  • In children especially, washing with hard water contributes to the early onset of eczema from a very young age, even infancy. 
  • There was no link between skin irritation and chlorine levels in the water. 
  • To prevent eczema, it is important to maintain a steady pH balance in washing products. 

The overriding conclusion from the study was that because a water softener largely removes calcium and magnesium minerals present in hard water, it reduces the risk of children and adults from developing eczema during washing.

How does hard water affect your family?

Hard water contains minerals which draw the oils from our skin, reducing the skin’s natural moisture levels. This dry skin is more prone to cracking and irritability leaving it vulnerable to germs and allergens.

Households with hard water also use more soaps and detergents which can further worsen these symptoms.

Aside from this, the extra laundry detergents required to produce the same cleaning effects in hard water homes often leave hidden residues on clothing, bed linen and towels, which only makes the problem worse.

How to protect your loved ones from the bad effects of hard water

By installing a water softener, you can reduce the risks of irritation and dry skin. These systems work to remove invisible traces of magnesium and calcium from your water supply meaning, you’ll use less soaps & detergents, and your skin will be less irritable and dry.

Eczema before and after a water softener

Can hard water really get under my skin?

The family health issue that convinced Scott Jenkins of the positive benefits of soft water

One of the things which convinced me that a water softener is a must-have product in the home was when I realised how much it helped my daughter, Maisie.

She was born in 2012 with eczema and she did suffer with it quite badly. I’d wondered whether the hard water in our area was making matters worse and so I installed a water softener in the house, to see if this would help Maisie’s condition.

Within a day or two, I was struck by the dramatic effect that the soft water was having. Virtually straight away, Maisie’s eczema disappeared – and it has never come back. For me, it felt like a miracle and, ever since, I’ve been passionate about spreading the word of how beneficial soft water can be for the skin.

It’s not just me saying this. My own personal experiences are also backed up by science (see our section on the University of Sheffield research on how hard water can contribute to the development of eczema)

Keeping skin feeling soft and smooth

As explained above, the skin doesn’t take kindly well to hard water. Even if you don’t suffer particularly with skin conditions, if your skin is being saturated with hard water day in day out, it is going to have an uphill battle staying soft and healthy-looking. 

Washing is a basic necessity – you can’t not wash! Avoiding contact with water is not desirable and almost impossible! So, the sensible option is to ensure that, where washing (and lots of other things) are concerned, you are exposed to soft water, rather than hard water on a daily basis. If not at work, then certainly when at home.

Installing a soft water system in your home is the best way to keep your skin looking and feeling soft and vibrant. Whether you are a babe in arms, a busy working-age parent or a venerable retiree, the benefits from having exposure to soft water are the same however old or young we are. A good complexion can – and should – last a lifetime. 

As well as the skin, here are other ways how hard water impacts family life 

Households with hard water also use more soaps and detergents which can further worsen these symptoms.

Aside from this the extra laundry, detergents required to produce the same cleaning effects in hard water homes often leave hidden residues on clothing, bed linens and towels making the problem even worse.

Treating eczema – a stepped approach

It is common for anyone suffering from eczema to feel anxious or embarrassed and it can sap confidence. The good news is that you and your family shouldn’t have to suffer.  

Whilst having a water softener installed in your home is known to be a highly effective way of mitigating against eczema, there are other treatments and action you can take, which would work well with soft water.  

Proven basic treatments for most cases of eczema would involve emollients and topical steroids. In situations where scratching is starting to become a major problem, bandages and wet wraps could also be used. At night, to assist sleeping, antihistamines containing sedatives are also an option. 

Where steroid creams and antihistamine tablets are concerned, it isn’t recommended that these medications are taken over a longer period of time. 

If you find that it is difficult to tolerate topical steroids or they are proving to be particularly effective, you might also look to apply topical calcineurin inhibitors, like the cream pimecrolimus (Elidel) or the ointment tacrolimus (Protopic). 

In more severe cases of eczema, treatments can include phototherapy, oral steroids and immunosuppressant drugs. Always take proper medical advice before taking any medication. 

Certain internal and external factors may cause the Eczema to flare up, which can vary person to person. If you suspect that you have Eczema, you should speak to your GP or a dermatologist to determine the cause of the reaction.

Atopic eczema – Treatment – NHS

Scott Jenkins Water Softeners – Putting an End to Eczema 

As we have covered in this section of the website, water softeners can be a wonderful antidote to a range of dry skin conditions. If you have family members who are susceptible to eczema and dermatitis, we have first-hand proof of how to keep them at bay or rid them from your life altogether.

As the leading supplier of water softeners, drinking water systems, drinking water filters and accessories for West Sussex and large parts of East Sussex, Hampshire and Surrey, SJ Water Softeners are at your service. For further information about our great range of soft water system products, call 01243 607494 or via email: scott@scottj