Hearing people claim that washing with water is bad for skin is nothing new, but these days, it seems more and more are avoiding H2O in their skincare regimes altogether.

So should we all be shunning our sinks?

Like lots of things, skincare isn’t a one-size-fits all issue. Before you vow to become a devoted water-dodger and rush to stock up on wipes, lotions and potions, let’s scrub up on the basics.

Not all water is equal

It might look the same, but depending on your location, what comes out of the tap isn’t always the same, in terms of its precise mineral contents and PH levels.

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We’ve all heard about ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ water, and these terms relate to water’s specific mineral ion content, largely determined by the rocks found in different regions. Hard water, for instance, usually contains high levels of calcium or magnesium compounds.

There are varying degrees of hard and soft water too, and both potentially have their pros and cons.

Everybody’s different

Not only is water different, but how we react to it is an individual thing too. “Everyone’s skin’s different, which is why we all react differently to various elements,” says Dr Toni Phillips, clinical director at DestinationSkin.

“We use water every day, but even this seemingly innocent part of our everyday lives can react badly with certain skin types. ‘Hard’ water in particular can cause problems, as it has a high metal and mineral content that makes it more difficult to wash off beauty products, and can cause dryness, acne and even eczema.”

Soft water can irritate some skins too, “leading to dryness and redness due to impurities naturally present in the water”, she says.
She’d advise people to consider products that counteract any negative effects, and which are suitable to their specific skin type.

Watch those wipes

They’re super convenient, but cleansing wipes could do some people’s skin more harm than good – and can also clog up drains and pollute beaches.

“A lot of wipes contain Methylisothiazolinone (MI), a well-known preservative, and we’re seeing a problem with people becoming sensitised to MI and experiencing eczema-like reactions,” says consultant dermatologist Dr Justine Hextall.

Once sensitisation is ‘switched on’, even using one wipe could trigger a reaction.

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“It can happen in parents who are using wipes for nappy changing too, via the hand contact,” Hextall adds. A number of brands have removed MI from products, but bear in mind that items labelled as ‘suitable for sensitive skin’ may still contain chemicals that could trigger a reaction. “Often these products will just contain less or no fragrances.”

Get the PH balance right

Our natural skin barrier PH is slightly acidic, and disrupted PH levels can result in dry and sensitive skin and flare-ups in people with skin conditions. That tight sensation after washing with soap? It’s because it’s your skin has become too alkaline.

“An alkaline skin barrier is less effective, there is increased trans-epidermal water loss, which makes it hard to retain moisture, leading to that dry, tight feeling,” Hextall explains.

“A lot of patients are obsessed with using the right moisturiser, and how much they’re using. Often I say we need to take a step back and look at what they’re actually washing with, as this is probably a big factor.”

How hard or soft the water is plays a part in PH levels, but the products you use to wash with – soap tends to be very alkaline – could be a factor too. Look for cleansers that are gentle and slightly acidic, this will counteract the affects of alkaline water and skin (products from Avène are worth checking out).

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