Throughout the United States, millions of Americans are drinking and bathing in potentially contaminated tap water. According to one study, in any given year, anywhere from nine to 45 million people are exposed to tap water that violates the Safe Drinking Water Act.
What happens when you drink or bathe in unsafe water on a regular basis? Listed below are some of the most significant ways that tap water can affect the skin and body. You’ll also find some strategies that will help you to minimize the water’s negative effects.
Tap Water and Skin Health
Let’s start with the ways in which tap water can affect your skin health. The following are some of the most noteworthy issues you might experience if you’re regularly exposing your skin to tap water when showering, bathing, or washing your face:
Dryness, Dermatitis, and Rashes
Bathing, showering, or washing your face with tap water can be a real source of distress and discomfort for people who struggle with chronic skin issues. Many of the chemicals found in tap water can contribute to problems like excessive dryness, rashes, and dermatitis (a condition that causes the skin to become dry, itchy, swollen, and red).
Chlorine is one of the most common culprits behind tap water-related dryness, dermatitis, and skin rashes. Oddly enough, chlorine is often used to disinfect tap water and minimize the presence of mold and bacteria. However, if it’s present in high concentrations, or if an individual is sensitive to it, it can deplete the natural oils found on the skin. This, in turn, reduces moisture and contributes to dryness. Long-term exposure to chlorine can then cause chronic dryness and other, more serious issues like dermatitis.
For those who have acne-prone skin, washing in tap water can make the situation worse. Chlorine contributes, in part, to this problem since it dries out the skin. This excessive dryness, in some folks, can lead to increased oil production and pore-clogging, which makes a person more likely to deal with breakouts.
If you live in an area with “hard water” (water with a high mineral content), you might also find that your acne gets worse due to frequent mineral exposure. Minerals like magnesium and calcium, in particular, can dehydrate the skin and create imbalances in the skin microbiome (the natural bacteria present on the skin).
Certain toxins found in tap water can throw off the pH balance of your skin, too. Naturally, the skin is quite acidic (it has a pH of about 4.7) as a protective mechanism. Toxins like fluoride, lead, mercury, arsenic, perchlorate, and dioxins, all of which may be present in tap water, can alter the skin’s pH and make it harder for the skin to ward off bacteria, fungi, and other foreign invaders that contribute to acne.
Increased Signs of Aging
Your tap water might be speeding up the aging process as well. Chlorine is the primary culprit here, as it plays such a significant role in drying out the skin.
When the skin is not properly hydrated, it will often end up showing signs of aging sooner. This includes fine lines, wrinkles, and sagging. Chronic dehydration contributes to a lack of plumpness and could be making you look older than you are, no matter how many expensive anti-aging skin products you have in your collection.
Tap Water and Internal Health
Not only can tap water mess with the health of your skin, but it can also have an impact on your overall internal health. The following health conditions have been linked to exposure to contaminated tap water:
Heavy Metal Exposure
First of all, it’s not uncommon for tap water to contain high concentrations of heavy metals. Some of the most well-known heavy metals found in tap water include lead, copper, arsenic, iron, cadmium, mercury, and zinc.
Not all of these heavy metals are inherently harmful, such as iron or copper. However, exposure in high amounts can lead to a whole host of health problems.
For example, lead exposure has been linked to nervous system issues, behavior problems, and reduced IQ in children. Exposure to high levels of copper can also cause serious digestive problems, as well as eye, mouth, and nose irritation.
Drinking contaminated tap water can lead to parasitic infections, too. The most common parasitic infection in the U.S. is Giardiasis, which is caused by the microscopic parasite Giardia. Symptoms of Giardiasis include gas, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and dehydration.
Giardia is most likely to end up in tap water if your home’s primary water source becomes contaminated. Contamination can occur in a variety of ways, including from sewage overflow, a nonfunctioning sewage system, agricultural runoff, or stormwater runoff.
Prescription Drug Exposure
Many people are surprised to learn that there may be traces of prescription drugs in their tap water.
Prescription drug residue ends up in the tap water when people in a community do not dispose of their medications properly. If they flush them down the toilet, for example, those drugs can eventually find their way into the water supply.
Water treatment plants are able to remove many of these compounds from the water, but they often don’t test for them, specifically.
It’s unclear at this point what kind of effect exposure to pharmaceuticals in tap water can have on someone who consumes it on a regular basis. However, experts are concerned about the long-term ramifications of this issue and are working to spread the word to individuals about disposing of their medications in a safer way.
How to Avoid the Negative Effects of Tap Water
At this point, you might be feeling a little paranoid about what’s coming out of your tap. The good news, though, is that there are strategies you can implement that will help to minimize the negative effects of tap water on your health, including the following:
Let the Water Run
One way to minimize exposure to certain toxins, including heavy metals, is to let your tap water run before you drink it, wash your face in it, or bathe in it. Turn on the cold water and let it run for about 15-30 seconds. This helps to flush out metals like lead or copper that may have collected in the faucet.
Minimize Hot Tap Water Use
If you have concerns about heavy metals in your tap water, try to minimize your use of the hot water feature on your tap, too. Hot water will dissolve lead and copper more quickly, which increases your risk of exposure.
If you need to heat water for cooking or drinking, get cold water from the tap and then heat it on the stove.
Installing a water filter is arguably the most effective step you can take to avoid exposure to toxins in tap water.
A water pitcher or countertop filter is a good first step. However, you might also want to consider investing in a whole house filter that will purify all of your water throughout the home.
With a whole house filter, you know that you’re reducing your toxin exposure no matter where you are and no matter what you’re doing (bathing, getting a drink, washing your face, etc.).
Say Goodbye to Tap Water Toxins
It’s clear now that there are plenty of reasons why tap water is less-than-ideal for your skin and overall body health.
You might not be able to fully eliminate your exposure to tap water, but you can at least take steps to minimize its effects. Keep the tips outlined above in mind so you can protect yourself inside and out.
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