People with eczema might find their skin improves when they install a water softener or move to a soft water region.
This is because hard water contains high levels of calcium and magnesium, which can potentially irritate the skin.
Another reason is that households in hard water areas tend to use more soap and detergent when washing clothes and bathing - products we know inflame the skin of eczema sufferers.
Water softeners have an ‘ion exchange’ system which removes the calcium and magnesium salts from the water, thus completely eliminating the hardness.
Studies have indicated that the incidence of eczema can be related to water hardness, with one study in Nottingham indicating that primary school children living in hard water areas are almost 50% more likely to have eczema than those living in a softer water area. Similar mapping studies (identifying incidence of the disease in different geographical areas) carried out in Spain and Japan have found higher incidence of eczema in areas of the country which are supplied with hard water than in naturally soft water areas. Hard water is identified as an environmental trigger in the NICE (2007) guidelines on atopic eczema in children 12 years and under. Hard water areas are common, with more than 60% of households in England and Wales affected. There are also many anecdotal records by doctors and eczema sufferers, of eczema conditions improving, or completely disappearing, when the patient moves into a soft water area or when water softeners are fitted to the home.
This prompted a government funded clinical trial (SWET Trial) organised by the University of Nottingham Centre of Evidence-Based Dermatology, to compare the possible improvement in eczema in children when a water softener was fitted into their home for a 12 week period. It was a very comprehensive trial involving 336 children but it failed to show any primary benefit, based on the nurses formal, routine monitoring of the eczema condition. It did, however, show a small benefit based on the opinion of the patient and the patient’s family.
While this trial did not provide the supporting evidence expected, 66% of home owner participants in the trial opted to purchase the water softener after the trial. In addition, water softener suppliers continue to receive customer reports of improvement in eczema conditions after a water softener has been installed.
Kinetico commissioned talkeczema – one of the UK’s largest eczema support groups - to conduct an independent product trial and survey. A Kinetico water softener was installed in the homes of selected talkeczema members for a 3 month period. The participants completed a questionnaire at the end of each month.
83% claim a water softener helped to reduce the severity of their eczema!
Participants who had a Kinetico water softener fitted found that:
- 83% claimed it reduced the severity of their eczema
91% recorded less itchiness
67% used less emollient
83% used less washing powder and detergent
Comments from participants:
“Since using a water softener her skin does feel smoother and I have to use less cream. Also at the moment less reaction when in contact with the water. ”
“Even my husband has said how moisturized his skin feels after showering. I have even managed to reduce the amount of emollient that I apply each day to my daughter.”
“I cannot believe the difference the softener has made, I am no longer getting dry flaky patches on my face. And there is the added bonus of not having to use so much detergent in my wash etc, so that’s got to better for my skin too.”
Commenting on these results, Julie Van Onselen, Independent Dermatology Nurse, said,
“These results show the people who participated in this survey felt the addition of a water softener benefitted and improved the severity of their eczema. The most positive result is that people with eczema felt their skin was less itchy and smoother. The vicious scratch-itch cycle is often the hardest symptom to deal with, dry skin is itchy skin and itchy skin is scratched, which leads to damage and often a “flare-up" of eczema.”
Therefore, if skin is less itchy, scratching and skin damage will reduce and eczema “flares” will reduce.