In the past, I’ve had patients ask me about whether washing with hard or soft water had any direct link to the development of eczema – and I’ve always dismissed the idea. Most will make this kind of inquiry after moving from an area with soft water to a locale with hard water, and have noticed a difference to their skin. A new study may change my perspective on the matter.
In a large study conducted across England and Wales, living in an area with hard water showed a significantly increased risk of eczema for infants at three months old, with babies living in such areas with a calcium carbonate water concentration above the median level having a 45% increase in eczema risk.
However, the study is not reliable for hard evidence, and nothing can said to be definite at this point in their research. Nevertheless, it’s interesting to think about whether or not the softness of water can play a role in infant’s eczema. The study will be followed up with a larger one that will randomize water samples with softeners, after which researchers will track the skin of the children involved in the testing – and that’s when I think a more concrete conclusion will emerge.
For now, however, I would say that if you have eczema, tried everything and have only used hard water in the past, try using a water softener and see if you observe any difference to your skin. I would caution jumping to the conclusion that it is a definite cause, but for now, it’s some food for thought! I look forward to the results of the follow-up study to find out more about alternative solutions to eczema.
Source: Thomas KS, Dean T, O’Leary C, Sach TH, Koller K, et al. (2011) A Randomised Controlled Trial of Ion-Exchange Water Softeners for the Treatment of Eczema in Children. PLoS Med 8(2): e1000395. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000395