Hard water occurs when there is a relatively high concentration of ions such as magnesium, calcium, and iron that have been dissolved in the water as it passes through the atmosphere and the ground towards municipal collection facilities. These ions can create a number of problems in the home when exposed to heat and water including lime scale deposits on bathroom fixtures, appliance damage, detergent and soap problems, scum buildup, dry or itchy skin, and issues with hair. The extent of the problem is usually dependent on the amount of ions that are present in the region's soil and most people who stay in the Midwest seem to have more issues with water hardness than those who live on the Coasts. In order to resolve problems with hard water hair, it is important to have a basic understanding of how it occurs.
Human hair is made up of a protein that is known as keratin. The hair originates from special structures called follicles that are located in the lower layers of the skin. The segment of hair that is visible is known as the cuticle and it consists of overlapping layers of dead keratin that are stacked on each other like the shingles on a house. The cuticle is designed to protect the more sensitive and softer inner segments of the hair referred to as the cortex and medulla. The problems that arise with hair, when hard water exists in the home, are primarily the result of the effects that hardness causing ions have on detergents. When these ions interact with soap molecules, they form salts that are deposited between the layers of dead keratin that make up the cuticle. This causes the layers to protrude outward making the hair feel rough and making it harder to untangle. Decreased lathering of the soap can also make it harder to wash away and can lead to soap scum deposits that make the hair feel brittle.
Over the years, shampoo and conditioner manufacturers have become better about creating products that are capable to withstand the effects of hardness causing ions. They do this by replacing the surfactants commonly found in natural soaps with chemicals like that of sodium lauryl sulphate, ammonium laureth sulphate, and others. In addition, many of these companies add special lathering agents that are capable to work in most types of water regardless of the presence of hardness causing ions. While the addition of these chemicals does make the shampoo and conditioner easier to use in cases where hard water is the issue, they also remove the natural oils that help create shiny and strong cuticles. To counteract this, it is recommended that a conditioner be used to replace the oils. While this does help, it is not as effective at strengthening the cuticles as natural oils would be.
One of the best alternatives to using shampoos and conditioners that contain harsh chemicals like those listed above is to purchase and install a water softener that is capable of removing hardness causing ions before the water enters the home. There are many different types of softening systems available today, but the most popular product is known as a salt-based system. These softeners are generally designed using two tanks that work together to pull hardness causing ions out of the water and wash them away using a concentrated salt solution. Not only does a softener work to eliminate the hard water hair issues that are commonly arise in areas of high ion concentration, but they also protect appliances from damage and ensure that scale deposits do not form on metallic surfaces. While a softening system can be costly to purchase and install, the benefits that come with such a product usually off the high price tag.
In addition to having a water softener installed in the home, individuals can help alleviate problems with the hair by using a chelating shampoo that is specifically designed to remove the salt accumulations that form over time. Many companies use the terms neutralizing and clarifying to indicate that a product is a good one for removing residual. In general, it is recommended that such products be used sparingly and only when necessary because they also strip natural oils from the hair and can cause the hair to become weaker. When using a chelating agent, it is a good idea to follow it up with a conditioner that is able to replace some of the oils that were removed. Homeowners can also contact professional water softeners in their area to find out what their recommendations are for eliminating hardness causing ions.