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Water Chlorination: The Visible Impacts

Water Chlorination: The Visible Impacts


What Your Hair Can Tell You About Chlorine in Your Tap Water

Chlorine is the most common disinfectant used by water treatment plants and is frequently used to treat private wells. Chlorinated tap water water has low concentrations of chlorine to guarantee that your water can disinfect and prevent waterborne diseases once it’s left the treatment plant or your well. This keeps your tap water safe in the pipes on the way to your tap. (We’d be remiss not to note that some disinfection byproducts (or the products of chlorine reacting with other things in your water) are known carcinogens, however, and long term, low-doses of chlorine disinfection byproducts may lead to health impacts in the long term.)

The practice of water chlorination first began in 1908 in Jersey City, New Jersey and became common over the subsequent decades. Along with the use of chlorine, chloramines–a compound of chlorine and ammonia–have also been used to disinfect water. Today, nearly 98% of U.S. water treatment systems use chlorine or chloramines to help disinfect water.

While most people don’t notice the effects of chlorine in their drinking water, some people are sensitive even to low levels of chlorinated water. One of the most common ways that people notice the effects of water chlorination is through changes in their hair.

How Does Chlorine Affect My Hair?

While water chlorination has undeniable benefits in terms of making water safe from bacteria, regular exposure to chlorine can cause damage to skin and hair. Just as it is important to put safe water in your body, it is important to put safe water ON your body. Showering with chlorinated water likely leads to more chlorine absorption in the body than drinking water treated with chlorine (according to a study looking at the impact of chlorine byproducts on bodily organs in the case of swimming pool exposure). Additionally, warm water opens up your skin pores and hair follicles, leading to greater exposure when you take a hot shower. Chlorine and its byproducts strip away the natural hair and skin oils that protect your body from over drying.

Some symptoms of consistent exposure to chlorinated water include:

  • Dry Hair
    Chlorinated water interferes with your scalp’s natural moisturizing process, so it can dry out your hair–making it brittle.
  • Ineffective Hair Dye
    Chlorinated water can can impact the effectiveness of your hair dye, as it expedites fading.
  • Dandruff
    Chlorinated water increases the amount of dandruff you have because it dries out your scalp, leading to increased skin particle flaking.
  • Hair Loss
    Hair tends to be more fragile when it’s dry, so chlorinated water can both cause and accelerate hair loss.

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What Can I Do to Reduce the Impact of Chlorine?

Along with reduced shower times and cooler water temperatures–which have the added benefits of conserving water and energy–the best way to limit the impact of chlorine and chloramines in your shower is to use a filter. The three most common types of filters include:
Carbon Filters
  • Carbon shower filters are the most common type of filters, as they are relatively inexpensive. They work via activated carbon, which absorbs contaminants and impurities. Often used on kitchen taps or water pitchers, carbon filters are great for cold or room-temperature water. However, because carbon filters are affected by heat, they are often ineffective at purifying shower water. Once the water passing through the filter reaches a certain temperature, it negates the activated carbon within–rendering the filter effectively useless.

Kinetic Degradation Fluxion Filters

  • KDF filters use equal parts copper and zinc, which when pressed together create a tiny electrical charge. This results in a  redox reaction (oxidation/reduction)–a process where electrons in the chlorine are exchanged with the filter’s metals, converting it into harmless components. While effective at eliminating chlorine, KDF filters are unable to filter out chloramines.

Vitamin C Filters:

  • While not the most popular choice, nor the best proven, Vitamin C filters are arguably the cheapest option–even having been promoted by the U.S Department of Agriculture. The filter uses a tube of pure Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) that neutralizes the chlorine and/or chloramines. Although they are generally the most effective shower filters, they also tend to be the most pricey and the ascorbic acids tubes need to be frequently replaced.

The bottom line is that chlorinated water has evident benefits in drinking water, while at the same time, it may have undesirable effects on your skin and hair. As avoiding showering is probably not an option, the best way to lessen the impacts of chlorine is to cut down on hot showers and use a filter (which, beyond your hair and skin health, may also help reduce exposure to disinfection byproducts).

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