Is Tap Water Bad for Your Skin?
Here, derms share why you may want to consider switching to micellar or thermal water for a perfect complexion.
nikkytok / Shutterstock
On my last trip to France, I found myself browsing the pharmacy like any true beauty junkie. I was on the hunt for the O.G. micellar water: Bioderma Crealine, a staple of French pharmacies, which is now called Bioderma Sensibio in the United States and widely available. (Though there are plenty of other options for micellar or no-rinse cleansers from brands such as Garnier, Guinot, and Simple.)
The clear, toner-like liquid is actually made up of small cleansing molecules called micelles, which act like magnets, lifting oil off the skin-without the need to rinse. The micelles also help preserve the skin barrier because they can't penetrate as deeply into the skin, according to one study. (Related: How to Boost Your Skin Barrier for a Better Complexion)
France is ground zero for micellar water. And my friend Isabelle, a Parisian living in Chicago, confirmed it's not just a stereotype. Isabelle (a 40-something with 30-something skin) says this has been her morning and night cleansing routine for 20 years-she learned it from a trendy younger cousin and previously hauled her micellar water to the States from France. In the shower, she allows drops of water on her face, but otherwise, she avoids it. "If I use [tap] water too much, my skin gets dry," she adds.
Next thing I knew, I had pretty much disavowed using tap water on my face in favor of this new magical skin-care product. It was a perfect fit for me: I hated washing my face each night but felt guilty hitting the pillow with the grime that I'd acquired on my skin throughout the day. To be sure, most people who've made the switch don't avoid tap water altogether-but according to experts there *is* some truth to my friend's theory that tap water and healthy skin might not exactly go hand in hand.
Here, why (and how) you might want to follow suit with the no-tap trend in favor of skin-friendly water alternatives.
Is tap water bad for your skin?
There is some merit to not washing the face with tap water, says Marc Glashofer, M.D., a dermatologist in Livingston, NJ. "Overexposure-which can mean especially long showers or washing the face more than twice a day-can lead to excessive dryness, scaling, and irritation," he says.
Though the effects of tap water on the skin will vary person to person, the type of water that comes out of your faucet also matters. For households in areas with hard tap water, which is high in mineral content, using tap water might have more of an impact, says dermatologist Andrew Alexis, M.D., chair of the department of dermatology at Mount Sinai in New York. That's because hard water increases irritation and redness for those with sensitive skin (it's also a reason we may break out when we travel). And when using hard tap water to cleanse, the mineral-filled water makes it more difficult to wash off cleansers. That means you'll be left with a more soapy residue on the skin, which again can cause irritation, he adds. In fact, it's why some no-tap water converts have gone as far as to install showerhead filters that filter out the problematic minerals, and why A-listers like Cameron Diaz have claimed to wash their faces with bottled water.
Are micellar or thermal waters better for your skin?
Although there isn't much academic research on the effectiveness of micellar water or thermal sprays, they're definitely effective at removing superficial oils, dirt, and debris-and can have an added boost for those with hard tap water, or who are dealing with skin irritation, says Dr. Alexis.
"Micellar water or thermal water sprays can be helpful substitutes for tap water for those who suffer from inflammatory skin conditions, such as eczema and psoriasis," he says. That's because "the neutral pH of certain thermal waters doesn't change the skin's natural balance compared to some tap water with a higher pH, so it helps minimize skin irritation." They're also rich in specific minerals that may have added anti-inflammatory benefits for the skin, he adds.
Here's how to take a tap water break.
It's not all or nothing. If you aren't dealing with dryness or irritation and don't feel the need to make a permanent switch, avoiding water for short periods can still be beneficial, since it will prevent you from stripping away the skin's oils, says esthetician Melanie Simon, founder of ZIIP Beauty in Los Angeles.Simon says she regularly takes a break from water on her skin for 24-hour periods in favor of micellar water and notices a visible improvement.
Simon also recommends acting as your own esthetician and assessing your skin's needs more regularly. "I only cleanse when I see the debris building up on my skin, or it feels raised instead of soft and smooth," she says. (Related: The Best Makeup Removing Products That Actually Work-No Greasy Residue Here)
And in general, switching from one cleansing method to another can be a good skin-care strategy, especially in winter months when skin tends to be dryer, says Dr. Alexis. As we enter the spring and summer months, he suggests wearing lighter, more natural makeup to help limit your tap water use and make it easier to wean yourself off.
Bottom line: If you have relatively normal skin, you likely won't notice a complexion boost from switching away from tap water. However, if you do struggle with dryness, cutting back on tap water even a handful of times per week can help keep your skin more hydrated, derms say. In my case, I still use tap water to cleanse with an oil-based cleanser each morning but have switched to micellar water each night. The change has helped me battle dryness around my cheeks without the need to load up on moisturizer.
But in all honesty, one of the biggest perks of this trend is decidedly more practical: I can keep my face clean without anxiously waiting for the water in my bathroom faucet to warm up. It's the simple things in life, right?