Well water (or groundwater) is used by as many as 40 percent of households in the United States, according to the National Groundwater Association (NGWA). But can well water make you itch? And can well water cause skin rash?
If you’re one of those that uses well water and you’ve been experiencing disruptive skin conditions like itchy skin, dry skin, acne breakouts, or other signs of irritated skin you may be wondering if your well water is to blame.
Several other things can cause the itching sensation and the most common culprits are diseases like scabies, pediculosis, and erythrasma or allergic reactions to laundry detergent, soaps, or perfumes.
But if you’re sure that none of these is the problem then well water is also a possible cause for itchiness or skin rashes due to its high mineral content which can irritate your skin.
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The Most Common Contaminants in Well Water
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the most common contaminants found in well water are:
Most of these are unlikely to be causing skin conditions, so you’ll likely need to get your water supply tested for some of the less common contaminants described below.
Well Water Contaminants That Can Cause A Skin Condition or Make You Itch
Not all of the contaminants are the cause of skin irritation or rashes. This section focuses on those that can be the cause of serious skin problems, sensitive skin, or making you feel itchy.
Have your water tested if you suspect your well water is contaminated with any of the contaminants we talk about below.
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Hard Water: Magnesium, & Calcium
Hard water is water that has a high mineral content  (whereas soft water is water with low mineral content). Hard water contains dissolved solids like calcium and magnesium. It’s important that we have magnesium in our diet to assist our immune system, and calcium is important for healthy teeth and strong bones.
While vital for the body when included in our diet, these minerals are not so good when they are in tap water in high concentrations and we bathe in them. Hard water interferes with the natural balance of oils on the skin .
People who live in regions with hard water are more vulnerable to irritations on their skin because they bathe in the hard water every day, exposing their bodies to calcium and magnesium for longer periods.
In rural areas, people often have hard water from wells, which contains a lot of minerals. When you shower or bathe with hard well water and these minerals get on your skin, it can irritate you causing dry skin, itchiness, and even rashes in some cases.
Calcium and magnesium can leave deposits on your skin, which changes your skin oil chemistry and can clog pores and hair follicles . This reduces the skin’s ability to properly moisturize itself, making you feel itchy. If you have sensitive skin this might cause rashes to appear on the area of your body where the deposit ends up.
If you’re using soaps and shower gels, this can make it even worse. This is because the minerals combine with the soap. The resulting soap residue (or soap scum) then makes the clogged pores even worse and upsets the skin barrier. You’ll feel like your skin is clean and smooth, but really what you’re feeling is the soap scum on the surface of your skin.
Hard water can also be bad for hair, making it frizzy and fragile. The deposits can coat the hair making it shiny, but not in a good way. It looks dull and lifeless because the deposits are coating the hairs strands instead of being absorbed into them.
Arsenic can get into well water as a result of the geological composition of the area where you live. The effects on your skin can be similar to those seen with very hard water, or even worse depending on exposure and the level of arsenic in the water.
On a long-term basis, bathing with water with high levels of arsenic can lead to rough, scaly patches on the skin and increased risks of skin cancer .
If your well water is not filtered and disinfected in any way, you can contract skin diseases and conditions like erythrasma and pediculosis (lice). Erythrasma is a condition that causes brown or blue-grey patches on the skin, while pediculosis leads to red, itchy rashes.
Well water contamination by bacteria is not common but can occur if there is a break in the seal of the well casing where contaminants like bacteria could get inside. Infection from contaminated water typically occurs when an open wound comes into contact with contaminated water. People who have diabetes are also at risk because of their lower immunity levels.
Chlorine is often used to shock a well, which means adding chlorine bleach to the well to kill bacteria. Adding chlorine is considered a safe way to disinfect water and is also used with city water too. So most people have some level of chlorine in their tap water.
However, if too much chlorine is added to the water it can cause several health problems both when ingested and when it comes into contact with the skin.
In terms of skin conditions, chlorinated water can cause dry skin and irritation . It can also strip the skin of its natural oils, making it lose moisture and causing erythema (red skin). Excess chlorine can damage our hair too.
In rural areas, pesticides can get into the water when they’re used on certain crops and then washed off using the water used for irrigation.
Like bacteria, you are at risk if you have open skin wounds where the chemicals could enter your body and through which they can absorb.
Pesticides in water can cause many skin conditions including flushing, rashes, and itching. The chemicals can also cause damage to the kidneys and liver if they are absorbed into the bloodstream through broken skin or ingested.
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Make Sure it’s Really Your Well Water Causing The Itching
Hard water can cause itchiness on the skin but it’s not the only thing that could irritate your skin or make it itchy. So be sure to get your doctor’s diagnosis before you think it’s due to the minerals in well water.
Allergies to things like soaps or perfumes can also be a cause for itchiness so check with your doctor if you think it could be the problem.
If your doctor can’t determine what is causing your itchiness or rashes then there’s a possibility that it could be because of well water with high levels of minerals. Get a well water test to be sure.
How To Reduce Contaminants in Well Water & Protect Your Skin
To protect your skin, consider one of the following ways to reduce contaminants in well water.
Water Softeners (for hard water)
One way to reduce the irritation caused by well water is to install a water softening unit.
A water softener can reduce hardness minerals from hard water and make it softer. The softened water from your well will cause less itchiness on your skin compared to the hard well water you have now.
Water softeners take out mineral ions like calcium and magnesium from hard water, replacing them with sodium ions. This is because these two minerals are positively charged while sodium is negatively charged.
The negative charge makes the soft water less likely to cling to your skin, making it more conducive for the natural oils on your body to keep you moisturized. This will help reduce itching caused by dryness or excess oil caused by irritation.
Mineral deposits from hard water can also cause scale on pipes and other appliances. So a water softener can help with this too.
Whole House Water Filters (for all-round water quality)
Whole house water filters usually have several stages which can remove pesticides, arsenic, and other contaminants associated with skin problems.
Because it’s installed at the point of entry, your whole house will receive filtered water. This means that all of your bathrooms are covered, so you can shower anywhere in the house and not worry about irritating your skin.
Make sure that at least one of the stages in a carbon filter, as carbon is particularly good at filtering out chlorine, pesticides, herbicides, and other contaminants that can affect your skin.
One advantage is that you can choose a system that includes the filter stages that you need. If you want to combine it with a water softener then that’s also possible.
Showerhead Filters (budget-friendly option)
If you’re only concern is in the shower, a shower head filter is another good option. It filters the water as it comes out of your tap and enters your shower, so you can relax knowing that all the dirt and contaminants in your water are gone.
Some models even have water softening capabilities, so if hard water in the shower is causing your skin problems this may be a good option.
Reverse Osmosis Systems (high-end solution)
Reverse osmosis (RO) can remove 98-99% of contaminants in your water. This includes pesticides, bacteria, viruses, nitrates, and arsenic.
RO can’t reduce hardness in water, though, so a water softener may still be a good option to consider.
A disadvantage of this, however, is you’ll need to install it at the point of entry to reach all your bathrooms and filters.
Whole house RO filters are usually more expensive than other types of filtration and the water flow rate can also be much slower. So if you live in a very big house they may not be practical. Even the best countertop RO filters won’t work for you, as they’re only designed to be used for drinking water.
UV Water Purification Filters (for bacteria)
Another option for you to consider is an ultraviolet (UV) water purification system.
Ultraviolet water purifiers kill disease-causing microorganisms in the water. The purified water from your well will be safe to drink and can reduce or prevent infections from open wounds when you bathe using it. They help to kill bacteria like e-Coli, salmonella, and giardia lamblia. These bacteria can cause skin problems like skin infections, skin rashes, and pediculosis.
A UV water purifier works by passing untreated water through a chamber with an ultraviolet lamp inside. The lamp produces ultraviolet light which, in turn, penetrates the cells of any microorganisms present in the water thereby killing them instantly.
UV systems are almost maintenance-free so you won’t have to worry about chemicals or salt being added into them unlike other types of filters and softeners.
UV purifiers do not filter out minerals, so you may want to install a UV filter as an additional stage after your water softener or whole house well filter.
Other Things You Can Do to Reduce Skin Irritation
If you’re having skin problems you should still use moisturizers after bathing, even if you use a water softener or filter. These products won’t moisturize or hydrate your skin, and dehydration is one of the most common causes of skin problems.
It’s also important to keep drinking lots of water to keep your skin hydrated. This is good news if you’re buying a water filter or softener because you’ll be killing two birds with one stone. Healthy, clean drinking water and gentle soft water that’s kind to your skin. Perfect!
Continue to use soap only where necessary, and avoid soaps that contain perfumes, additives, or other chemicals.
If you think you need a water filter for your well, check out our articles on the best water filters for wells.