Water & Skin Irritation

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A fact sheet by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources indicates that rivers, lakes and ponds may contain blue-green algae that produces toxic substances. Swimming in water that contains blue-green algae contaminants may irritate your skin and cause hives. Cercarial dermatitis is another condition known as “swimmer’s itch,” which is a skin rash caused by an allergic reaction to microscopic parasites that are released from infected snails into fresh and salt water.

Hard Water

Hard water is the water may flows through the tap system. According to the Virginia Tech Cooperative Extension, hard water is the most common water quality problem reported by American consumers and may occur in 85 percent of the United States. Hard water contains excess minerals and have a higher pH than soft water.


Water is a solvent and cleansing solutions like soap dissolve in water to function properly. However, minerals in hard water make it difficult for other substances like laundry detergent, soap and other solutes that normally dissolve in water. Hard water can produce a residue on your appliances in addition to your hair and skin, because hard water does not adequately wash away particles from soap and other solutes.

Dry Skin

The water you use to bathe or wash clothing and linens may contribute skin irritation problems like dryness. According to the Virginia Tech Cooperative Extension, hard water can leave a film deposit on your body that dries your skin. Dry skin may shrivel and create fine lines or wrinkles. According to MayoClinic.com, frequent swimming, showering bathing or long hot baths may cause dry skin by breaking down lipid barriers in your skin.


Eczema is a skin condition that may occur with redness or flushing, irritation, itchiness or small bumps that fill with fluid on your skin. Evaporating water that your skin does not capture while bathing may cause these kinds of reactions. Kid’s Health recommends avoiding hot water or too much exposure to hot water if you have eczema. Avoid using too much soap or cleansers that may dry out your skin and wear gloves if your hands will be in water for extended periods of time.

Soap-and-Water Versus Alcoholic Hand Gel

In the July 2000 issue of the “Infection Control Hospital Epidemiol,” a study led by Dr. John M. Boyce compares skin irritation and dryness that occurred when nurses washed their hands using soap-and-water with irritation and dryness that occurred using hand antisepsis with an alcoholic hand gel. Nurses reported less skin irritation and dryness while using hand gel cleaners but they reported more skin irritation and dryness while using soap and water. Researchers discovered that the alcoholic hand gel cleaner did not change the water content on the top part of the nurses’ hands, but using soap and water decreased the water content of that part of the hand. The researchers concluded that skin may tolerate alcoholic hand gels better than soap and lead to better hand-hygiene practices.