Sci­en­tists say tap wa­ter could lead to eczema

Hinckley Times - - LETTERS -

THE wa­ter that comes out of taps in Hinck­ley and Bos­worth dam­ages the skin and could con­trib­ute to the de­vel­op­ment of eczema, a new study has shown.

Re­searchers from the Univer­sity of Sh­effield and King’s Col­lege Lon­don have dis­cov­ered that ex­pos­ing the skin to hard wa­ter dam­ages the skin bar­rier – the body’s de­fence against out­side threats such as bac­te­ria or sun burn – and in­creases the sen­si­tiv­ity of the skin to po­ten­tial ir­ri­tants found in ev­ery­day wash prod­ucts such as soap or wash­ing pow­der.

Hinck­ley’s wa­ter, sup­plied by Coven­try-based Sev­ern Trent, is classed as between slightly hard and very hard.

Hard wa­ter con­tains high lev­els of cal­cium and mag­ne­sium ions that bind to sur­fac­tants such as sodium lau­ryl sul­fate (SLS) and sodium lau­ryl ether sul­fate (SLES) – which act as de­ter­gents or wet­ting agents – mak­ing them in­sol­u­ble, so they pre­cip­i­tate onto the skin.

Skin pH is nor­mally acidic but hard wa­ter has high al­ka­lin­ity which means it can raise the skin sur­face pH.

A shift to­wards al­ka­line pH dis­turbs the skin’s nat­u­ral func­tion as a phys­i­cal bar­rier and leaves it prone to coloni­sa­tion by po­ten­tially path­o­genic bac­te­ria which can cause in­fec­tion.

Lead au­thor of the study, Dr Si­mon Danby from the Univer­sity of Sh­effield’s Depart­ment of In­fec­tion, Im­mu­nity and Car­dio­vas­cu­lar Dis­ease, said: “By dam­ag­ing the skin bar­rier, wash­ing with hard wa­ter may con­trib­ute to the de­vel­op­ment of eczema – a chronic skin con­di­tion char­ac­terised by an in­tensely itchy red rash.

“Pa­tients with eczema are much more sen­si­tive to the ef­fects of hard wa­ter than peo­ple with healthy skin.

“This in­crease in sen­si­tiv­ity is as­so­ci­ated with a ge­netic pre­dis­po­si­tion to a skin bar­rier de­fect brought about by mu­ta­tions in the gene en­cod­ing fi­lag­grin.

“Fi­lag­grin is a struc­tural pro­tein im­por­tant for the for­ma­tion of our skin’s bar­rier to the out­side envi- ron­ment. Up to half of all peo­ple with eczema carry a fi­lag­grin gene.”

He said: “This new study re­veals the mech­a­nism by which cal­cium and mag­ne­sium ions in hard wa­ter, sur­fac­tants, and fi­lag­grin in­ter­act to damage the skin bar­rier un­lock­ing new in­for­ma­tion about how ex­po­sure to hard wa­ter could po­ten­tially con­trib­ute to the de­vel­op­ment of eczema.”

The new study, which was funded by Har­vey Wa­ter Soft­en­ers, is pub­lished in the Jour­nal of In­ves­ti­gate Der­ma­tol­ogy.

The team of re­searchers ex­am­ined whether re­mov­ing the cal­cium and mag­ne­sium ions us­ing an ionex­change wa­ter soft­ener could mit­i­gate the neg­a­tive ef­fects of hard wa­ter on the skin.

They found that us­ing a wa­ter soft­ener re­duces the harm­ful ef­fects of sur­fac­tants, po­ten­tially de­creas­ing the risk of de­vel­op­ing eczema.

Co-se­nior au­thor of the study, Dr Carsten Flohr from the St John’s In­sti­tute of Der­ma­tol­ogy at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foun­da­tion Trust and King’s Col­lege Lon­don, said: “One in five chil­dren and one in 12 adults in the UK suf­fer from eczema, cost­ing the NHS well over £500 mil­lion an­nu­ally.

“It is dur­ing the first few days and months of life that our skin is most sus­cep­ti­ble to damage and most at risk of de­vel­op­ing eczema.

“For that rea­son we are now em­bark­ing on a pi­lot trial to in­ves­ti­gate whether installation of a do­mes­tic wa­ter soft­ener around the time of birth can pre­vent skin bar­rier break­down and eczema in those liv­ing in hard wa­ter ar­eas.”

Symp­toms of eczema, also called ‘atopic eczema’ or ‘atopic der­mati­tis’, in­clude in­flamed, dry skin and of­ten sec­ondary skin in­fec­tions, which can af­fect any part of the body and ev­ery as­pect of a per­son’s life – both phys­i­cally and emo­tion­ally.

A sur­vey of 305 peo­ple with se­vere eczema per­formed by Al­lergy UK re­vealed that more than 70 per cent re­ported feel­ing de­pressed, 73 per cent re­ported dif­fi­cul­ties with self-es­teem, and 58 per cent said that it im­pacts their per­sonal re­la­tion­ships.

In ad­di­tion, 73 per cent of re­spon­dents stated that their se­vere eczema im­pacted neg­a­tively on their so­cial life, with six in 10 stat­ing that it made them want to stay in­doors.

The av­er­age num­ber of sick days taken per per­son in the UK is 6.5 a year.

Re­sults from the Al­lergy UK sur­vey sug­gested that 24 per cent of peo­ple with se­vere eczema miss more than six days a year due to their con­di­tion alone and 15 per cent re­ported tak­ing more than 16 days off a year.

Rain­wa­ter is nat­u­rally soft, but as it makes its way through the ground and rocks and into the wa­ter­ways, and even­tu­ally to our taps, it picks up dis­solved com­pounds such as cal­cium and mag­ne­sium. These min­er­als are hard to fil­ter out when be­ing turned into tap wa­ter in wa­ter-treat­ment plants, mean­ing the type of rocks found in any given lo­ca­tion de­ter­mines how hard or soft the wa­ter will be.

A spokesman for the wa­ter firm, whose HQ is in Coven­try, said: “Hard­ness of wa­ter de­pends on where the sup­ply comes from but it’s all treated in ex­actly the same way to make sure that it’s of an ex­tremely high stan­dard for all of our cus­tomers.”

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