You think you’re clean and fresh now that you’ve had your morning shower? Or a second one, after a tough long day at work? How much time do you spend relaxing in the warm water? Researchers have a bad news for you. And the issue this time is not the cosmetics featuring an overwhelming list of suspicious chemicals on the label (a topic we discussed in another blog post). Taking a tap water shower creates a false sense of cleanliness and the reason is…water itself. A cocktail of harmful chemicals, bacteria, heavy metals and pharmaceutical residues might lurk in your water. And it leaves a trace on your skin surface, as well as inside your body.
What you may not know about showering
As a passionate fan of long relaxing showers, I was really distressed to learn that one of the most significant risks to your health is not about what you put in your body while drinking water, but what you put ON your body by showering in chlorinated or in other way contaminated and unfiltered water.
It is considered that hot or warm water causes the skin pores to open and speeds up the absorption of chemicals and other contaminants. According to Health and Longevity (1994) “the skin, the body’s largest organ, can easily absorb contaminants found in water which pass through it into the bloodstream.”
A 10-minute shower is comparable to drinking 3 L water/ day!
A 10-minute shower is comparable to drinking 3 L water/ day, and taking shower twice for periods of 15 minutes – 4.9 – 5.6 L/day, as far as contaminants absorption is concerned! The study that claimed this analyzes the contribution of different routes of exposure to the absorbed dose for 5 common waterborne compounds.
It turns out that drinking contaminated water is not the only threat…and even not the greatest one. Another study of the role of skin absorption as a route of exposure for VOC in drinking water concluded that dermal absorption is responsible for an average of 64% of the total dose. Scientists also claim that contaminants absorbed through inhaling evaporated chemicals during showering, as well as absorbed through the skin, account for up to 90% of the non-ingested dose.
We are drinking, we are eating, we are skin absorbing and also inhaling harmful chemicals that enter our homes with tap water. Dr. Lance Wallace of the Environmental Protection Agency stated:
“Showering is suspected as the primary cause of elevated levels of chloroform in nearly every home because of the chlorine in the water.”
The Department of Community Health makes a more moderate statement in a Chlorine Public Fact Sheet:
“The skin does not absorb chlorine well, but small amounts can pass through the skin when people are exposed to chlorine gas, bleach, or come into contact with water or soil containing high levels of chlorine. Although small amounts of chlorine can pass through the skin, it is eliminated from the body rapidly. Chlorine may irritate or burn the skin, especially moist areas.”
Studies might be in many ways inconclusive as to what extent showering and bathing let waterborne contaminants enter our bloodstream and cause adverse health effects. Authorities have set maximum tolerable limits for worst of contaminants and that should protect us from absorbing large amounts, anyway. It’s our choice to take measures (like installing a shower filter) or leave it to trust.
Which waterborne contaminants should I beware of?
It is deliberately added to public drinking water supplies for the largely debated purpose of reducing tooth decay. It is applied at about one milligram per liter (mg/L). (1)
Recent studies claim that fluoride from water fluoridation can accumulate in bone in adults to undesirably high levels (levels at which the bone is at risk of fracture). It is also suggested that fluoride intake at low daily doses changes tooth dentin. Also, fluoridation is believed to cause dental fluorosis in children, and infants fed infant formula made with fluoridated water are at higher risk.
Many independent researchers now recognize that fluoride is a neurotoxin. Claims have been made that fluoridated water consumption can cause endocrine dysfunction, hypothyroidism, ADHD, and reduced IQ in children.
What can I do to get rid of fluoride in my water? According to Water Quality Association, most effective treatment methods include Reverse Osmosis, Strong base anion exchange (Cl form) Activated alumina adsorption media, Distillation.
Chlorine and chloramines
Chlorine has been added to drinking water for disinfection since the 1890s when it was first applied to fight water-borne diseases such as cholera and typhoid.
But chlorinated water comes with a number of side effects. It is absorbed while drinking chlorinated water, through skin exposure when showering and bathing, it is also vaporized and breathed into the lungs causing respiratory problems. It might worsen asthma, allergy, sinus, and emphysema. Short-term exposure can cause tearing of the eyes, coughing, sputum, Bloody nose, and chest pain. Higher levels can cause fluid buildup in the lungs.
Chlorine reacts with organic contaminants to produce chloroform, considered to be a potential carcinogen. A number of studies demonstrate that communities using chlorinated or chloraminated drinking water have an increased risk of bladder, kidney, and rectal cancers. (3, 4, 5)
Chlorine and chloramines also have a damaging effect on your skin and hair, causing dry, irritated skin, dry frizzy hair and scaly irritated scalp.
Drinking water contaminated with heavy metals like lead, arsenic, cadmium is another issue to be considered. Though aAbsorption through the skin is considered to be less significant than inhalation and ingestion. (9)
Some of the adverse health effects related to heavy metals include: reduced intelligence, impaired hearing and decreased growth in children, damage to the brain, kidneys, and bone marrow, nervous system and red blood cells (lead); serious skin problems, skin, bladder, lung, kidney, liver, prostate cancer (arsenic); Nausea, Vomiting, diarrhea, muscle cramp, long-term – kidney, liver, bone and blood damage (cadmium).
Volatile Organic Chemicals (VOCs)
These include pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals. These chemicals are found in most municipal water sources due to agricultural runoff and contamination. Research links certain VOCs to damage in the reproductive system, liver, kidneys and more.
Bacteria and viruses
It might sound scary, but small levels of microbes are naturally present in many water supplies. Many are harmless, others are easily eliminated by a healthy immune system. Microbial contaminants, such as E. coli, Giardia, and Cryptosporidium, however, are more dangerous and can cause gastrointestinal problems and flu-like symptoms. (10)
Will a Shower Filter Help Me?
A light in the tunnel – there are already many designs of shower filters that are really effective at removing a specific contaminant(s). But the sad news is – none of them removes 100% all contaminants that come down your shower head. We’ll go through the technologies and treatment methods available to help you make the best choice that perfectly fits your needs and budget.
It is excellent at neutralizing water’s taste and odor effectively removes yeast and micro pollutants and absorbs traces of certain heavy metals. Effective at reducing chlorine, but not a good fit for shower water filtration since the hotter the water gets, the less effective the filter becomes.
Activated carbon filters also reduce chloramine, contrary to the widespread opinion. However, it takes more carbon and longer contact time (which is not the case with showering) to call it working.
Catalytic Granular Activated Carbon (CGAC) made from Bituminous Coal is considered to be most effective at reducing chloramines (compared to regular carbon filters). NSF International verifies claims of 85% chloramine removal of 3 mg/L. GAC filters. Catalytic Granular Activated Carbon is a special formulation that possesses greatly enhanced capacity to catalyze. Bituminous coal based activated carbon, on the other hand, has highly developed porous structure and large specific surface, large micropore volume, high hardness, wear and impact resistance and easy regeneration. If you fancy cold showers this option could work for you.
KDF55 is made of finely granulated zinc and copper alloys. It removes 99% of chlorine, lead, mercury, nickel, chromium, and other heavy metals from drinking water. This filter uses the redox principle (reduction – oxidation) to eliminate contaminants. It works by exchanging electrons with contaminants rendering them harmless.
KDF filters are a budget-friendly option, contain no chemicals and are 100% recyclable. They are also effective at controlling the buildup of bacteria, fungi or algae. KDF work well at high temperatures and flow rates.
You will often find it in combination with an activated carbon filter because it prolongs its life and makes it more effective. Also, it supplements it by removing heavy metals.
Caution! Don’t buy a filter that puts a carbon cartridge before a KDF-55 cartridge. Activated carbon takes oxygen out of the water, but the KDF needs oxygen to work properly
Note that KDF filters do not filter out chloramines (only free chlorine), and they seem to be less effective with low-pressure showers.
Other technologies that you might find while searching for the right water filter include:
In addition to absorbing chemical or organic residues that might be in the water, active bioceramics can soften and revitalize water by reducing the size of its molecules.
Quartz crystal sand is used to remove any lingering impurities from the water.
Vit C shower filters contain a block of Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) that is released just before the water comes down. It reacts with chlorine and chloramine to neutralize them. Though some of the claims made by producers might be a little exaggerated, Vitamin C has the capacity to effectively remove both chlorine and chloramine (11)(12). Also, the reaction is very fast (13), which makes it a good treatment method for shower water filtration.
But you need to keep an eye on the replacement cartridges as they don’t seem to last too long (every few months depending on brand).
Is there a BEST Solution?
In short, most public drinking water supplies contain substances that you don’t want to be in contact with. Neither through ingestion or through skin absorption and inhalation while enjoying your shower time. Though most waterborne chemicals like chlorine, chloramine, and fluoride are at levels that authorities consider no harmful health effects are likely to occur, playing on the safe side doesn’t hurt.
There is no perfect shower filter to save you from all contaminants at once. Activated Carbon (or CGAC) removes chlorine and chloramine but loses effectiveness in high-temperature waters. KDF filters remove free chlorine and a number of other contaminants, work in hot water, but does not remove chloramine. Vitamin C filters do a good job in removing both chlorine and chloramine in hot water, might help in improving your skin and hair, but that’s what they do. Nothing else.
A multi-stage filter, combining several technologies could be a good choice
Captain Eco 5-Stage Shower Filter, for example, eliminates a wide range of contaminants. A combination of Activated Carbon, Calcium Sulfite, Negative Ion, KDF 55 media works to eliminate chlorine, chloramine, ammonia, bad odor, lead, chromium, and removes a fair percentage of fluoride. KDF Process Media controls scale, bacteria, and algae.
It is great if your water is hard, alkaline water. Customer reviews of this shower filter confirm that water feels softer and bad smell is gone. Though, some experience lower water pressure after installing the unit.
To further leverage the effects of a multi-stage shower filter, combine it with a Vitamin C shower filter. Shower Filter Combo Vitamin C + Activated Carbon does a decent job. You don’t need to change your showerhead to use this one. It will neutralize any chlorine and chloramines that survived the 5-stage filtration of a multi-media water filter. Activated Carbon Fiber Filter removes rust, lime, algae, fine pollutants, heavy metal, harmful chemicals. The transparent housing lets you keep an eye on the Vitamin C cartridge and spot any upcoming need for replacement. It also features special natural ceramic ball that, the manufacturer claims, will make water molecules smaller and energize the water for better hydration. Whether your skin feels softer or better, it varies from case to case I guess. But at least – no more chlorine and other chemicals in the air!
This is how we are doing the combination in our shower for maximum filtration. Note we are using an older less effective KPF55/Carbon Filter, and have combined it with the Eco Camel
The information contained in this publication is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose illness nor prescribe treatment. Rather, this material is designed to be used in cooperation with your nutritionally-oriented health professional to deal with your personal health problems. Should you use this information on your own, you are prescribing for yourself, which is your constitutional right, but neither the author nor publisher assumes responsibility.