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The battle between Florida's hard water and your hair

At The Color Bar Salon, owner and front desk manager, Nadia Cuellar rinses her clients hair after a full highlight on Wednesday, March 27. After almost ten years of owning The Color Bar Salon, Nadia has installed water filters on all the shampoo heads in their rinse bowls and she focuses on the importance of a thorough wash for her clients hair.
Emily Ching
Central Florida Public Media
At the Color Bar Salon, owner Nadia Cuellar rinses her client's hair after a full highlight on Wednesday, March 27. After almost 10 years of owning the business, Nadia has installed water filters on all the shampoo heads in the rinse bowls, and she focuses on the importance of a thorough hair wash.

For some Floridians, there is a brawl between their scalps and the taps because of the concentration of minerals in water, a product of the aquifer's karst topography.

Dryness, elasticity and oiliness are just a few characteristics that people complain about when mentioning the effects of hard water.

Hard water is the term used to describe the concentration of minerals in water, specifically, calcium, magnesium and manganese. Hard water is visible in residue made of these minerals.

Dr. Yinlin Zhaung, the water resources regional specialized agent for the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences extension central district in Gainesville, said Florida’s water is specifically hard because of karst topography. Meaning, underneath Florida’s ground lies porous limestone that contains high contents of calcium and magnesium; this is known as the Floridan Aquifer System.

“It can have buildups, effective in clinging, sometimes you will see the white buildup in the water appliances,” Zhaung said. “Sometimes, it can even live on your dishes.”

A Hard State

Florida has an average water hardness of 216 parts per million, which is considered very hard. Here are average levels in some cities:
Boca Raton, 189 PPM
Cape Coral, 235 PPM
Clearwater, 178 PPM
Fort Lauderdale,157 PPM
Gainesville, 145 PPM
Hialeah, 290 PPM
Hollywood, 254 PPM
Jacksonville, 138 PPM
Lakeland, 180 PPM
Miami area, 219 PPM
Orlando, 129 PPM
Port St. Lucie, 197 PPM
St. Petersburg, 180 PPM
Tallahassee, 126 PPM
Tampa, 290 PPM
West Palm Beach, 317 PPM
Source: HydroFlow USA

Hard water is not a contaminant, so it is not regulated by the federal Safewater Drinking Act. According to the Water Quality Association, there are scales and categories of the hardness of water. When the calcium is between 120 and 180 parts per million, then water is considered hard.

In the Orlando area, the calcium is 129 parts per million, according to HydroFlow USA, which sells water conditioners. In Tampa, it's 290. In West Palm Beach, it tops 300.

The usage of hard water while showering can result in hair and skin feeling dry.

“The main concern is how we feel about our hair,” Zhaung said.

A never-ending wash cycle

Abigail Hendrix, a freshman at the University of Central Florida who resides in student housing, said she started to notice a heaviness on her hair, since moving to the Orlando area. It is almost like there was a product buildup that makes her hair feel heavy and oily to the touch compared to her home in Tampa, where she said she has a water softener.

“Since coming here my hair has been more dirty, it has taken a toll on me, it’s frustrating,” Hendrix said. “I want to do things with my hair, but because it’s so dry and brittle, I go to braid it, it doesn’t look good. I have to take it out. I have to wash it several times before I like how it looks.”

Hendrix said her usual hair-wash routine has shortened, she now skips a day between washing because of excess oil buildup. Despite the excess oil, her scalp has been dryer. To combat this, Hendrix has installed a water filter on top of her shower head and changed her hair products, but she said she has not noticed a significant difference. But this process can be a trial and error for most.

“The shower itself turns white from the minerals,” said Hendrix.

 At the University of Central Florida, freshman Abigail Hendrix looks at herself in the mirror while feeling her hair breaking as she brushes her hair in her dorm bathroom.
Emily Ching
Central Florida Public Media
UCF freshman Abigail Hendrix of Tampa looks at herself in the mirror while feeling her hair breaking as she brushes in her dorm bathroom.

A professional take

Experience with hard water in hair is a familiar look and feeling for not only residents, but also for some hair stylists.

Nadia Cuellar, owner of the Color Bar Salon in Oviedo, said because of the hard water buildup, the hair cannot absorb all the nutrients from shampoo and conditioner. This leaves the hair with that familiar dry, frizzy and brittle texture that’s recognizable when she washes her clients' hair.

“It’s our job as hairdressers to educate our clients,” said Cuellar.

This buildup causes hair to tangle when it’s submerged in water, almost having an elastic-like feel. The best way to combat the effects of hard water? Installing a water filter or water treatment system, as well as researching hair products that strengthen and unclog pores in the hair.

At the end of the day, “the hair will tell you,” Cuellar said.

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