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There was a time when I thought shower filters were merely gimmicks for health freaks and women with very delicate hair and skin. Reading about various research findings changed my mind. Studies found that filtering your shower’s water likely aids your health more than the tap water filter on your kitchen faucet.
While you’re scrubbing, cleansing, and exfoliating dirt and bacteria off your body, your shower head is actually spraying you with water laden with chemicals. This can cause an array of health problems, from skin dryness and irritation, to life-threatening diseases.
Basically, without a filter you are showering in a pesticide (which chlorine is, it kills harmful pathogens in water and beneficial bacteria in our body). Still, be aware that scare tactics are common and claims about, for instance, dermal chlorine absorption may be exaggerated.
Here’s an overview of the risks, demonstrated by medical science, the benefits of shower head water filters and if they are really necessary for every household.
1. Sickmaking bacteria reside in showerheads
You probably don’t even think of what is actually coming out of your shower head when you turn on the water and start lathering your loofah. But Biology Professor Norman Pace of the University of Colorado claims that even if you shower by yourself, you’re not alone: millions of microorganisms and bacteria are piled up inside your unfiltered shower head, ready do rain down on you the minute you turn the faucet handle.
Pace lead a study in which 50 showerheads from across the country were tested to see how much gunk (what they called biofilm) was building up inside and what exactly was crawling around in that gunk.
- His study concluded that 60% of the shower heads tested contained bacteria and microorganisms, the most prevalent being Mycobacterium avium, a pathogen that can cause pulmonary disease. The New York Times even reports about carcinogenic bacteria sprouting in your shower head.
It seems like this is all you need to hear before you decide that you need a shower filter, but the benefits of installing one reach far beyond gross showerhead goo.
2. You will look younger and save money
There are some pretty convincing cosmetic reasons for getting a shower head filter. The problem with having even trace amounts of chlorine in your shower water is that it bonds to the skin and hair, removing moisture and disrupting the balance of necessary, helpful bacteria that resides on your body.
- This can result in dry, irritated skin. It can also contribute to premature signs of aging, such as discoloration and wrinkles. A shower filter neutralizes the chemicals, leaving your skin with a natural softness and luster that is noticeable the very first time you use it. Do you suffer from red, itchy skin after showering? A filter may help you out.
- The same goes for your hair. Chlorine strips the natural oils that moisturize hair follicles and leaves you with dry, frizzy hair and a scaly, irritated scalp. Shower filters can restore your hair’s natural shine and texture, taming frizz and increasing elasticity. You wouldn’t be the first who got their youthful, soft glossy hair back. Plus, you’ll save money because you will no longer need to buy expensive conditioners, hot oil treatments, or trips to the hair salon. A friend of mine was able to stop treating her head with lotion because of scalp flakes after installing a filter.
- Chlorinated water speeds the aging process. Some studies show similar effects as to those from extensive sun exposure. EPA formulates it like this: “chlorine byproducts trigger the production of free radicals in the body, causing cell damage, and are highly carcinogenic”.
People who switched to using a shower filter note that “the very first time you shower you can feel the difference in your hair and skin”. In other words, shower head filters make you look younger.
3. More chlorine enters your body via inhalation while showering than through drinking tap water
The chemical chlorine, used by water treatment facilities, reduces pathogenic bacteria in our water yet it’s byproducts are hazarous to our health. When chlorine reacts with organic matter in water it forms disinfectant byproducts, aka trihalomethanes (THMs) one of which is the cancer-causing chloroform.
It is often claimed that, when showering your pores open which leads to increased dermal absorption of toxic substances such as chlorine and its byproducts. By taking a shower without a water filter, you are even more susceptible to chlorine and chloramine than by merely drinking unfiltered water
The health risks caused by chlorine absorption are explained as follows in a paper by The Department of Community Health:
“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.”
Science News reported that researchers found increases in chloroform in study participants’ lungs of about 2.7ppb after a 10-minute shower. Combined with warm water opening pores, skin absorption and lung inhalation during a 10-minute shower showed to be greater than the amount that would be ingested by drinking 8 glasses of the same water.
Also, besides chlorine and chloroform there are other airborne chemicals that may be absorbed by open pores while showering. Generally, skin absorption and inhalation causes the chemicals to travel directly to the blood stream, contaminating your body quickly and causing irreparable damage.
- A 1992 report by the American Journal of Public Health links a 15% to 35% increase in certain types of cancer among people who consume chlorinated water. This report also points out that much of these health risks were due to showering in chlorinated water.
- What’s more is that the shower is the single biggest source of releasing water contaminants to the air of the home. When you shower, the chemicals present in the water vaporize at a much faster rate than the water itself. This creates VOC gases that contain much higher concentrations of the chemicals than the actual water. Such concentrations are thought to be 10 to 30 times higher.
A recent EPA rreport notes, “Virtually every home in America has a detectable level of chloroform gas in the air due to chlorine and showering.”
Even though study conclusions are sometimes inconclusive, the signs are clear. Chlorine and its byproducts are a cold hard fact and while showering you are exposed in two ways, dermal and via inhalation. So aside from the more aesthetic changes in your skin and hair, a quality shower filter helps protect your body on the inside.
4. A shower head water filter may help you feel fitter
Do you sometimes feel worse after a long, hot shower than when you first got in? It might be due to chlorine absorption and inhalation. Chlorine exposure can cause physical fatigue, mental depression, and a lowered autoimmune function, making it harder for your body to ward off infectious diseases and allergic reactions. A shower filter will get rid of those harsh vapors, strengthening your immune system and leaving your mind truly envigorated.
“Recently, showers have been suspected to be an important source of indoor exposure to volatile organic compounds (VOC’s)” Source: PubMed.
5. Research demonstrates showering can cause cancer
Vaporized, inhaled chlorine damages lungs. The Center for Disease Control confirms that people who take hot showers are more exposed to chlorine and its hazardous by-products than those who drink unfiltered tap water. This is because when the unfiltered water is heated, the chlorine turns into a gas and is absorbed into the skin or inhaled.
- Multiple studies demonstrate that the link between chlorinated water and cancer may actually be even more due to showering than drinking chlorinated tap water. This while a meta study already found a link between drinking chlorinated water and cancer.
Various publications such as the books Never Fear Cancer Again: How to Prevent and Reverse Cancer and The American Health Hoax: The Surprising Truth About How Modern Medicine Keeps You Sick mention that; “Exposure to vaporized chlorine is 100 times more damaging than drinking chlorinated water”
- Scientists have been conducting various tests and studies in the past 20 years regarding the effects of prolonged exposure to chlorine. A representative of the U.S. Council of Environmental Quality stated that “cancer risk among people drinking chlorinated water is 93% higher than among those whose water does not contain chlorine.”
Two separate studies, one in Massachusetts and one in Colorado, both determined that chlorine, as well as the by-product chloramine (which is chlorine mixed with ammonia) was present in water and was linked to an increase of deaths due to cancer in the bladder, kidneys, and rectum.
6. Chlorinated showers may be risky for pregnant women
For women who are pregnant, a shower filter is vital in reducing chlorine exposure that may not only put the mother’s health at risk, but the unborn child as well.
- A study conducted by a team in England determined that women who drank or took showers in unfiltered water laced with chlorine and chloramine contamination resulted in various complications with the pregnancy, including spontaneous abortions, stillbirth, low birth weight, premature delivery, and a spectrum of birth defects ranging from nerve damage to weak hearts.
Real conclusions can not be drawn from the limited studies, especially not since no studies specifically on the effects of showering in relation to pregnancy have been done. Considering the other health hazards it may be wise to be better safe than sorry though.
7. Children may run developmental health risks
For children, a hot bath or shower with unfiltered municipal water could have dangerous effects on their development. In Belgium, a study was done to find out if there was any correlation between school children who spent time breathing the air in an indoor swimming pool and an increase in lung permeation and the development of asthma.
Children who played frequently at the pool had an increased risk of developing juvenile asthma, and in some cases the symptoms were severe.
- They also had more damaged epithelial tissue, which is the tissue that makes up the outer layer of skin and lines the insides of the lungs. This study confirms just how harmful chlorine vapors can be for a child’s respiratory system, not just in community pools, but at home in showers and baths, too.
8. Chlorinated shower damps are known to cause asthma and allergy attacks
Asthma and allergy sufferers are reported to have fewer attacks when using shower head water filters blocking the irritants. Even though outdoor air quality has improved the past decades asthma among children has increased by over 300%. Researchers think poor indoor air quality due to synthetic chemicals, especially from vaporized shower water, may be a cause.
Also remarkably, the incidence of sinus infections has significantly increased since the Spring of 1990. This is theorized to be likely caused by increased (indoor) air pollution and antibiotics use. Chlorine is known to cause inflammation of the sinus linings.
9. We’re already exposed to so many toxic chemicals
In our modern day industrialized society we use more than 75,000 toxic chemicals. Our public water supplies are known to contain 2100 of these. Most, if not all, of these toxins can be inhaled and absorbed while showering.
Considering that other common chemical pollutants, from fragranced products such as laundry detergent to scented candles, from modern building materials to certain foods, reducing our exposure to toxins is critically important to our health and wellbeing. A shower filter can be a great and effective start in doing so.
Are shower filters really necessary for everyone?
It depends on whether or not your municipal water is chlorinated (or contains chloramine). If not you might be able to shower safely without a filter.
Some water companies use chloramine (chlorine plus ammonia) to disinfect municipal water. This substance releases ammonia to the air as well thus making it a potentially even more dangerous disinfectant. Check your local water company’s website or give them a call to find out what’s in your water. Shower filters that completely remove chloramine do not exist.
Filters that reduce chlorine don’t necessarily remove chloramine.
How to pick a shower filter. Which Shower Filter is the best?
There are thousands of different brands and types of shower filters on the market today, but the most effective filters use a carbon, Vitamin C, or kinetic degradation fluxion (KDF) filtration system. Each type of filter has their advantages as well as some disadvantages, so it’s essential to know what you need to filter out in order to decide which type would work best for your needs.
However, generally considered the best shower filters are either vitamin C filters, two stage filter systems or carbon filters containing high-grade carbon, made from coconut shell, instead of charcoal. A very popular and affordable option is the Culligan shower filter.
- A carbon shower filter is the most common type of filter, similar to the ones found in Brita faucet filters. It is a less expensive method of filtration because the activated carbon used inside is relatively cheap. This Sprite Chlorine Removing Shower Head is a great option. However, a carbon filter is the least effective method in removing harmful chemicals from your bath water because it is affected by the heat. Once the water being filtered reaches a certain temperature, it negates the activated carbon, rendering it useless. Stick to carbon filters for kitchen sinks or fancy water pitchers only.
- KDF filters, like the RS-503 model from Rainshow’r, use equal parts copper and zinc. These metals are dissimilar and when they are pressed against each other, their imbalance creates a tiny electrical charge. The electricity is not enough to do any harm to humans, but it is large enough to affect the metals and minerals in the water as it gets pushed through the filter. When water passes through this charge, it liberates the free-roaming chlorine from the rest of the molecules in the water. The chlorine then recombines with another metal such as calcium and chloride, a water-soluble and perfectly harmless electrolyte. The downside to using a KDF filter is that they do not filter out chloramines, and they are less effective with low-pressure showers.
- Vitamin C filters are arguably the best, yet not the most popular option. They filter out an impressive 99% of the chlorine found in water, while others filter out anywhere from 20-80%. Vitamin C filters also remove most chloramines and sediment. The filter uses a tube of ascorbic acid (pure Vitamin C) which interacts with the chlorine and the chloramines and neutralizes them. They are pretty pricey, though, and the ascorbic acid replacements don’t last very long. This filter from Sakani is the top of the line in terms of Vitamin C filters.
- Two stage filters not only reduce chlorine and other chemicals but also improve the water’s pH balance. Commonly the first stage filter employs zinc and granular copper to filter out chlorine and other chemicals. The second stage filter uses activated carbon to remove additional pollutants.
A shower is typically a pleasant experience. Taking a shower can perk you up in the morning and get you ready for the day ahead, or when taken in the evenings can wash some of your troubles away before bed.
By using a shower filter, the levels of harmful chemicals and bacteria found in your water may be greatly reduced, decreasing your risk of dermal irritations and possible disease. Once installed, a shower filter removes any sediment that may be present in your water, and reduces the traces of chemicals, making your water cleaner and safer on the body.
For most people, a shower head filter is definitely worth the price and the upkeep. It helps you protect yourself and your family from absorbing, inhaling, or consuming dangerous chemicals and pathogens. It’s true that no filter will be 100% effective at filtering your shower or bath water, but they do help decrease the percentage of your exposure to anything hazardous, leaving you with noticeably soft skin and hair and protecting your body from the threat of cancer and other disease.
“There are three things which will bring the end of civilization, even the mightiest that have ever been or shall be . . . impure water, impure air, and impure food.” Zend Avesta, sacred book of the Parsis, 3000 BC