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Shower filters: How they work and why you should get one

All the chemicals that are hiding in your bathroom.

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You'd be surprised at the dirty contaminants hiding in your shower water.

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If you already own a Brita filter to get rid of contaminants in your drinking water, you might want to consider doing the same for your shower water too.

I'm willing to bet that you've all heard the concerns about heavy metals, chlorine and other chemicals in our drinking water -- and many of these worries are well founded. Even cities in developed countries, including the US, struggle with polluted water, posing a serious health risk to the people who live there.

It turns out, a lot of these contaminants can be harmful in your bathroom too. The good news is that you can buy a shower filter for a relatively low price to protect yourself and your family from all the metals and chemicals in water.

Even if you're confident that your water is safe to drink, a ton of people report that using a shower filter gives them softer skin, better hair, and helps fix all sorts of cosmetic annoyances.

Lead and chlorine in drinking water

Even if your water smells and tastes fine, harmful chemicals could be lurking inside. Water pollutants fall into different categories, but the main ones of concern in your shower water are toxic metals, chlorine (used as a disinfectant) and the byproducts that chlorine creates with other chemicals in the water.

The main toxic metals that often hide in water are arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury, which all made the WHO's top ten list of  "chemicals of major health concern."

Lead is often deemed as the biggest offender -- water slowly corrodes the lead in home plumbing systems, and the toxic metal seeps into the water. Children are at a particularly high risk and have been reported to absorb up to 50% of their lead through drinking water. Even at relatively low levels, WHO reports that lead exposure can cause irreversible neurological issues.

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The lead from degrading plumbing can get into drinking water, causing all sorts of public health issues.

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Another main issue is connected to the chlorine that's used as a disinfectant in our drinking water. The major health concern is actually the byproducts that are created when chlorine reacts with natural organic matter in the water, creating harmful chemicals called THMs. You've probably heard of chloroform, which is just one common THM, and high levels of THMs act as a carcinogen.

One study found that people absorbed more THMs from a 10-minute shower than from drinking a liter of water, so if you're concerned about this, a shower filter can be helpful.

Are there toxic metals in your household water?

I hope I haven't scared you into never touching your household water again. Many countries, including the United States, have a comprehensive set of guidelines to make sure that the harmful chemicals in your water are being examined and regulated. 

In the US, the EPA has legally enforceable standards for all different types of pollutants in your drinking water, as well as secondary concerns that may cause skin irritation or affect your hair. Your local water supplier should produce a new Consumer Confidence Report each year, and the EPA has a public database to easily look up the most recent report for your area. You can read the report and check if there are any worrisome pollutant levels in your water, but you can also rest safe in the knowledge that if any contaminants are over their legal limit, your area will certainly be notified.

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If you use public drinking water in your home, you can rest assured that it's passing all sorts of safety tests.

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If you're especially worried about lead, one easy way to mitigate that risk is to simply run the tap water a few minutes before using it. The most dangerous amounts of lead accumulate when the water has been sitting in your home's pipes overnight, so if you flush that immediate water out, you'll be in better shape.

Why you should buy a shower filter

If concerns about nasty chemicals in your water have already prompted you to filter your drinking water, you may want to do the same for your shower as well. Although your shower water is monitored to be safe in the short term, long-term exposure to heavy metals and chlorine is still a risk, especially for the very young and elderly.

Even if your water is perfectly safe, your hair and skin might still benefit from a shower filter. For some people, the minerals and metals in their shower water wreaks havoc on their hair. Water with high concentrations of minerals is known as "hard water," and it runs through the pipes in many people's homes. Not sure if you have hard water? This USGS map can help.

Although it's technically safe for consumption, you can easily find plenty of people who say that hard water wrecks their skin and hair, and that buying a shower filter alleviated acne, frizzy hair and even eye irritation. Even more people say that a shower filter helped with itchy and dull skin, and flaky scalps.

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If you've ever experienced red, cracky skin, chlorine may be making it worse.

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It turns out that the reported effects of hard water on your skin are backed up by science. The specific minerals in hard water make it hard for soaps and shampoos to lather and do their  job, so that icky feeling on your skin might actually be that it's not getting quite as clean. 

A lot of the hair and skin irritation has to do with the fact that soap and hard water react to form "scum", the white sticky layer left behind on your skin after soaping up. Have you ever noticed the white residue that builds up on your faucets that's hard to clean? It's the product of calcium and magnesium in your water, and that same residue is building up on your skin too. The scum clogs your pores and can cover the strands of your hair so that conditioner can't do its work.

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Hard water causes white gunk that piles up on your faucet.

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It's not just the minerals and metals in water that dry out your skin. Anyone who's spent time in a chlorinated pool knows how the chemical seems to draw all the moisture out from your body, leaving you with red skin and crunchy hair. The residual chlorine in shower water can create the same problems on a much smaller scale, leaving you with skin that just can't get quite as soft as you'd like. Keep in mind that the chlorine in water is hard to remove, so you'll want to make sure the filter you buy is capable of removing it.

How to choose the right shower filter for your home

Different types of filters work better to remove different types of contaminants, so you'll want to check out what's in your water and decide what's most important for you. Another thing to keep in mind is that while the initial purchase might not be that expensive, you'll typically need to replace the filter every six months. So, you should factor that cost in too while looking at your shower filter budget.

Without further ado, here are all the models to fit your specialized needs.

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Sonaki

This activated carbon filter is the most effective choice for your shower head, and since it's an inline model you won't need to buy a separate showerhead. The granular activated carbon removes chlorine, chloramine (another disinfectant sometimes used), heavy metals, rust, and any other byproducts, so you can shower knowing that you're safe. Plus, it'll soften your water so you can get softer hair than ever.

QwenchPure

KDF filters are made out of copper and zinc, two elements that create a small electrical-chemical charge between them. While it may seem counterintuitive to put more metal in your shower, a KDF filter is great for dissolving mercury, cadmium, arsenic, aluminum, and even chlorine. You won't notice the electric charge in your shower, but the heavy metals sure will. This one too can be installed with any shower head, and will get rid of a lot of the hardness in your water.

Aqua Earth

A Vitamin C filter removes chlorine by neutralizing it, but it won't affect many other contaminants. If you have confidence in the safety of your water but chlorine gives you dry skin, a Vitamin C filter is a great way to go. The filter can also be attached to any shower head you already have.

Suncoo

If you're operating on a tight budget, this shower filter is great because it's less than $10. It mainly gets rid of chlorine but can dissolve some heavy metals as well. So if better skin and healthier hair is your main concern, it's a great choice.  And, once again, this filter fits onto any shower head you currently use.

Reverse Osmosis Revolution

If the thought of pollutants in your household system is concerning to you or you live in an area that has contaminated water, you may want to invest in a whole house water filter. This model has three filtration layers--one with a micron sediment layer, another with granular activated carbon and a final carbon block filter, ensuring that just about everything harmful will be taken out of your water. So, you can enjoy using tap water from every faucet in your house without worry.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.