Baby’s skin is extremely vulnerable and delicate. The outer layer is around 30% thinner than adults, meaning it can react more sensitively to some types of water.1 When considering the best water to use on your baby such as hard, soft, tap and boiled, it can be confusing to know which is the purest and most effective at cleansing their skin. Here, consultant dermatologist Dr Cairine Wilkinson, explains the varying types of water, and gives her advice on which is best to use on your baby.
Hard water vs soft water
As a dermatologist, I find that parents can be confused about the different types of water such as hard and soft water, and which one is best for babies’ skin. The hardness of the water is primarily determined by the minerals within it. Soft water tends to have higher concentrations of sodium, whilst hard water has a higher amount of calcium and magnesium.2
A few weeks after birth, your baby's skin surface changes from a neutral pH to an acid pH, and this acidic film on the skin is called the acid mantle.3 This has antimicrobial properties and helps protect your baby’s skin from harmful bacteria.4 Soft water is much better to use on baby’s skin as it has an acidic pH and therefore helps preserve this acid mantle and it’s antibacterial properties. Therefore, water only baths or gentle baby wipes with minimal ingredients, such as WaterWipes work best if you live in a soft water area.
Hard water in contrast has an alkaline pH.2 Washing your baby in a hard water baby bath only may disturb their acid mantle, changing their skin PH and causing the skin to dry out.5 It also makes it more susceptible to harmful bacteria and infections and can aggravate skin conditions such as nappy rash or eczema as it strips away the skin’s natural oils.5 If you live in a hard water area, it may be a good idea therefore to add a mild, liquid baby cleanser when bathing. Alternatively, you can again use alcohol and fragrance-free baby wipes, like WaterWipes as they are very gentle and will not upset the acid mantle or natural PH balance of your baby's skin.
Products and ingredients to avoid
When cleansing your baby’s skin, it’s also important to be aware of what ingredients and products should be avoided. Don’t use any harsh soaps or liquid cleansers on your little one, as many of these products include unnecessary ingredients such as parfum, phenoxyethanol and preservatives. These can irritate babies’ skin, with those susceptible to nappy rash or with eczema-prone skin being especially vulnerable. I would advise these products are avoided and parents instead use products with as few and recognisable ingredients as possible such as WaterWipes.
Tapped, boiled and bottled water
Whilst tap water is perfectly safe to drink and use on skin in the UK, it can still contain small amounts of chemicals such as lead6, copper, chlorine7, fluoride8, zinc and nickel. When used on baby’s skin, it can have a drying effect, and as a result, parents might be concerned about cleansing their newborn with it, particularly if you do live in a hard water area.
Parents often think using bottled water is a better and purer alternative to tap water, particularly as it can be more convenient when out and about. However, bottled water is often not entirely sterile either and can contain sodium or sulphate.9 Even best-selling brands have been shown to contain contaminants, at levels like those found in tap water.10
Boiling tap or bottled water is one of the most effective ways to eliminate the impurities within it.11 Cooled, boiled water is recognised as being effective at cleaning infant’s skin and is a much gentler alternative to using tap water. However, whilst boiling effectively removes most impurities, it cannot remove all of them nor all chemical toxins. It’s also worth noting that when it comes to cleaning your baby’s genitals and bottom, cooled boiled water may not always be enough. This is because baby poo has a higher percentage of fat than adult poo, and it is tricky to get off.4 Gentle wipes, with minimal ingredients, such as WaterWipes can help here to ensure all the fatty deposit is removed and the baby’s bottom is fully clean.4
Ultrapure water (or high-purity water) has all impurities and contaminants removed. The water used in WaterWipes is ultra-pure and goes through a 7-step purification process to soften it and remove all the impurities. This makes it effective at cleansing the skin without the need for any additional cleansing ingredients, that could aggravate their skin. Therefore, they won’t disrupt the skin barrier and can help minimise the chance of skin conditions such as eczema and nappy rash too.
WaterWipes are purer than cotton wool and water
Parents might have heard that they can use cotton wool and water on their baby’s skin. However, whilst water and cotton wool are perceived to be 'pure', particulates, impurities and other minerals are found in both the cotton material and the water, even if boiled. WaterWipes are an alternative and purer method for cleansing baby’s skin as the Skin Health Alliance has validated that WaterWipes are ‘purer than cotton wool and water’.
WaterWipes water passes through a unique seven-step purification process that removes impurities, softens and purifies the water. This makes them purer for cleansing baby’s skin than cotton wool and water.
About the Author
Cairine Wilkinson, is a consultant dermatologist at Derriford Hospital in Plymouth. She has a special interest in paediatric dermatology and is a member of the British Association of Dermatologists.
1 The Anatomy of Skin. Available at https://www.communitypractitioner.co.uk/features/2010/10/anatomy-skin
2 Hard Water vs. Soft Water: Which One Is Healthier? Available at https://www.healthline.com/health/hard-water-and-soft-water#Whats-the-difference-between-hard-water-and-soft-water?
3 Skin Physiology of the Neonate and Infant: Clinical Implications. Available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4593874/
4 Is water-only best for bathing my baby https://www.babycentre.co.uk/x1003005/is-water-only-best-for-bathing-my-baby
5 ‘Hard’ tap water linked to eczema in babies. Available at https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/eczema/news/20160601/hard-tap-water-linked-to-eczema-in-babies
6 Discover Water. Lead [online]. Available from: https://discoverwater.co.uk/lead
7 Discover Water. Taste [online]. Available from: https://discoverwater.co.uk/taste
7 Discover Water. Fluoride [online]. Available from: https://discoverwater.co.uk/fluoride
9 Can I use bottled water to make up baby formula (infant formula). Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/making-up-infant-formula/
10 Bottled Water, FAQ on safety and purity [online]. Available at: https://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/news/20081107/bottled-water-faq-on-safety-and-purity#1
11 CDC Making Water Safe in an Emergency. Available at https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/emergency/making-water-safe.html