Why You Should Use A Shower Filter

The quality of our drinking water is a major determinant of our health and wellbeing. While most of us understand the importance of avoiding tap water and drinking pure water and filtering it to avoid harmful chemicals or contaminants, few realize that the water we shower and bathe in can be just as harmful, if not more. Here’s why…

What’s in Shower Water?

Unfiltered shower water can contain an array of chemicals including chlorine,

disinfection byproducts (DBPs), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), fluoride, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), fluoride, pharmaceuticals, heavy metals, chromium-6, and nitrate (linked to ovarian, kidney bladder and colon cancers). The skin is much more than just a covering for the body. It is the largest organ and is responsible for important functions like vitamin D creation and synthesis. It also has the ability to absorb much of what it comes in contact with and we are learning that it has its own unique and important microbiome!

Chlorine is a powerful antimicrobial agent, effective at killing pathogens and many different strains of bacteria. The chlorine in disinfected municipal water adversely affects the skin’s microbiome and the delicate balance of bacteria on the skin. Furthermore, The compounds in disinfected water may be able to reach the gut not only through our drinking water, but also through daily showers and baths. There’s a strong connection between the health of our gut flora and conditions such as acne, psoriasis, eczema, dermatitis, asthama and autoimmune disease (for more on how gut flora impact the skin and acne and how to naturally get rid of acne by fixing your gut).

Why Filtering Your Drinking Water Is NOT Enough

On average, you drink about 1 to 2 gallons of water per day… but you expose yourself to 25 gallons of water when you shower.
As concluded by the American Journal of Public Health… up to two-thirds of harmful chlorine exposure can be due to skin absorption and inhalation while showering.
The steam inhaled during a shower can contain up to 20 times the concentration of chlorine (and other synthetic chemicals) as tap water.
You can easily absorb as many toxins in 1 shower as you would drinking tap water for an entire week.
Studies show that after a 10-minute shower in chlorinated water, your blood levels of THMs (common disinfection byproduct – DBP) can potentially increase by as much as a staggering 700%.

These are some of the biggest risks associated with the chemicals in shower water (and the reasons I use a shower filter):

1. We Absorb More Chlorine Through Showering than Through Drinking Water
It may seem counter intuitive, but showering in chlorinated water can lead to more chlorine absorption than drinking chlorinated water. This is because we typically shower at warm temperatures, which triggers your skin’s pores to open which in turn enhances absorption. Not only is adsorption increased, but the water is coming in contact with a larger surface area allowing for more of it to be absorbed. Furthermore, unlike drinking tap water, where your digestive processes have the ability to filter out some of the contaminants and harmful toxins, your skin and lungs, do not. In fact, research shows that the chlorine in shower (or bath) water can easily enter the bloodstream as it has a low molecular weight allowing it to easily pass into the body.

Chlorine can also interact with other matter in the water to form harmful byproducts like trihalomethanes (THMs). One of these trihalomethanes is chloroform. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – When chlorine vaporizes in steam in your shower, it converts to chloroform gas. Chloroform can be a strong respiratory irritant and cause fatigue in lower concentration.

Warm air and water also open lungs, making inhalation of these chemicals easier as well. In fact, a study found a significantly higher concentration of chloroform in the lungs of study participants after a warm shower.

Chemicals absorbed through the skin can enter the blood stream quickly and have a tremendous impact on the body. This is great when it comes to things like topical magnesium that we want to enter the body quickly and in large enough amounts, but not so good when it comes to harmful disinfectant byproducts. This study even showed a greater lifetime risk of cancer and other problems from bathing or showering in chlorinated water than from drinking it.

2. Shower Water Releases Chemicals into the Air in the Home
There are some obvious offenders of indoor air-pollution: paints, paint strippers, house hold bleach and other cleansers and disinfectants, etc.   

Less obvious sources include: Many brands of scented candles which contain harmful chemicals and paraffins which are released into the air as they burn, many air fresheners (plugins and sprays), dry-cleaned clothing, as well as new furniture which has been treated with fire retardants and formaldehyde in pressed wood products (particle board for example) are also major offenders. Many of us fail to realize that shower water is also high on this list!

The heat of shower water can cause chemicals to vaporize and be released into the air in higher concentration than are present in the water itself. The EPA found significant and detectable levels of THMs and other byproducts in indoor air as a result of bath and shower water.

3. Chemicals in Shower Water may Cause Harm to the Skin Microbiome & Irritate Skin
The microbiome isn’t limited to the gut. While the importance of beneficial bacteria in the gut is becoming much more well known, there are lesser known “biomes” on the body, including the mouth and skin.

Logically, showering in a disinfecting agent like chlorine that is designed to reduce bacteria in the water is going to have a tremendous impact on the biome of the skin including imbalances in the ratios of beneficial to harmful bacteria. While many of the effects associated with such imbalances are traceable, with many people not seeming to have any noticeable affects, other more sensitive individuals experience acne, dry skin, eczema or irritation. These are just the direct surface effects of the chlorine exposure, as you’ll read there are many others.

4. Chemicals Present in Shower Water are Linked to Cancer & other Health Problems
As a follow up to the first point, some of the chemicals present in the water supply have been linked to various types of cancers. These chemicals can be problematic enough when consumed in water but are even more harmful when inhaled or absorbed through skin. Chris Kresser explains:

Research conducted on the health effects of chlorinated drinking water have demonstrated a variety of toxicity issues. Several studies have found that communities using chlorinated or chloraminated drinking water have an increased risk of bladder, kidney, and rectal cancers. (4, 5, 6) THMs from chemically treated water have been associated with a variety of poor birth outcomes, such as spontaneous abortion, birth defects, and low birth weight. (7) Chlorine and chloramine vapors are associated with greater risk of asthma, and may damage the mucosal lining of the respiratory tract. (8) Free radicals in chlorinated water have been linked to liver malfunction, weakening of the immune system and pre-arteriosclerotic changes in arteries. (9)

and Food Renegade points out a more specific link between chlorine and breast cancer:

Breast cancer, which now effects one in every eight women in North America, has recently been linked to the accumulation of chlorine compounds in the breast tissue. A study carried out in Hartford Connecticut, the first of it’s kind in North America, found that, “women with breast cancer have 50% to 60% higher levels of organochlorines (chlorination byproducts) in their breast tissue than women without breast cancer.”

Of course, correlation does not equal causation, but in this case, the evidence is strong enough to warrant caution and further study. It is worth taking precautions against easy-to-eliminate sources of chlorine exposure by using things like drinking water filters and shower filters.

5. Chloramines May be Even more Harmful than Chlorine
Another chemical often used in the water supply is chloramine, a mixture of chlorine and ammonia. As you may imagine, it has its risks as well and may be even more irritating to the skin and lungs that chlorine itself.

Unfortunately, many filters that remove chlorine do not easily remove chloramines, so it is important to research options and address both chemicals when considering shower filters.

6. Chlorine Can Wreak Havoc with Your Hair
We already discussed how chlorine can impact your skin, however it can also affect your hair. Hair color and dye are often among the few cosmetics even “natural-minded” people justify using. Many people, and not just women, want to cover up what they consider unsightly gray hair.

Showering in water with chlorine concentrations can impact the longevity of your hair dye. It does this by stripping the natural protective oils from your skin and hair… causing excess drying. This in turn breaks down the dye.

Your scalp has a very rich blood supply capable of transporting dye toxins throughout your body. So, if you must use it, coloring your hair less often is better than doing it on a more frequent basis (and yes this isn’t what you’d expect to hear from your average salon but we care as much about our clients health as we do their appearance). However, showering in steamy chlorinated water, increases the chances of having to color your hair more often due to the effects of the chlorine.

But enough already… Let’s start to look at what steps you can take to make your shower a safer place for both you and your family. After all, everyone has to shower or bathe to stay clean and refreshed.

How to Minimize Your Exposure to Shower Water Contaminants

Here are some simple steps I recommend you take to minimize your exposure to chlorine and other contaminants in your shower water:

  • Limit the amount of time you spend in your shower – The longer you shower the more your exposure to toxins increases. It’s estimated that doubling your shower time quadruples the amount of vaporized chemical gases you’re exposed to.
  • Lower the temperature of your shower water – Hot water opens up the pores of your skin increasing absorption and thereby allowing a more of the chlorine, DBPs, and other toxins. Plus, the steam produced can contain high concentrations of vaporized gasses you can inhale, further increasing exposure.
  • Get a shower filter by acknowledging the risks associated with showering in chlorinated water – Consider obtaining a high-quality filtration system for your shower.

For most, the last step is probably the most practical and therefore could be the most important in protecting you, and your family. The real challenge is finding a high-quality system that filters out chlorine, DBPs, and other chemicals, as well as is practical and affordable.

Types of Shower Filters

There are various types of shower filters that are effective against chlorine and chloramines and I’ve personally tried several over the years. Filters may use charcoal/carbon, Vitamin C or KDF (kinetic degradation fluxion). There are pros and cons to each type of filter, including (from least effective to most effective):

  • Carbon Filters: Simple carbon filters like the popular Sprite filters are effective at removing chlorine (though not as effective against chloramines) and with a caveat: They don’t work very well at warm temperatures. In fact, they become less effective the warmer the water gets, making them more effective for drinking water filtration (usually filtered cool) and less effective for shower filters. They are a budget friendly option that can be helpful, especially for those who don’t take really hot showers.
  • KDF Filters: Another relatively budget friendly option, a KDF filter is very effective at removing chlorine, but not as effective at removing chloramines. These may be a good option in places where chloramines are not used in the water supply.
  • Vitamin C Filters: Effective at removing both chlorine and chloramines. Vitamin C creates a chemical reaction that completely changes chlorine and chloramines, rendering them harmless. These types of filters remove both chlorine and chloramines almost completely.
  • Calcium Sulfite Treatment: Effective at removing both chlorine and chloramines. Calcium Sulfite is used worldwide and has optimal performance in removing chlorine and is capable of removing 99% of chlorine in 0.8 seconds. Calcium Sulfite is 100 times more effective than activated carbon at removing chlorine, chlormines, and heavy metals such as lead, mercury, cadmium and aluminium.

Unfortunately, no shower filter removes 100% of chlorine and chloramines (though some, like the Raindrops Shower Filter remove 90+%). The only filter we’ve found that seems to completely remove chlorine, chloramines, as well as most fluoride and other contaminants in shower water is a whole house filter (like this one).

How to Filter Bath Water

For a long time, I filled the bath tub from the shower head so that the water would run through the shower filter to remove the chlorine and other contaminants. This is before finding a better way. The Rainshowr Bath Ball is a bath dechlorinator that removes chlorine (and some of the chloramine) in bath water in just a couple of minutes. If you have infants or young children, or if you simply enjoy a relaxing bath every once in a while, the Rainshowr Bath Ball is a must have.

Shower Filters: Bottom Line

Filtering shower water is a simple and relatively inexpensive step that can make a big difference in reducing chlorine and other chemical exposure in the home. While some individuals seem to be much more sensitive to chlorine and notice the effects more readily, these chemicals affect all of us on a cellular level and it’s important that you protect yourself and your family from these avoidable toxic exposures.

Using a simple shower filter or bath dechlorinator is an easy way to remove chlorine and other harmful chemicals in bath and shower water.

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