Blame the water at Penn State for your bad hair


I don’t know if I am the only one, but I believe that Penn State water is extremely different than the water in my home town. Most girls on my floor think I’m crazy, so I researched whether or not the water coming out of the East Hall shower heads is responsible for my ruined hair.

One article that I came across explained how there are two main types of water: hard and soft. If you were to travel from the East Coast to the Midwest, the water is most likely going to be different. As you travel towards the mid-west, the water gets harder and harder, then softening up on the west coast again. (see the picture to the right)

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Hard water is known to have a high mineral content. It is loaded with magnesium and calcium. On the other hand, soft water contains high concentrations of salt and lower levels of magnesium and calcium. Believe it or not, both are said to have extremely different effects on your hair. Hard water is known to require much more soap and have a lesser lathering capability than soft water. The same article then talks about how the minerals in hard water tend to make the shingles on a hair shaft stand up, thus giving you the feeling of rough and frizzy hair. Many people believe that since hard water possesses these properties, it leaves their hair feeling extremely dry and broken. Since soft hair contains a lot less minerals, it tends to leave your hair feeling a lot smoother. This is why most people typically prefer showering with soft water or even getting a water softener to keep their hair feeling smooth.

According to the SCBWA and, State College’s hard water index ranges from 120-190 mg/l, while Philadelphia’s (my home region) ranges from 100-150 mg/l. (I could not find my home towns exact number, so I settled for Philadelphia’s. Also I could not find whether or not PSU uses state college water or not.) The chart below demonstrates what determines water being hard or soft.


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As you can see, theoretically Penn State (located in State College) is considered to have hard/very hard water, while Philadelphia came up close being moderately hard.  It was pretty shocking to see that I may not be so crazy after all. The mg/l at PSU is significantly higher than my hometown’s. This could be the sole reason why my hair has been completely out of whack, but was I just exaggerating when I said that this type of water “ruined” my hair?

I came across a study that tested the effects of hard water on women’s hair. The scientists obtained 15 volunteers and collected 10-15 strands from each person. One set of hair was submerged into hard water and the other in distilled for a minimum of 10 minutes. This process was repeated for 30 days. The scientists used a universal strength tester called INSTRON to examine the strength of all the hair. Their results were very surprising. The strength of hair treated in hard water was 105.28 and the hair in distilled water was 103.66. They concluded that there was no statistical difference and that the hardness of water has no effect on the strength or elasticity of hair. Since the women all aged between 20-25, we couldn’t assume that this could be true for people of all ages. Also, this experiment only tested women’s hair, not men’s, and we do not know if the women had different races. All these alternative variables can alter the strength of a person’s hair and could drastically effect the results of this experiment. In the end, although it was only one study with a minimal amount of people, I thought that it still provided pretty clear evidence that hard water does not have a strong effect on women’s hair elasticity or health.

This brought me to conclude that although your hair may dry or feel extremely different in places with a higher hard water index, hard water does not really damage your hair. It does have a different effect on the way it feels and dries, so I fully blame Penn State’s hard water for my hair’s behavior. If you’re someone with frizzy hair, coming to Penn State for college could be the end of the world, so don’t forget to check the hard water index of other schools before you apply.

8 thoughts on “Blame the water at Penn State for your bad hair

  1. Yixiao Jiang

    The article really gives me lots of information. Actually, when I traveled to other places, I always found the water different from my hometown. Like the water may consists more white objects floating in the water especially when it mix with soap. And after chemistry class, I found out that it is the result of reaction of calcium. However, it did provide me lots of confusion in the beginning. And there is a video to teach us how to testify the hardness of water

  2. Grace Anne Walker

    I honestly could not agree more with your post. I did not realize how bad the water was here until I went home for a weekend and my face instantly cleared up. It is so frustrating knowing how damaged my hair is from showering at school. I find myself breaking out constantly and my hair becoming oily much more frequently than I am used to. I’m glad that I read your blog and now know that I am not the only one being affected by this. I like how you included scientific reasoning for why this is happening. I found an article on home remedies to fix damaged hair. Heres a link to check them out!

  3. Taryn S Linker

    I know exactly how you feel, Heather! I’m from New York which is renowned for having some of the best water in the country. Since I came to Penn State, my skin and hair have changed for the worse. My hair is rough, damaged and coarse and my skin is far from clear! I’ve recently invested in a Brita filter because I find myself using absurd amounts of bottled water daily. Here is an interesting piece that discusses some of the effects of hard water on skin.

  4. Maura Katherine Maguire

    This article speaks to me on so many levels. I thought I was the only one experiencing this hair breakage. When I came home to see my parents a few weeks back my mom realized that my hair had thinned out completely and TURNED GREEN. Penn State water completely ruined my hair, I had to go the hair salon and get a “well water treatment.” I now shower with bottled water because I am scared to ruin my hair any further. Thank you for writing this post it helped me to further understand my hair problem.

  5. Colleen Bridget Mcshea

    I am also from Philadelphia and I have found that since I’ve been here my hair has most definitely started to break and fall out really easy. I believe this is because of how much the water here has dried it out. I have talked to some other girls on my cheer team about this issue and they totally agreed. I recently cut a few inches off of my hair and have been taking biotin supplements to try and get my hair healthy again. It seems to be helping slowly but surely, so if your looking for ways to fix damaged hair, I definitely recommend those things!

    Here are some other ways to fix damaged hair.

  6. Victor William Gregory

    Heather, I noticed the same thing a week or so after moving in. I discussed the water quality in State College with some of the guys in my THON Org. and half of them said i was crazy and the other half agreed and said they noticed a difference. We discussed how we not only noticed a difference in the way it felt to shower, but also in the way the water tasted. We all agreed however that the water in State College most definitely has a faint metallic taste to it. I found your chart of the hardness distributions interesting as it corresponded with your map of the U.S.. I agree with you that the water up here has an affect on our skin and hair, but I also believe that with time we will become accustomed to this as our norm and eventually the water hardness in our hometowns will feel weird to us.

  7. Monica Lynn Powell

    This was a really interesting article and very relevant. I haven’t noticed a big difference in my hair here but I have noticed it when I travel other places. When I travel to North Carolina in the summer for mission trips, the water at the camp we stay at will dry out my hair and my skin. My skin will always break out which is so annoying. I wonder how the water index would affect your skin. Would it be similar to the way it affects your hair, enough to annoy it but not damage it? Here’s an article explaining what effects hard and soft water can have on your skin.

  8. Alyssa Marie Frey

    YES I FEEL THE SAME WAY. Sorry, but my roommate thinks I’m a little crazy when I say my hair is being ruined by the water here. I dye my hair every so often and coming to college I was scared that the water would make it fade. I was not wrong and my hair has definitely changed color, texture, and shininess. I’m used to having a water softener at my house and I never realized how much I would miss it. Your blog gave me a lot of insight into why this water is causing such problems to my hair here. I loved how you even included an experiment on the difference between hard and soft water. You also included credible sources to support your claim. I found a piece on how to remove these harsh minerals from your hair in case you are interested!

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