Is Your Daily Shower Making You Sick? | Chris Kresser
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Is Your Daily Shower Making You Sick?

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The quality of our drinking water is a major determinant of our health and wellbeing. It is important to consider not only the presence of pathogens or contaminants, but also the routine addition of chemicals that may cause us harm. Chlorine is a chemical typically used as a disinfectant in public water supplies as an effective way to reduce the level of pathogenic bacteria in our drinking water. (1)

Unfortunately, this chemical, and other common chemical disinfectants, may have a damaging impact on our bodies’ beneficial bacteria as well.

When chlorine is used as a water treatment, it combines with organic matter to form compounds called trihalomethanes (THMs), also known as disinfectant byproducts. One of the most common THMs formed is chloroform, which is a known carcinogen. (2) Other THMs formed include the di- and trichloramines formed when chloramine is used as a disinfecting agent. (3) These compounds are toxic when consumed, inhaled, or applied to the skin.

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. (456) 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)

While there hasn’t been substantial research on the topic, it’s reasonable to assume that chlorinated water adversely affects beneficial intestinal flora. Chlorine is a powerful antimicrobial agent, and is an effective pesticide against many different strains of bacteria. (10) 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.

A recent post at the Food Renegade blog (11) brought this disturbing theory to light, not only highlighting the harmful effects of chlorinated drinking water, but emphasizing the possibly greater effect that showers and baths could have on our intestinal flora. As we know, there’s a strong connection between asthma, acne, autoimmune conditions and the health of our gut flora. We might speculate that dysbiosis induced or made worse by excess chlorine exposure could contribute to these conditions.

Showering and bathing in chlorinated water may expose us to even more chlorine and its byproducts than drinking this disinfected water.

While our bodies can filter out much of the chlorine from our drinking water, the THMs and other disinfectant byproducts we inhale during showers and baths may be much more harmful, since the chlorine gas we inhale enters directly into our blood stream. (12)

Therefore, even if you filter your drinking water, the amount of toxins you are exposed to from your daily shower or bath, through inhalation or skin absorption, may be cause for greater concern.

Research has demonstrated that the cancer risk associated with chlorinated water may actually be due to showering and bathing, rather than drinking the disinfected water. (1314) This suggests that many health risks of chlorine may be specifically related to dermal and inhalation exposure. In fact, the chloroform dose from a single, ten minute shower is equal to, and possibly greater than, that from the average two liters of water ingestion on a daily basis. (1516)

Therefore, the filtration of your shower and bath water may be even more important than the water you drink.

Chlorine filtration is fairly simple, provided you use some level of technology to remove it from your shower or bath water. There are resources on the Food Renegade blog about where to find chlorine-filtering shower heads and bath filters. (17) This includes the Rainshow’r Shower Filter and the Crystal Ball Bath Dechlorinator, both sold by the Radiant Life Company.

I’d like to point out that chlorine isn’t in everyone’s water supply, but there is another disinfectant that is also of concern. I checked my local water company’s website, and discovered they use chloramine (chlorine + ammonia) to disinfect the water supply. (17)

Chloramine exposure may be even more damaging to the lung epithelium than chlorine, and may release ammonia as another toxic byproduct as well.

The filters that remove chlorine don’t necessarily remove chloramine.

Chloramine can be removed for drinking water purposes by a carbon block or activated carbon filter that can be installed on a kitchen faucet. Also, both chlorine and chloramine can be removed for bathing purposes by dissolving Vitamin C in the bath water. One 1000 mg Vitamin C tablet will neutralize chloramine in an average bathtub. (18)

There are no shower filters on the market that completely remove chloramine. (19) There are, however, whole house water filters that remove chlorine, chloramine, and other contaminants. Unfortunately, they’re quite expensive and thus may not be an option for many people.

Vitamin C shower filters may be a good choice for those looking for an inexpensive way to reduce the chloramine (and chlorine) content of their showers.

Vitamin C is an effective dechlorination agent, removing up to 99% of chlorine and chloramine, and vitamin C filters are much less expensive than the whole house filter featured above. The disadvantage to using them is they’re not as durable or effective as a whole house filtration system, and you would need a separate filter for each shower outlet in the house.

Other simple methods to reduce exposure to chlorine and chloramine include: taking shorter or less frequent showers, avoiding excessively hot showers (since high heat increases the amount of steam), and shutting the water off while soaping up. These techniques will help decrease your exposure if filtration or dechlorination is not an option.

I recommend you check with your local water supply company to determine what disinfecting agents they use to sanitize your tap water. You can then use that information to make a decision about which shower filter is most appropriate for you and your family. Until we know more about how chlorinated water affects our health, and especially our beneficial gut flora, it seems prudent to keep chlorine and chloramine exposure to a minimum.

150 Comments

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  1. Huge amount of great information most people dont think about ! there is lot there i had no idea about. i thin something someone should do is invest in a good shower head

    • I have lung problems and they are always worse in the daytime. Often I have fatigue right after my shower. At night I don’t have problems. I became suspicious about the chlorine. I have a chlorine shower filter but it is 9 months old. I ordered a new one and will try replacing it every 6 months. I originally installed it to because chlorine in the water was hurting my wife’s hair. So I think your statement is wrong.

    • Sorry to tell you Brian…… but there is evidence Chlorine is harmful for some individuals; especially with auto immune diseases. Women are more prone to symptoms form Chlorine and metals in the water.
      Where as some folks there bodies can tolerate and handle toxins more so then others and its becoming more apparent for auto immune diseases.

  2. Blog posts about shower filter keeps coming to me. And each and every post I read about it really makes want to have one. I think I should really get one before it’s too late. Thanks Chris for this wonderful post!

  3. Florine is just as deadly but I’ve yet to come across a filter that effectually does both? Any help would be greatly appreciated.

  4. I’m in the process of researching under-counter kitchen water filters because our water was tested and showed it is inordinately high in chlorine and it tastes like we’re drinking public swimming pool water (ugh!). The problem is that there’s no single site that adequately cross-compares filters.

    I’ve subscribed to Consumer Reports to get an idea of how they’re comparing models, and was very unimpressed by their report – which only compared logistical details (price, water flow, etc) and not the contaminants themselves, nor the % at which each was removed.

    It would also be helpful to know if there is an at-home water test kit that is user-friendly, not overly expensive, and effective. So far, I’ve not found one.

    I think this could be a great blog post for the Kresser Institute. There is certainly a need for clarity on these issues.

  5. If you have hard water problems, you need a good shower filter. Just think about all advantages like healthy hair and skin, no chlorine smell, eczema-safe showering, etc…

  6. I have a husband with inflammation in the lung – diagnosed as pulmonary fibrosis. Do you think a whole house water filter is better than a drinking water and shower filter? If we go for the latter he would then be brushing teeth and shaving in a bathroom sink that doesn’t have a filter and I’m wondering if that matters? He sneezes a lot in the shower which is why I’m wondering if chlorine is an issue for him.

    • What about the replacement hose for the shower wand? It is made of very cheap poisonous plastic and you can smell the burn off in the air and feel it in the water
      Recently purchased a replacement shower hose from Lowe’s and had to return it because of its toxicity.

      ArtistKeithLutz

  7. I humidified my (800sq ft) house with clorimated city water by boiling around 20L of water over three days and coincidentally suffered from sinus congestion and respiratory problems the morning after starting. It felt like my head may pop. Now after running two exhaust fans for an hour I feel like my head isn’t a balloon anymore and I am totally convinced the water added toxins to the air that are now being removed as I am writing this and I am feeling better by the minute. Kinda ruined my night tho, plus i am still gonna have another day or two of recovery, that is if I make healthy choices. On the plus side the water treatment people in this town had enough sense to put the sewer treatment plant down stream from the drinking water intake.

  8. My water authority brags about the use of ozone rather than chlorine to process our drinking water. While this is a good thing for avoiding the health hazards of chlorine, it’s a risk for anyone who follows the governments idiotic recommendation of setting hot water heaters to 120 degrees F. At that temperature, the pipes quickly cool to 105, the ideal temperature for the legionaries disease outbreaks that have been spreading across the country as more large hot water systems lower their heat settings. If you want to be safe, follow the Canadian recommendations and set your heater to 140, using a mixing-valve limiter at the shower fixture to prevent scalding.

  9. The primary purpose of a shower water filter is to remove chlorine from the shower. Chlorine is highly effective in killing bacteria, germs and other microorganisms to make public water supplies safe. But you don’t necessarily want chlorine to continue killing living organisms in your lungs, on your skin and on your children’s skin and in their lungs. Thus a shower water filter will remove chlorine at the showerhead, before you fill the air in your bathroom with hot chlorinated water mist.

    Chlorine is used for water disinfection and for treatment of sewage effluent. Chlorine is also used to disinfect equipment and utensils in beverage and food processing plants, and chlorine is used as an intermediate in the manufacture of a number of organic products such as antifreeze, rubber, cleaning agents, and pharmaceuticals.

    When showering with a new shower water filter you will immediately notice:

    The chlorine smell is gone

    Your hair is softer and more manageable

    Your skin feels softer

    You use less soap and shampoo

    People who use hair coloring will find that it lasts longer

    People with sinus or lung impairment will notice that showering no longer irritates them

    People with low water pressure experience a decrease in flow

    Tall people bump their heads more easily – this filter reduces shower head height by 1½ inches.
    I found a site and has great and informational reviews. http://www.finestshower.com/best-shower-filter-reviews-guide/ . I got it what I need about shower filters.

  10. Curious if anyone has any insight into swimming pools? We go swimming as a family and its our favorite active family activity. We’ve never had red or stinging eyes from the pool, and I dont ever smell chlorine so I am not sure what they use. Any advice about not having to give up our favorite family workout?

    • look for a saltwater swimming pool. they use salt which converts to free chlorine, they call it brine generation i believe.

    • Go to the beach, failing that there areas I ununderstand it more natural ways of treating water using specific salts call pool shop and get details your local swim centre may uses this method anyway but beach is always going to be better if it’s not polluted.

    • Has any one else tried this….?
      For as long as I can remember I’ve suffered from red stinging eyes and a blotchy face following a shower. I’ve spent no end of a fortune on allergy free toiletries but to no avail. I began using a SilverexUK shower head just a few days ago with unbelievable results as my skin and eyes are no longer effected ! Additionally, my skin doesn’t feel as dry as it did and my hair is looking healthier and that breathlessness that i experienced for years, has all disappeared. FACT : )

      • Please help! If you have any REAL solutions! My home water has been burning my eyes, my skin is itchy and very very dry, plus I get a rash on my face AND after a shower it actually makes me even feel tired and irritable. I hardly ever shower at home for this reason – strictly at my gym. Every once in awhile I think I will try home shower again and I have all of these symptoms — today is one of those days. I love my house but absolutely hate this water and I love taking showers and bathing . It is a real shame — like a curse. I’ve tried so many water filters, softening — which I don’t like. I was raised with hard water and it’s never bothred me. There is even hard water at my gym. No probem. So something more is in my home water. What could it be??? What to do ?

  11. I noted a few comments suggesting some symptoms could be caused by mold, and I don’t entirely agree as my wife and I had once vacated a rental that had a serious black mold overgrowth in the basement, and as ill as it made us, the symptoms were very different. And interestingly enough, that house was hooked up to a very different water company.

    About 7 months ago we moved into another home 1 year after leaving the house of mold, which happens to be on the border of city limits, and in a completely different water district.
    Within the first two months, my wife and I, to include our two dogs as well, ALL started to suffer from GI illnesses. This included vomiting, diarrhea, and lethargy. As the months have progressed, we are getting sick more often with GI related illnesses, more acne all over the body, and increased infections never experienced before. Not to mention, showering dries out our skin so much it leaves it feeling tight, and when it splits, it is obviously painful.

    More strange, is that our water from any source in the house, smells like a public pool, slight water deposits on dishes and throughout the house leave thick powdery residue when dried, plants have completely died, and our hand towels next to our sinks have notably faded in color on spots where we dry our hands (We even out our towel rod with two towels for aesthetics, and only the one that is used most, has faded)

    We started using a simple tap filter for our drinking, cooking, dog, and plant water which was accompanied with an immediate change. Dogs no longer vomiting/diarrhea’ing, plants are growing back. But wife and I are still suffering from the same symptoms, and towels are still fading? Skin still dry and tight, and still encountering infections, acne, diarrhea and vomiting.

    Been hesitant to buy into some of these theories about how our water is poisoning us, but I don’t know how to explain all of it. Called water company out and they said there was nothing wrong with the water (big surprise) and blamed us for bleaching the towels because we “must be using bleach products in our laundry, if inadvertently we need to check the detergent being used” and the similar illness between humans and dogs, then dead plants is not possibly related to the water.

    Sorry for the novel, but just hoping someone could shed some light on the situation, its driving us crazy. We aren’t cooky conspiracy theorists but we’re running out of patience, and are about ready to hook a filter up to anything that spews water.

    • You’re dealing with a serious issue! Leave your house. Read: Silent Killers Toxic Mold, it’s about Stachybotrys mold. You can google it. I watched TV special a year ago about it, because I was experiencing symptoms that started in my new apt. Open sores on arms & legs. I’ve since moved, & the problem went away, but my body still hasn’t completely healed.

      Stachybotrys grows when homes are built on top of swamp lands that weren’t given adaquate time to dry out. This deadly mold reacts with dry wall.

      • Update from my first note! I installed a Reverse Osmosis system on our kitchen sink which we now use for drinking, cooking, water for our dogs and plants, and the GI issues seem to have gone away almost completely. ALSO, I ordered a TDS tester, and come to find out that our tap was at the very upper end of what was considered “Acceptable” next is a meter for acidity.
        To our surprise, there were some bottled waters that were just as low on the TDS scale as our RO system.

        We have tuned down our showers to once every other day and it seems to help as well…However, the other day my wife hopped in the shower in the morning and the steam was so saturated with the chlorine and something else we couldn’t tell, that when it poured into our bedroom I could smell it, and she ended up cutting the shower short because it was making her feel ill. The next day we tried again and it went back to normal, stinky of chlorine but not like the previous day, yuck.

    • My son started kindergarten in Sept.He was forced to drink from the gym fountain after that class.He was coming down with fevers of 102,vomiting,diarrhea,and more.We know hes allergic to sulfa&this town uses a filter because it is an old well water system.He&only he was getting sick Every week.All weekend&the school refused to believe us,his parents that it had to be from the gym.Now the nurse knew of his allergies&she is the one who ended up harrasing &threatening to report his absences for we had no tangible proof.I called social services&the CDC ahead of her threats…but just the same..the odacity. WE met with the entire staff&found our answer by the few wonderful teachers still left..acknowkedging&explaining what happened when he DID not drink the water that one week.He never got sick.So here we are now..People still think its foolish..or made up that hpurs after ingesting that water he was deathly ill.They even told us just recently his lungs sounded as if he may have ASTHMA!B.S. Before he went there he NEVER WAS SICK..NOT EVEN AN EAR INFECTION (which hes now had)&he has brothers around him sick and all.What do I doto prove their fault caused so many issues.To boot the handbook clearly states that a child with a temp over 101 cannot come to school.I feel bullied,ignored&damage has been caused to my son by their own actions..bias.How do I get any proof.Do I ?What please help.In the same boat

      • if hes the only one sick, its hard to point at common source, so its hard to convince them its school water issue. you can not win big here, make them change things around.

        if he is more sensitive than others, you should send him to school with big bottle of destilled or purified water. he should not be “forced” to drink from the fountain, thats harrasment.

        you can take care of your kid, let others care of theirs, unless youre fighting for bigger cause here.

  12. Hello-I found this article very interesting as my husband and I recently left our rental due to high (above federal regulation) levels of TTHM, haloacetic acids, & phosphorus reported in our water. My husband was having asthma attacks after showering, and I had been sick for over 2 mos. without any understanding as to what was causing it before we made the water connection. I am still sick – very fatigued & achey. I’ve had bloodwork done as my ANA levels were elevated. I’m wondering if you would have any recommendations on ways to detoxify from what we were exposed to? We have obviously removed ourselves entirely from the source. We are taking milk thistle & probiotics. I’m desperate to get better and for my body to heal from the damage. Let me know of any suggestions. thanks so much.

    • Hi Michaela,
      I was dealing with skin challenges also until I started to filter my drinking and showering water. The toxins in the water definitely affect your gut and your whole body for that matter. If you are interested in knowing about the technology products that helped me, let me know. Thanks,
      Nancy

      • Hi Nancy, thanks so much for the reply. We ended up having to move out of our rental and are planning on installing a whole house filteration system when we buy a house (and not in the same city!). Goodness, I am such a believer in filtering your water now! But thanks for your response.

      • Nancy, I have been living in my new house for 2 weeks and the water scares me. when I run a pail for my horses it appears to be slightly blue-green. I was told it only contains chlorine, which was in that water I moved from, but my skin feels tight on my hands, soap won’t wash off, and it tastes different from the well water I get from a friend, which has no taste at all..
        I am interested in knowing what technology you have used to filter your water. thank you

      • Hi! I’m suffering seriously from skin troubles since I started to bath with chlorinated water. Pls help me with a measure of putting a stop to this. One that can be quick. Like the vitamin c option. Does that work ?

      • What products did you use? I have water that doesn’t taste good. It smells like cholrine. I been sick for three years and don’t know what happened or why im sick. They think it’s ibs. I think it could be something im around or putting in my body.

    • l-ascorbic acid, kelp, boron.

      There is good information on You Tube about removing (water) toxins from our bodies using the above plus removing mercury accumulation from dental fillings.

      Having mercury fillings removed is an important first step in removing mercury accumulation in tissue.

      Vitimine c has two fractions. L-ascorbic and D-ascorbic. We avoid d ascorbic acid because its a very poor quality filler.

      Kelp in bulk and boron in capsuls can be purchased at vita cost, l ascorbic acid can be purchased from duda diesel (from china) and the us made vitimine c from the vitimine c foundation.

      Fluoride is very difficult to remove from city water. The best solution to the fluoride problem is to move to a city where the people running the city refuse to put fluoride in the water.

      Working with city officials to make water safer where you live is a long shot option that will take time and some effort.

      Fortunatly people are starting to wake up and are looking for ways to improve their health.

      You can make your own distled water with a tea kettle (you tube) or buy a small distilation unit on amazon.

      Distled water absorbs toxins. Pascalite (Montmorillonite) from worland, wyoming when mixed with water absorbs toxins as does diatomaceous earth (from starwest).

    • Iodine.. and lots of it.. even just dabbed a lil on your skin daily.. it is magic 🙂

      Colloidal silver ..

      silver ionic footbath..removes heavy metal build up..

  13. There is a condition that many people have mentioned where they have intense itching after showering. Is there some chemical in water that can cause this? The condition is named “aquagenic pruritus”, but I know someone who has experienced this in Los Angeles, but not when visiting in Klamath Falls, OR, nor in Cincinnati, OH. So, I’m wondering if it’s a chemical in the water that is really behind this?

    • That’s because Cincinnati uses Carbon filters to filter out by products of chlorine and chloramine in the water. I moved from Cincinnati to Frankfort Ky and I have had issues ever since because they use the chloramine. I have had issues with a funky smell on my skin, and breath from their water down here. Not to mention acne on face, neck, and chest, which I’ve never had until I moved here. Ive also developed severe digestive issues since moving here. Miraculously when I go to Cincinnati for a few weeks, the smell, the acne, and the digestive issues all go away. The kicker of it, the people who have always lived here suffer no problems, but many out of towners start developing the exact same issues I have.

  14. Hi there very interesting article. I have two questions however, shouldn’t the water vapor (not steam as much higher temperatures are required for steam production) be free of any contaminants and chemicals due to the distillation process? Or is actual steam production required for the contaminants to be left behind i.e distillation?

    Thank you for any help.

    • Distillation requires varying temperatures that all depend on the compound being distilled. If you inhale water vapour from a shower, you are essentially inhaling a tiny droplet of water that has the same components as the original pre-evaporated water. This includes the chlorine. But to be honest, I was under the impression that the levels of chlorine in drinking water were so negligible that it really had no effect on humans (who drank the water). In fact, our bodies require trace amount of chlorine, so I don’t see this being too much of an issue. The effects of trace amounts of chlorine and chloramine on the skin however, I am not too familiar as there have not been sufficient studies performed to determine a causal link. We discussed this in my second year of dental school, since it was believed there may be a link between chloramines and gut flora resulting in dry mouth (and sometimes bacterial thrush).

      And I now just realized I’m rambling. Anyways hope this helps!

  15. Is softening water with sodium chloride an issue for exposure to chloride in our showers? Also, during the Thyroid Session Dr. Tom O’Brian mentions that in chloride can bind to thyroid hormone receptors on cells thus causing use issues. What do you know about this?