Tips for Surviving London’s Hard Water with Curly Hair

Tips for Surviving London’s Hard Water with Curly Hair

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If you look back to some of my earlier posts, you’ll see that I struggled A LOT with my hair (and skin, let’s be real) after moving to London. The water here is extremely hard, which means there are lots of minerals in the water. This, unfortunately, has a drying effect on your skin, nails and hair. Curls and dryness are not a good combo.

The texture of my hair started changing nearly immediately after we moved (this did not happen when I studied abroad, oh, youth!!!! Or perhaps equally as likely, my American program installed a filter in the shower. I’ll never know). With the added bummer of forgetting all my fabulous go-to hair products at my parents’ in the US, it was a struggle for a long few months. I’ve really only recently gotten to a good place with my hair.

Ick… dried out, tired, limp, terrible curls 🙁 the water also turned my highlights kinda reddish, too!

I’ve learned a lot in the past year about treating your curls well when it comes to London’s hard water and I hope my tips will help you too!

My Top Tips for Helping Curly Hair in Hard Water

Find a hairdresser who can help

If your experience is anything like mine, you are going to need professional help. There’s just no way around it. Luckily, London is home to an all curly hair salon, Unruly Curls, and it is actually THE BEST. I cannot recommend it enough to anyone with textured hair.

Unruly Curls London

It is amazing there – you see all these women come in with the same sad, limp curls as yours and then they leave with the most amazing gorgeous curls you’ve ever seen! Founder Michael Price wrote a book on his curly hair care philosophy and let me tell you, it works!

Unruly Curls London

Unruly Curls

Post-Unruly Curls selfie! Look at that shine!

Invest in Good Products

Product is key to keeping your curls tamed despite the hard water’s effects. There is actually quite a range of curly hair products at Boots which is almost overwhelming because many are new to me and I have no idea which ones would work. The large amount of John Frieda available there gave me pause in trusting anything they had on offer. I needed the help of an expert. Enter: Unruly Curls.

Unruly Curls Products

Some products at Unruly Curls.

For washing my hair, Emma, my curly hair guardian angel/stylist at Unruly Curls, recommended Cantu to me and I LOVE it. The Cantu Sulfate-Free Cleansing Cream Shampoo gets my hair super clean (I have had problems with product buildup in the past) and the the Cantu Sulfate-Free Hydrating Cream Conditioner is good enough to use sparingly. Both are now available at Boots.

Hard water and curly hair - Cantu shampoo and conditioner

The real game changer has been TIGI CATWALK Curls Rock Amplifier Curl Defining Cream. Just three pumps and that’s all I need to keep my hair from being a mess of disgusting frizz. No more oil, no more gel, just this serum and only a little bit of it! It has been super freeing and incredibly great for my scalp using so little product!

Hard water and curly hair - TIGI curls rock curl amplifer

Deep Condition Regularly

As you can see, I have very curly hair. For me, I need to be deep conditioning every time I shower. I started with once per week, but have since switched to a higher frequency and I am seeing my hair transform.

I put deep conditioner in my hair as soon as I get in the shower, so it can sit for a few minutes while the hot water is running. The steam helps it penetrate the hair better. Then I double shampoo my roots and leave in a bit of regular conditioner at the end.

I got this tip from a fellow expat and the texture of my curls is becoming softer over time. I use Maui Moisture Revive & Hydrate+ Shea Butter Hair Mask and love it since it isn’t too heavy, so I can use it frequently. My hair texture started changing after just one carton, becoming shinier for the first time in my life.

Hard water and curly hair - Maui Moisture deep conditioner

The expat forum recommended the Cantu deep conditioner for this purpose, but I really didn’t like it. I ended up throwing it out after a month because it was not working nearly as well.

Get a good hair dryer and diffuser

I did a lot of research on Amazon before buying this Remington AC9096 Silk Hair Dryer, 2400 W – Red, after the first one I bought from TKMaxx EXPLODED. Yeah. Not good. I have been reasonably happy with it and it took almost a full year for the diffuser to melt and become unusable, ha! It’s a great curly hair diffuser, so I highly recommend that, but if you use my drying method, be prepared to need a new one after time.

A good diffuser is essential for lovely curls. Per Emma’s advice, I dry my hair from dripping wet on high heat at the lowest speed. Despite the low speed, this usually takes me about 20 minutes and I have TONS of hair. I bought this Hairizone Universal Diffuser to replace my old one and I am happy with it.

If money is not an object or you’ll be in the UK long-term, my gym has the ghd Air hair Dryer and they are amazing. Highly recommend. My new diffuser fits on those as well and my hair looks its best after a good dry at the gym.

Don’t over straighten

During my first months in London, the only thing I could figure out to do was straighten my hair all the time to keep it under control (it was a dark time). Looking back at pictures from our first few months here, my hair is straight in all of them. I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but constant straightening on top of hard water is not good for your hair. Go see Emma at Unruly Curls and have her sort you out.

Hiding my curl… doesn’t even look good, but better than my curls at that point!

Install a Shower Filter

This is the holy grail of curly hair hard water issues. If you are able to install a shower filter, do it. This will soften your water and your hair and skin will rejoice.

If you’re renting in London like me, you may not be able to do this. Worth a shot to ask, though!

It took a while and the help of Unruly Curls, but I am happier with my hair than ever before. I hope these tips can help you love your curls, too!

Basic Tips

Here’s the routine you need!

  • Put deep conditioner in your hair as soon as you get in the shower, and let it sit for a few minutes while the hot water is running.
  • Shampoo your roots then condition. You can leave a small amount of conditioner in your hair depending on your hair’s texture.
  • Once out of the shower, skip a towel dry. Immediately add 1-3 pumps of TIGI Curls Rock Amplifier to your hair by flipping your hair upside down and scrunching the product into your curls.
  • Immediately begin to dry by using a diffuser with your hair dryer on the highest heat and lowest speed. With your hair flipped over upside down, collect curls in the diffuser and press up to your scalp for a few minutes each section. If it’s too hot for your scalp, put the heat setting lower.

Has the hard water affected your hair since moving to London? What do you do to combat the affects? I’d love to hear your tips!


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Jenn is an American expat living in London, spending her time freelancing, traveling and writing on this here blog. Thank you for reading. Are you planning a trip here? Tell me your plans in the comments!

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  1. Helen
    January 1, 2019 / 11:52 am

    I’ve just moved from Melbourne to Adelaide (Australia) and the hard water here has been wreaking havoc on my curls for the past couple of weeks. Was tempted to go for the straightener but have just followed your routine instead, my hair is so much happier! It’ll take a couple of weeks to recover but I’m so much more satisfied already, thank you! 🙂

    • Jenn
      January 1, 2019 / 1:40 pm

      Oh my gosh, Helen, thank you so much for this comment! This makes my day! I was just going through photos from our early days living in London and couldn’t believe how horrible my straightened-within-an-inch-of-it’s-life hair looked. I recently started using Olaplex in addition to my Maui Moisture mask and it is a miracle worker. I don’t know if it’s in Australia, but if you color your hair or have heat-damaged hair, I highly recommend looking into it! In London I needed to find an Olaplex salon to get it, and it was well worth it. A little goes a long way! Happy New Year and I hope you’re enjoying your new city ❤️

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