How Often Do You Really Need to Shower? How Often Do You Really Need to Shower?

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Before indoor plumbing and hot water heaters became frequent bathing was a bit of an ordeal. Water had to be fetched and heated over a fire before a person could even dip a toe into the bathtub. The process was inconvenient (and still is in many developing nations), and all the members of a family generally used the same water to bathe and carry out other chores, like washing laundry, before it was tossed out. Now since we have indoor plumbing leading to showers that release hot water onto our stressed shoulders, it seems like a waste not to shower frequently. How much is too much, though, when it comes to the health of your skin? You likely shower daily, but is that more often than you should?

It’s conventional wisdom that the more you shower, the cleaner you are. Lathering with a healthy dose of soap and washing it off with a nice stream of hot water should kill germs on your skin. Studies by medical researchers have shown quite the opposite, however. Using plain old soap (as opposed to antimicrobial or antibacterial soap) doesn’t kill skin-borne bacteria. It actually disturbs microcolonies of skin flora and fauna, transferring them to the surrounding environment—like your shower, for instance.

Still, showering regularly is recommended for good personal hygiene. Showering too much, however, can have a potentially damaging effect on your skin.

The outermost layer of your skin’s surface (called the stratum corneum or horny layer) is a barrier made of hardened, dead skin cells. These skin cells protect the underlying layers of living, healthy cells. The horny layer is more than just dead skin cells; it’s held together by lipids, which are fatty compounds that actually help maintain moisture in your skin. Anytime you take a shower — especially a hot one — with soap and a scrubbing device like a washcloth or a loofah, you’re undermining the integrity of your skin’s horny layer. The soap and the hot water dissolve the lipids in the skin, and scrubbing only hastens the process. The more showers you take, the more frequently this damage occurs and the less time your skin has to repair itself through natural oil production. What’s more, the horny layer of your skin can be sloughed off by scrubbing, exposing the delicate skin cells beneath. The result of showering too frequently is dry, irritated and cracked skin.

If you sit in an air-conditioned office before going back to an air-conditioned home, it’s a safe bet that you can get away without a full shower. But you still need to maintain good hygiene. This can be achieved by washing the ‘dirtiest’ areas, such as the armpits, groin and feet because those body parts are the most likely to sweat, accumulate dirt and harbour pathogenic microorganisms that cause body odour.

But if you’ve just done an hour of exercise or your job involves physical labour, a shower is likely necessary. You should shower if you have had a day of excessive sweat, sebum [oils produced by skin], an odour, or dirt/debris on your skin. This is important from more than just an aesthetic perspective. If someone has been wearing sweaty clothing, it can be a breeding ground for fungus, and eventually, they can get fungal infections. Showering daily is also vital if you work around dangerous chemicals or materials or if you’re exposed to allergens. Gardeners, construction workers, and farmers would do well to rinse off the pollen at the end of the day.

Another problem related to showering too often is using a towel to dry off. While rubbing yourself dry with a towel is common practice, it’s also damaging to your skin. Air drying is the optimal way to dry off following a shower, but if you don’t have time to wait for evaporation or don’t like tracking bathwater throughout your house, you can still use a towel. Just make sure it’s a soft one and use a gentle patting motion to absorb water.

The chemistry of each person’s skin is different, so showering every day may not be as damaging to some people as it would be to others. Still, you might want to skip a shower every once in a while. You can also protect your skin by using soft soaps with warm instead of hot water. To top it off, apply a moisturiser after each shower. We all love feeling clean, but we also have to balance clean and healthy skin.