Showering is seemingly a simple thing. It’s a relaxing part of the daily routine, but we don’t do it merely to keep ourselves clean and smelling approachable. We do it to keep ourselves healthy. And while most of us like to think we’ve got the whole shower thing nailed down, most experts say you’re probably overdoing it.
Shower vs. Bath
While most people shower as their preferred bathing method, there are plenty who opt to fill up the tub instead. It’s arguably more relaxing (you are laying down, after all). But Dr. Samer Jaber, board-certified dermatologist at Washington Square Dermatology says they can also have drawbacks. “Baths can also be drying since you tend to stay in them longer than showers, and the longer your skin is wet, the more dry it can become,” he says. If you’re putting on a bath, you’re likely settling in for a while, especially if you went through the ritual of constructing your own 23-candle shrine to stress relief to go with your bubbly cauldron. Not to mention, you’re actually stewing in a pool of dirty water.
Dr. Joshua Zeichner, MD, Director of Cosmetic & Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, generally recommends showers over baths for the same reasons: they’re quicker and cleaner. “Especially if you are sweaty or physically dirty, a shower may be preferred so you aren’t sitting in a bathtub full of dirty water once you have washed your skin,” he says. Ultimately, baths may be better for mental cleaning than physical cleaning.
Dial-in the water temperature. Dr. Zeichner recommends for people to “bathe in water with a temperature similar to what you’d expect a heated pool to feel like in the summer. When the water is too hot and you are exposed to it for extended periods of time, it can strip the skin of oils needed to maintain a healthy barrier.”
If you have sensitive skin or eczema, it’s even more reason to keep the water in the range of cold to warm. Yeah, cold. Cold showers may be the rallying cry of the homeopathic and A-type people in your lives, but it’ll certainly motivate you to curtail your shower time while keeping your skin intact. It kicks in faster than caffeine, too.
Most people overstay their watery welcome. Dr. Zeichner suggests showering for no longer than 10 minutes. Keep your bathing short and don’t idle, especially if you can’t keep yourself from showering with hot water.
Order of Operations
Go from head to toe. “I would start with the hair,” Dr. Jaber says. “Then, the top of the body and then go down — this will allow the soap to wash off your body.” Leaving the soap for after your hair routine means you can also wash away any of the residue left on your skin from your shampoo and conditioner. On your way, focus on the parts that get more grimy and sweaty. The armpits, the groin, the hair — these are areas that produce more oil and collect more dirt, and they require more attention.
You can cut back on lathering up the other parts of your body since that would just dry them out further. It’s also another way to shorten your shower.
What you can do while you’re in there is multitask. And by that I mean you can brush your teeth and get your shaving out of the way. “Brushing your teeth and shaving in the shower are very common and totally fine to do,” Dr. Jaber says. “In fact, shaving in the shower or just after the shower can be better for those with sensitive skin that is prone to ingrown hairs or folliculitis.” Warm water helps open up the pores and soften the hairs, making for a closer and easier shave. Just make sure to stay away from too many blades. They don’t produce a better shave and they don’t your skin any favors.
And while it is okay to kill two birds with one stone, be mindful not to take too much time in the shower. Remember: less than 10 minutes!
“Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to bathe every day,” Dr. Zeichner says. If your entire day was spent on the couch streaming movies, you’re probably okay to skip the shower. He does advise, however, that you should bathe if you have visible soil and dirt on your skin. “If you are not bathing, then you should still wash your face and clean off any dirty areas of the body such as the underarms and groin.” Whether from exercising or hot weather, if you’ve exerted yourself and worked up a sweat, go ahead and hop in the shower.
Dr. Jaber adds to this, saying that it’s okay to bathe less often if you have eczema or dry skin. Keep in mind that this may change with the seasons.
Skin has a natural pH balance of 5.5, meaning that it’s slightly acidic. In contrast, soaps have pH balance that’s more alkaline, which can disrupt the skin’s outer layer. For that reason, Dr. Zeichner says to use non-soap cleansers.
As far as specific products to use, that’s case-by-case. “If you have dry or sensitive skin pick products that are made for sensitive skin, fragrance-free and more gentle,” Dr. Jaber says. “If you have dry scalp, dandruff, seborrhea or psoriasis, then pick a shampoo that targets that with zinc, selenium sulfide, salicylic acid or coal tar.” You might have to do a bit of research and experimentation to zero in on the right products for you, but you’ll thank yourself later.
You’re not done once you’ve turned off the water. There’s a proper way to follow up the shower and you don’t want to fumble right at the five-yard line. Both Dr. Jaber and Dr. Zeichner advise patting dry your skin instead of rubbing it dry. Patting dry is gentler on the skin and less abrasive than rubbing.
Once you’ve patted yourself dry, that’s the time to apply moisturizer. Your skin has just taken in moisture from the shower, but it’s also just lost some of the natural oils which keep it healthy. You want to restore that natural barrier while your skin has soaked up some water and before it evaporates.
Be sure to note how changes in bathing affect your skin and adjust accordingly. Again, this is about overall health more than anything. And while molding a routine which has been solidified for years might take some rewiring, it’s ultimately for the better.