Adulthood doesn't come with a guidebook for advice on basic body care (or basic anything, unfortunately). It's just assumed that you'll figure it out. Still, some advice on showering would be nice.
After all, some people scrunch up their faces at the mere suggestion of not sudsing up every single day. But others say that every other day (or even longer intervals) work perfectly fine for them. Who's right — and who just stinks?
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Turns out, there's no one-size-fits-all answer for how often you should be showering. The good news? Dermatologists have plenty of tips you can use to figure out how often you should be washing up (and warnings about what might happen if you go overboard or don't shower enough). Here's the steamy scoop.
How often to shower is mostly a personal decision, but you should consider things like your activity level, skin type and environmental exposure to determine what washing schedule makes the most sense for you.
So, How Often Do You Really Need to Shower?
Shower frequency is definitely a personal thing, and how often you need to suds up depends on your lifestyle and other factors. "Showering can be an individualized decision," confirms Beth Goldstein, MD, adjunct clinical professor of dermatology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and founder of the skin care brand GETMR.
Some people do fine with several weekly showers, while others are better off washing every day. The right number for you may be based on:
1. Your Activity Level
If you're exercising vigorously or playing sports on a daily basis, your shower schedule should match up. That's particularly true if you play contact sports, "where you may be exposed to potential bacterial or viral infections [from other players]," Dr. Goldstein says. Same goes for swimming, as chlorine can irritate your skin when it's not rinsed off.
On the other hand? If you're sedentary, showering every other day is fine, says Dr. Goldstein.
2. Your Job
If you're regularly exposed to dirt or chemicals at work, a daily shower makes sense, Dr. Goldstein says.
3. Your Skin Type
Skin that's dry or very sensitive can become irritated with more frequent showering, especially when you use hot water, so fewer washes per week may be better.
4. Your Water Accessibility
If you live in an area that's prone to drought and encourages conserving water, showering every other day instead of daily can help you minimize your usage.
What Happens When You Don't Shower Enough?
1. You Might Stink
Put simply, not washing often enough can make you smell pretty funky. The less often you shower, the more chance there is for bacteria and dirt to build up on your skin and cause body odor. "It can be particularly concentrated where there are apocrine sweat glands and hair, like the underarms or groin," Dr. Goldstein says.
2. You're at Higher Risk for Skin Infections
"Yeast and some fungal infections can thrive in areas where there is moisture and skin on skin, such as under the breasts, the stomach or in the groin," Dr. Goldstein says. But frequent washing can keep these at bay.
3. Your Skin Might Look Funny
The skin's appearance might start to change too. Over time, infrequent or inadequate washing can cause sebum, sweat and skin proteins to build up on the skin. This can lead to dermatitis neglecta, a condition marked by dark, flaky or crusty patches, according to DermNet NZ. The patches can usually be removed by scrubbing the area with soap and water or isopropyl alcohol.
What Happens When You Shower Too Much?
1. Your Skin May Dry Out
Showering multiple times per day (or for people with very dry or sensitivYe skin, even once daily) can up the risk for dry, itchy skin. The combination of hot water and harsh soaps can strip skin of its natural oils, Dr. Goldstein explains. If the dryness becomes severe enough, skin can start to crack, making it easier for bacteria to permeate the skin barrier and cause an infection, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
2. You're at Higher Risk for Skin Diseases
Speaking of bacteria, too much soap (especially the heavy duty, antibacterial kind) can disrupt the normal balance of good bacteria that live on the skin's surface. That could potentially increase the risk for certain skin diseases, suggests a January 2018 paper in Nature Reviews Microbiology.
"A balance of bacteria on our skin is important for our skin to serve as a robust barrier," says Dr. Goldstein. "By washing and diminishing the natural defense mechanisms, you can actually do more harm than good."
3. You Waste Water
It's worth pointing out, too, that showering more than necessary to stay clean wastes water — around 17 gallons per eight-minute shower, according to Portland.gov. (The average bath uses around 30 gallons.)
How Long Should Your Shower Be?
Three or four minutes of washing and scrubbing is all you need to ensure your body is thoroughly clean, Dr. Goldstein says.
If you prefer a slightly more relaxed approach, try to keep your shower under 10 minutes, recommends the Mayo Clinic. Going longer could up your risk for dry, itchy skin.
5 Showering Tips for Healthier Skin
We all have our own showering routines. Making sure yours includes a few simple practices ensures you get squeaky clean without irritating your skin.
1. Use Warm Water Instead of Hot
Resist the urge to get too steamy. Warm water is less likely to strip your skin of its natural oils and cause dryness compared to hot, notes the Mayo Clinic.
2. Consider a Washcloth Instead of a Loofah
Loofahs and body sponges collect dead skin cells and dirt, and because they never fully dry, tend to become breeding grounds for bacteria, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Washcloths are less likely to pose those problems, especially if you use a fresh one each time you shower.
If you're a committed loofah or body sponge user, replace it every few weeks.
3. Use a Simple Soap
Cream or gel cleansers with added moisturizers will keep skin from drying out, per the Mayo Clinic. Avoid antibacterial soaps. They can diminish good bacteria on the skin, so unless you're battling an infection or serious body odor, you can steer clear, Dr. Goldstein notes.
4. Scrub From Head to Toe, Focusing on the Stinky Spots
You should spend a few seconds washing every area of your body, but pay particular attention to your armpits and groin, which tend to harbor the moist odor-causing bacteria, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
5. Blot and Moisturize
Dry off by gently patting your skin with a towel instead of rubbing, and apply a moisturizer while your skin is still damp, recommends the American Academy of Dermatology. Both can help keep skin hydrated and stave off dryness.
- DermNet NZ: "Dermatitis Neglecta"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Showering daily -- is it necessary?"
- Nature Reviews Microbiology: "The human skin microbiome"
- City of Portland: "Saving water in your home"
- Mayo Clinic: "Dry Skin"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Do You Know What’s Growing on Your Loofah?"
- American Academy of Dermatology: "Dermatologists' Top Tips for Relieving Dry Skin"
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.