How Often Should We Shower?
Chances are, if you’re like an estimated two-thirds of Americans, you take a shower every day.
Most of us like to bathe every day, but that can be hard on the skin. Health experts suggest this may not be necessary, for showering too often can cause health problems. The oils, deodorants, perfumes, and other additives in soaps and shampoos can lead to allergies or other skin conditions, and too much bathing can open the door for skin infections.
Here’s what health experts and researchers say about how often we need to shower and why bathing daily may actually be an unhealthy habit:
Your largest organ is your armor
Your skin is your body’s largest organ, host to millions of micro-organisms consisting of bacteria, viruses, and fungi, which form a “skin microbiome.” According to an article published in Nature Reviews Microbiology, this microbiota—much like the intestinal microbiome—protects the body from pathogens, bolsters our immune system, and disposes of natural waste. If this ecosystem is disturbed, it can increase the risk of diseases affecting the skin.
Showering too much can lead to a disruption of the balance of bacteria and other useful microorganisms, which can result in dry, irritated, or itchy skin. If the skin dries enough to crack open or thin out, bacteria and allergens can pass through the protective barrier that the skin provides, which can increase the risk of infections.
Additionally, if you’re using antibacterial soap in the shower regularly you may be killing off the normal “good” bacteria that live on your skin, which can result in an imbalance of microorganisms and may ultimately lead to an increase in organisms that are more resistant to antibiotics. Our skin needs to keep this balance because exposure to certain normal microorganisms and other environmental elements allows us to create protective antibodies and build our immune defenses. Bathing too frequently can upset this process.
According to an article published on the health website Verywell Health, this can be especially damaging for those with skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis. For these individuals, cleaning with lots of soap and hot water can lead to an imbalance of the acid mantle, which is the layer of fatty acids and sebum that protects against outside contaminants and keeps the skin moisturized. Disrupting these elements can leave the skin dry, flaky, and more vulnerable to infection.
One key reason so many of us bathe every day is body odor (BO). But according to James Hamblin, MD, the author of Clean: The New Science of Skin, cleaning too often can exacerbate our BO. In an article for The Atlantic, Hamblin explains that body odor is a result of the bacteria that live off the oils and sweat on our skin. If you bathe too often and use too much soap, he writes, you throw off the balance of this ecosystem. As bacteria repopulate, those that produce more odor are favored. As a result, your body odor may be more pungent if you’re a frequent bather. On the flip-side, if you’re more prudent with the frequency of your bathing, this ecosystem will achieve balance and your body odor may become less noticeable.
How often should you bathe?
None of the above means you should stop bathing entirely. It’s about finding a balance. Going without bathing for prolonged periods will lead to a buildup of dead skin cells and oils on the skin, which can clog pores and trigger skin outbreaks. Likewise, spending too long wearing sweaty clothing can increase the risk of bacterial or fungal infections, like “jock itch.” If you’re a person who hits the gym regularly, you’ll also want to be sure to shower after your workout, as certain pathogens can thrive on gym equipment and in locker rooms. Individuals who are unable to bathe for a long time can develop a condition called “dermatitis neglecta,” which is characterized by the emergence of brown patches of dead cells, sweat, and dirt on the body. Post-surgery patients or people with physical disabilities are most likely to develop these conditions.
Over cleaning your body is probably not a compelling health issue, but you could be making your skin drier than it would be with less frequent showering. While this is not a public health menace, daily showers do not improve your health, could cause minor skin problems or other health issues — and, importantly, they waste a lot of water. Also, the oils, perfumes, and other additives in shampoos, conditioners, and soaps may cause problems of their own, such as allergic reactions (not to mention their cost).
While there is no ideal frequency, experts suggest that showering several times per week is plenty for most people (unless you are grimy, sweaty, or have other reasons to shower more often). Short showers (lasting three or four minutes) with a focus on the armpits and groin may suffice. Also, avoid excessively hot water.
If you’re like me, it may be hard to imagine skipping the daily shower. But if you’re doing it for your health, it may be a habit worth breaking.