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Well after Ashton Kutcher, Jake Gyllenhaal, Kristen Bell and the Rock made headlines everywhere for openly discussing their bathing habits, it’s still sparking debate: Is it possible to shower too much? Not enough? Does bathing frequency have an impact on one’s health? We spoke to Dr. Shari Sperling, board certified dermatologist and co-founder of Sperling Dermatology, to get the dirt on how often you should shower. Spoiler: There’s actually no hard and fast rule for this one, but your individual skin type might sway you one way or another.
How often should you really shower?
If you’re wondering whether your bathing schedule is overkill or simply not up to snuff, we’ve got good news. Dr. Sperling tells us that there is no standard for how often a person should shower, so whatever works for you is just fine. In other words, this is not a medical issue. That said, the most important factor in determining how often you should shower—aside from whether you’re starting to smell—is how well your skin responds to your routine. Per Dr. Sperling, some people with dry or sensitive skin benefit from less frequent showers. However, if you don’t fall into that category, daily showers are a-okay, albeit not necessary to maintain good hygiene in most cases.
Is it OK to shower once a week?
As mentioned above, bathing frequency really boils down to what your skin can tolerate and how quickly your body starts to get funky—both of which vary considerably from person to person. A weekly shower may be all it takes to stay fresh and clean for some; on the other hand, those who exercise frequently, work in physically active jobs or are just generally prone to heavy sweating might find that a weekly shower doesn’t cut it.
As for how showering frequency affects the skin, Dr. Sperling tells us that there are two schools of thought on the matter, adding that bathing “can worsen or improve a skin condition” depending on what the condition is. Still, she typically recommends that people suffering from eczema and other chronic skin conditions reduce showers to every other day. (More on that later.)
How often does the average American shower?
Curious to know about the hygiene habits of your peers? We can’t tell you for sure how often your coworkers bathe, but several different polls have produced fairly consistent results—suggesting that as much as two-thirds, or 66 percent, of the American population opt for daily showers. (Showering every other day appears to be the second most popular choice.) Of course, any self-reported study will include a fair number of, er, aspirational responses—so whether John or Jane Doe really are washing up on the regular is anybody’s guess.
What happens if you shower too much?
Both “washing too often and aggressively washing can strip the oils and good bacteria from the skin, leaving the skin dry and irritated,” Dr. Sperling says. In other words, if your skin is flaky, scaly or itchy, it might be an indication that you’re soaping up more often than is necessary.
What happens if you don’t shower enough?
Let’s be honest, we all know what happens when a person goes too long without a shower. In extreme cases, failure to wash up can even lead to bacterial or fungal infections (think: jock itch). Most of the time, though, the biggest risk to under-bathing is simply a smell—you know, the kind that makes people want to keep their distance. Certain parts of the body, like the underarms and the groin and genital area, are likely to get funky fairly fast. As such, Dr. Sperling tells us that “it is a good idea to wash armpits and genitals daily to prevent foul body odor.”
Watch: Should you shower with soap and water daily?
Fortunately, there’s an easy solution for people who want to stay clean but whose skin doesn’t take kindly to a daily shower—just use a soapy washcloth to wipe clean the aforementioned areas on a daily basis and you can cut back on the full-body shower routine without sacrificing personal hygiene.
Should the season have an impact on how often I shower?
Glad you asked. Yes, the time of year may very well influence your bathing routine—namely because many folks are far more prone to dry skin during the cold winter months. Per the experts at the Baylor College of Medicine, “the high water temperature and the evaporation of water off the skin once out of the shower causes the skin to become drier.”
For this reason, it’s wise to adjust the temperature of the water so that it’s on the cooler side, or reduce the length and/or frequency of your showers during the winter when your skin is most susceptible to over-drying. (If you can’t resist the comfort of a steaming hot bath or shower, be sure to apply an extra generous amount of body lotion, preferably when your skin is still wet, to counteract the evaporation issue.)
How about hair washing?
You might have heard that over washing your hair can damage it and lead to build-up…and this is true. However, what you might not realize is that the bar for over washing is set pretty high for some. According to research published in Skin Appendage Disorders, five to six times per week is the sweet spot when it comes to hair washing.
That said, this particular study focused on Asian populations, and the Cleveland Clinic confirms that hair washing frequency is influenced by a variety of factors, including age, hair type, ethnic background and activity level. In other words, your best bet for determining the hair washing schedule that’s right for you is to look for signs that you’ve gone overboard—namely, a brittle mane that’s prone to breakage and a dry, itchy scalp.
Other things to consider
So now you know that body odor and skin hydration are the key concerns when it comes to bathing frequency. Still, it’s worth noting that your individual routine has implications beyond personal health—namely in terms of water conservation and, to a lesser extent, the impact on your own pocketbook. Still, that needn’t deter you from daily showers—it’s just another good reason to keep them on the shorter side.
Healthy bathing tips
Now that we’ve inundated you (pun intended) with a whole lot of information on a seemingly straightforward topic, allow us to sum things up more succinctly:
Clean the groin, genital and armpit areas on a daily basis—either in the shower, or with a washcloth.
If taking daily showers, make ‘em quick: The expert recommends no more than 5-10 minutes in length.
Opt for lukewarm, rather than piping hot, water if you’re showering on a daily basis.
A gentle soap is the best choice regardless of bathing frequency, but it’s especially important for folks who shower every day.