Are long, hot showers bad for your skin?

Your skin doesn’t like that luxurious, long, hot shower, even without the fire-breathing showerhead. See more personal hygiene pictures.
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It's a cruel world sometimes. The tastiest foods are bad for your health, the finest things are bad for your wallet and long, hot showers, unfortunately, are bad for your skin. But how can something as seemingly benign as hot water cause your skin problems? To answer that question, let's start by taking a look at the structure of your skin.

While your skin is made of three layers including the subcutis and the dermis, hot showers affect the outermost layer, the epidermis. The epidermis is mostly composed of skin cells loaded with keratin, the same substance that makes up your hair and nails. These cells, called keratinocytes, not only provide a tough defense against the environment but also help your skin to retain moisture. To help keratinocytes retain the skin's moisture, your body produces a thin layer of oil. Together, the outermost layer of skin cells and oil comprise the stratum corneum, and it's this layer that takes a beating during a hot shower.

First, the heat from the shower makes the skin's oils soften, much as butter softens and melts when heated. Add some soap into the mix, and the skin's oil barrier will be stripped away in no time. Granted, this isn't an altogether bad thing; that same oil barrier traps dirt and sweat, which leads to body odor. Still, without those oils, the moisture in your skin easily escapes, leading to dry and itchy skin. The longer and hotter the shower, the faster this process takes place and the more moisture you're likely to lose.

Once you step out of the shower, you may notice your skin reddens and itches, a sure sign your skin has started to dry out. With regular hot showers, you might also notice dry patches of skin that feel scaly or even start to crack. Unfortunately, dry winter air only exacerbates the problem, wicking away even more moisture from the skin, so try to avoid the temptation of a hot shower when the temperature plummets. The good news is that, with a few changes to their daily routine, most people can easily treat dry skin themselves. Read on to find out how.