It's conventional wisdom that the more you shower, the cleaner you are. Lathering up with a healthy dose of soap and washing it off with a nice stream of hot water should kill any germs on your skin. Studies by medical researchers have shown quite the opposite, however. Using plain old soap (as opposed to antimicrobial or antibacterial soap) doesn't kill skin-borne bacteria. It actually disturbs microcolonies of skin flora and fauna, transferring them to the surrounding environment -- like your shower, for instance. For this reason, surgical teams and patients are generally restricted from showering immediately before entering an operating room [source: Larson].
Still, showering regularly is recommended for good personal hygiene. Showering too much, however, can have a potentially damaging effect on your skin.
The outermost layer of your skin's surface (called the stratum corneum or horny layer) is a barrier made of hardened, dead skin cells. These skin cells offer protection for the underlying layers of living, healthy cells. The horny layer is more than just dead skin cells; it's held together by lipids, which are fatty compounds that actually help maintain moisture in your skin.
Anytime you take a shower -- especially a hot one -- with soap and a scrubbing device like a washcloth or a loofah, you're undermining the integrity of your skin's horny layer. The soap and the hot water dissolve the lipids in the skin and scrubbing only hastens the process. The more showers you take, the more frequently this damage takes place and the less time your skin has to repair itself through natural oil production. What's more, the horny layer of your skin can be sloughed off by scrubbing, exposing the delicate skin cells beneath. The result of showering too frequently is generally dry, irritated and cracked skin.
Another problem related to showering too often is the use of a towel to dry off. While rubbing yourself dry with a towel is common practice, it's also a damaging one for your skin. Air drying is the optimal way to dry off following a shower, but if you don't have time to wait for evaporation or don't like tracking bathwater throughout your house, you can still use a towel. Just make sure it's a soft one and use a gentle patting motion to absorb water.
The chemistry of each person's skin is different, so showering ever day may not be as damaging to some people as it would be to others. Still, you might want to skip a shower every once in a while. You can also protect your skin by using soft soaps with warm instead of hot water. To top it off, apply a moisturizer after each shower. We all love feeling clean, but we also have to strike a balance between clean skin and healthy skin.
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- Larson, Elaine. "Hygiene of the skin: When is clean too clean?" Centers for Disease Control. December 8, 2001. http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/eid/vol7no2/larson.htm
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- Toda, Masahiro, et al. "Change in salivary physiological stress markers by spa bathing." Biomedical Research. February 2006.http://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/biomedres/27/1/27_11/_article