K S Lane is a student of science and is deeply passionate about educating others on her favourite topics.
The concept of a daily morning shower is ingrained in many cultures across the globe. Approximately 75% of Americans report that they shower every day, and in warmer climates like Mexico, Colombia, and Australia that number skyrockets to almost 95%.
But is all this showering really necessary? Is it unhygienic or unhealthy to go for three or even four days without showering? And where did the concept of a daily shower even come from? This article discusses the science behind showering and explains why your once-a-day shower might actually be doing you more harm than good.
How Often Do Scientists Say I Should Shower?
Scientists don’t agree on a lot of things, but there’s one fact that every dermatologist worth his degree can come to a consensus on; showering once a day is showering too often. Unless you’re rolling around in mud all day, there’s simply no need to be having a shower every morning. Good personal hygiene can be maintained even if you’re only showering once a week, especially if you live in a cold climate and lead a mainly sedentary life (i.e. if you’re an office worker or couch potato).
For people who find this just a little bit gross or tend to be more active during the day, showering once every two or three days is fine too. Save for not showering at all, pretty much anything is better than showering each and every day. In an interview with Buzzfeed, dermatologists Dr. Zeichner and Dr. Hirschan even said that showering too regularly can "dry out and irritate skin, wash away the good bacteria that naturally exists on your skin, and introduce small cracks that put you at a higher risk of infection."
Showering Is Harmless Though, Right?
While showering more often than you need to technically isn’t hurting anyone, it can be pretty harmful to your skin. As mentioned before, showering too often can cause dryness, irritation and cracking. It can also exacerbate skin conditions like eczema and cause rashes. Yikes.
But it’s not just your skin that your daily shower routine is damaging. The average shower lasts about 9 minutes and uses roughly 65 litres of water. If you shower every day, that means you’re using about 23,700 litres of water a year. Cut your showers down to once every two days and that number halves, which means that you’re saving a whopping 11,850 litres a year. That’s a whole lot of water that isn’t going down the drain thanks to one simple lifestyle change, and it shaves a nice sum off your annual water bill too.
How Can I Shower Without Harming My Skin?
For those who just can’t stand going without their daily shower, there are ways to go about your usual rituals while minimising damage to your skin. The first and most obvious tip is to take shorter showers. As mentioned earlier, the average person in the U.S. showers for 9 minutes. However, most dermatologists recommend cutting back majorly on that time. A two minute shower, experts say, is long enough to get you clean.
The type of soap that you use also contributes to how showering affects your skin. If you’re scrubbing head to toe with harsh soaps that contain ingredients like lauryl sulphate every single day, your poor skin is probably crying out at you to make a change. Replacing harsher soaps with more mild ones can make all the difference.
If you’re not sure how to identify gentler soaps from the stronger ones, try picking out products designed for babies. Baby soaps, lotions and shampoos rarely contain any harsh chemicals because of the sensitivity of babies’ skin, making it perfect for adult skin too.
How Often Should I Wash My Hair?
How often you should wash your hair depends a lot on your hair type, the climate you live in, how naturally oily your scalp is and how much you sweat. However, one concrete rule that dermatologists all agree on is that once a day is too often.
Washing with shampoo strips your hair of oils, and if you’re doing it too much then your scalp is going to overcompensate by producing even more oils, which is going to make your hair greasy and even smelly. It’s paradoxical, but washing your hair too often makes it dirtier. Every three days is a good general rule for washing, but no one knows your hair better than you. If you can comfortably go a week or longer between washes without it getting greasy or matted, then that’s perfectly fine.
Why Did People Start Showering So Often in the First Place?
For people that work in trades like building and plumbing or who engage in serious manual labour every day, showering every day can be a necessity. Similarly, regular gym-goers who work up a sweat daily need to shower if they don’t want their friends and family to complain about their smell. Those who live in hot, tropical climates may have a similar need. However, most people don’t lift heavy objects or have to deal with blistering heat day in and day out. Office workers and people who live practically sedentary lives can still feel the need to shower every morning and in some cases every night too. Why is this?
The answer lies with societal pressure. Being clean, presentable and smell-free is an ideal that’s ingrained in modern society. Many believe that skipping a morning shower will be immediately noticeable to everyone around them; that they’ll be ridiculed and deemed unhygienic. This idea is, in part, pushed by shampoo, soap and lotion companies, which idealise showering and bathing in general in a bid to sell more products.
In reality, if you live a mostly sedentary lifestyle and if you use deodorant, no one is going to be able to tell if you showered two hours or two days ago. You’ll look and smell exactly the same. Cleanliness is important, but taking two showers a day doesn’t necessarily make you more clean than someone who showers every second day. It’s all about moderation.
Cutting Back on Showers Can Save Time, Money and the Environment
You really don’t need to shower each and every day. It can damage your skin, and frankly is just a waste of water. Instead, experts say, showering every two to three days is much better for you and is more than enough to keep you clean and smelling fresh.
Hair also shouldn’t be washed daily, but rather every three to four days, depending on hair type. If you’re an active person or regularly get dirty in your line of work and need to bathe daily, taking shorter showers with lukewarm water and using baby soap can minimise damage to your skin. The routine of daily bathing is so ingrained in some cultures that it might shock some to realise that it isn’t necessary. But it’s a simple fact that cutting back on showers can save time, money, and help the environment too.
Sources and Further Reading
- How Often People in Various Countries Shower (The Atlantic)
- How Often You Should Wash Your Hair, According to Science (Science Alert)
- How Long Should You Shower? It Takes Less Time Than You Think To Get Clean (Bustle)
- How Often You Should Wash Your Hair, According to Science (Buzzfeed)
- How much water do you use in a shower? (Constellation)
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2018 K S Lane
Brian Leekley from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA on November 29, 2018:
Thank you, K S, for this welcome news. Now I won't feel guilty when I shower just two or three times per week unless I do sweaty work or exercise.
Back when I was growing up in the 1940s and 1950s, my family didn't have a shower. We each had a Saturday night bath, and each morning the rest of the week we had a "bird bath" at the bathroom sink. No one complained. We looked and smelled OK. We got a makeshift shower--a rubber hose that fit over the bathtub faucet at one end and stuck with a suction cup to the wall at the other end--when an exchange student staying with us said he didn't want to lie in dirty water like a water buffalo.
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on November 27, 2018:
I have heard this before, but I never paid much attention to this information. Yet, I do have dry skin, and I shower too often. Thanks for a good article and the waste of water should be a consideration.