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It's all about how you shower, not how often
Bruce A. Brod, MD, clinical professor of dermatology of University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, points out that how often you shower, whether that’s on the daily or just a couple of times a week, doesn’t really matter too much to your skin’s health when it comes to winter issues like dryness—it’s how you shower that’s key when it comes to keeping dry, itchy winter skin at bay.
He says, “It’s too ingrained in our culture to take that daily shower and not have one iota of body odor, so I think we’re probably not going to change that. But if we can get people to bathe smarter, that would go a long way to reduce dryness, which can lead to itching, dermatitis, and inflamed skin.”
Here are 5 big shower mistakes you might be making, and what to do instead.
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1. Ditch the hot-hot-hot shower.
Brod says too-hot showers are a BIG no-no. (Guilty.) And if you stay under that hot water long enough for the water to turn cold (also guilty), consider yourself a double offender. “The problem with overbathing and bathing too long,” Brod says, “is that it can wash away the natural oils in the skin and damage the outer layer, which leads to drying and cracking. For the skin to remain healthy, we want it to preserve natural oils, which help to maintain integrity of the skin. Heat melts oils—like when you want to melt a stick of butter, you put it in the microwave. So, when we heat our skin, we melt those oils on our skin and they wash away.”
But don’t get it twisted: This rule doesn’t mean you can’t indulge a wintertime bath. On the contrary, Brod says bath oils can actually be beneficial to the skin. As with a shower, it’s just important to make sure the water isn’t too hot before you jump in and to avoid lounging in the tub for too long.
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2. Don't use abrasive soaps
Another shower habit that could potentially be sabotaging your skin? The soap you’re using. “Soaps can be drying because pure soaps tend to have a high pH and the way they function is to actually dissolve those skin oils,” Brod notes. He suggests using soaps designed for sensitive skin and limiting soap use to, um, the areas that really need it. We’re sure you can figure those out for yourself. For the rest of your body, the mechanical act of bathing itself helps to reduce build-up of unwanted bacteria, he says.
Here are a few essential oil roller blends you should have on hand:
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3. Toss your loofah
Next up up on our list of wintertime showering offenses: scrubbing away with a loofah. First of all, Brod notes, that thing is probably pretty gross. “Porous cleansing devices can harbor microorganisms and can be a source of infection in the skin,” he says. No, thanks. Plus, they can potentially strip off delicate stratum corneum, your top layer of skin, which is not something you want to do. Your hands or a gentle washcloth are a better way to go, he says.
4. Make sure to moisturize
Okay, raise your hand if you’ve been found guilty of all of these listed offenses. Don’t worry, you are not alone—and there’s only one left: that’s skipping moisturizer when you hop out of your newly improved not-too-long, not-too-hot shower. Moisturizing helps to replace the oils you washed away while bathing, which can prevent drying. If you find you’re prone to dry skin in the wintertime, Brod notes that cream-based moisturizers, rather than lotions, seem to be superior at replacing moisture due to lower water content.
Related: The 7 Best Natural Moisturizers To Slather On Your Face This Winter
5. And don't over-shower if you don't need it!
So, if your daily escape from the cold is a steamy shower, that’s okay—as long as you follow some cardinal rules.. As Brod says, when it comes to frequency of showering, there’s no one-size-fits-all, health-wise.
“There’s a range and it depends on activity and skin type. Some people who are sedentary, once or twice a week would be appropriate,” says Brod. Those with more active lifestyles (or those who simply love a good shower) can get away with showering daily without turning into a living replica of the oh-so-dry, oh-so-cracked Sahara desert, so long as they stick to the shower principles outlined here.