How Often Should I Shower?

Woman showering.

Choreograph / iStockphoto

It's estimated that two-thirds of Americans shower daily. If you're among them, it may be you're lathering up too often. Excessive exposure to soap and water, especially very warm or hot water, can throw off the acid mantle—the thin layer of fatty acids and sebum (oil) that helps protect skin from outside contaminants and prevents it from becoming dry, flaky, and itchy. This can be particularly problematic for people with skin conditions such as psoriasis or eczema.

What's more, too-frequent showering can disrupt the skin's microbiome—colonies of beneficial organisms such as bacteria and fungi that play a role in the immune system by helping to ward off infectious microbes.

Overuse of antimicrobial soaps and cleansers also can contribute to antibiotic resistance.

All of this is to say that for many people, a full-body shower every other day or even every third day is likely to be sufficient. Adequate personal hygiene can be maintained by using a clean washcloth to wipe underarms and clean the groin area each day, and changing into fresh underwear.

However it is important to wash your face every night to remove dirt and makeup or sunscreen that can clog pores. And of course frequent hand-washing, especially when you're sick or exposed to others who are sick, and after each visit to the bathroom, is vital to preventing the spread of infection.

Who Should Shower Daily?

People who work with dangerous chemicals and corrosive or radioactive materials typically are required to shower immediately after each shift. A post-work shower also is highly advisable for farm workers, gardeners, construction workers, and others who literally get dirty at their jobs or are exposed to pollens and other allergens.

The same is true for anyone whose daily activities involve physical exertion and who perspire a lot as a result such as athletes, personal trainers, and fitness instructors.

It's also important to note that showering and bathing needs can be variable throughout the year: If you live in a region with extreme temperature changes—very hot in summer, cold in winter—a daily shower may be necessary during summer but not during fall and winter.

Dangers of too-infrequent bathing

Going too long without bathing eventually will lead to body odor and allow dead skin cells, sweat, and oil to build up on the surface of the skin and clog pores. This can trigger acne breakouts in people who are prone to them.

Wearing sweaty, moist gym clothes for long periods also can increase the risk of bacterial or fungal infections such as jock itch.

At its most serious, months without bathing can lead to dermatitis neglecta (DN), a condition in which brown patches of dead cells, dirt, sweat, and grime form on the skin. Also known as "unwashed dermatosis," this condition tends to occur among people who are unable to adequately clean their bodies due to an injury or physical disablity.

Among those who are capable of self-care, DN can develop after surgery in the areas around the incision, because a patient is afraid to clean the area or finds it painful to do so. Whatever the cause, DN is easily treated simply by washing the affected skin regularly, which will restore it to normal.

Healthy Showering Tips

No matter how often you shower, there are measures you can take to avoid disrupting the health of your skin.

  • Use warm water: Hot water can strip the skin of protective oils.
  • Keep it short: Five to 10 minutes is long enough.
  • Use a non-drying soap: Whether you prefer a bar or liquid body cleanser, choose one labeled as moisturizing.
  • Use soap only on select areas of the body: Limit lather to those prone to odor—armpits, groin, buttocks, feet, and between the toes.
  • Be gentle: If you use a body scrub or loofah, don't scrub too hard. The same goes for toweling off: Pat, don't rub, your skin.
  • Moisturize after showering: If your skin tends to be dry or sensitive, slather your body generously with fragrance-free body lotion or oil while your skin is still damp.
  • Keep poufs and loofahs clean: Damp sponges, loofahs, and shower poufs are breeding grounds for bacteria and mildew. Let them air dry outside of the shower and replace them at least every other month.
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