Apparently — as brought to light by controversy-causing celebrities like Mila Kunis and Jake Gyllenhall — how often you should wash your body is up for debate. We asked skin experts for the hard facts.
It all started with an offhanded comment by Mila Kunis in an interview with her husband Ashton Kutcher on Dax Shepard’s podcast “Armchair Expert.” In the Kunis-Kutcher household, they don’t regularly bathe their kids, the couple shared. Only “if you can see dirt on them,” Kutcher explained. The conversation turned to adult bathing habits— or lack thereof: Kutcher admitted to only washing his armpits and crotch daily “and nothing else ever” — and chaos ensued. Shepard and Kristen Bell soon shared they’re not big on bathing either and Jake Gyllenhal then chimed in in an interview with Vanity Fair that he finds bathing to be “less necessary at times.”
The internet lost its collective mind and battle lines were drawn: Team Shower vs. Team No Shower, with both sides sure it was the others who were the crazy ones. Jodie Turner-Smith tweeted that she is definitely Team Shower, Cardi B threw shade at her bath-averse celeb colleagues, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson proudly shared his three-a-day shower routine (cold in the morning, warm after his workout, hot at the end of the day, off-key singing in all three).
before you lot even ask:
in this house, we bathe. pic.twitter.com/fxeTMovLJs
— Jodie (@MissJodie) August 6, 2021
So…who’s got it right?
Turns out, both bathing camps have valid points, according to the experts. “Water works for rinsing off dirt and dust without stripping vital oils from your skin and washing with soap helps with washing off bacteria, sweat, and odor,” says celebrity esthetician Taylor Worden. How often you should take a full body shower really “depends on what soap you use, what type of skin you have, and your location,” she says. “Using some harsh soaps can mess up the pH of your skin.”
If you have oily skin, sweat from daily workouts, or live in a hot humid area, for example, you’ll likely need a daily suds. “Or if you are prone to skin conditions that yeast or bacteria may contribute to — like seborrheic dermatitis, acne or folliculitis — then washing the body daily with soap may be a good fit for you,” says Dr. Hadley King, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in New York.
“If none of these is the case, then washing less frequently may work well for you,” Dr. King says. If you tend to have dry skin, “aim for once per day at most, and use a gentle cleanser … that is free of harsh detergents so it won’t strip your skin of its natural oils,” she says. “Warm water rather than hot water will also be less drying.” (Worden goes so far as to recommend cold showers for optimal skin health.)
But there is such a thing as showering too much. “Showering in long hot showers with fragranced body wash daily can mess up your skin’s microbiome,” aka the ecosystem of good bacteria that lives on your skin, explains Worden. “And supporting a healthy skin microbiome does help to keep the skin healthy,” adds Dr. King. Taking too many showers can strip your skin of the natural oils that keep it healthy, she explains, which can actually kick your skin’s oil glands into over drive, making acne worse. It can also leave skin dry and itchy and worsen conditions like eczema or psoriasis.
Now here comes an important caveat: we’re talking about full body showers with soap here — not spot cleaning of the dirtiest areas of your body.
“Your armpits, groin, hands and feet should be washed daily with soap,” says Worden. “And your back if you get bacne.” She recommends sudsing up with your hands rather than a washcloth or loofah since they tend to harbor bacteria. “Also showering with soap after swimming in a lake, pool or ocean is a must,” she adds.
Of course, our cultural feelings about bathing aren’t as simple as skin health — we don’t really care about how often Mila or Cardi soap up, but we do care about what that says about them. As author Luvvie Ajayi Jones pointed out in a series of Instagram Stories, our hygiene habits are deeply intertwined with privilege — it’s a funny little anecdote when wealthy white celebrities talk about not bathing, but worthy of shame for those in poverty or for people of color. “The privilege to be gross is real,” Jones wrote.
Ultimately, you should shower as much as makes you feel comfortable. “For example, I know if I shower before I go to bed I will sleep better,” says Worden. “And in the summer, I will do a rinse off when I get home because of allergies and to get the NYC dirt off me.” As long as you aren’t having skin problems, you do you.
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