Showering is about three things: Hygiene, cultural acceptance, and personal preference. But this doesn't make any clearer how often it's necessary. I'm not a daily shower type. I like the relaxation of showering, but I hate the squeaky clean feeling of super dry/tight skin, heavily moisturized skin from moisturizing soap, and the super feathery clean shampoo hair sensation. But my husband takes a hot soapy shower every single day and thinks I'm weird. Am I? I decided to find out.
According to an AOL poll from 2009, I'm not "most people." They found that 65 percent of people showered every day, with 21 percent showering every other day, 10 percent going it once a week, and 4 percent showering actually more than once a day.
Far as I'm concerned, the day after a shower is the best day on earth, day two is totally enjoyable, and day three is dire. That changed when I got prego: There was a long stretch of time during pregnancy (third trimester, holla), newborn care, and even through toddlerhood where I barely got showers and barely cared. (Even now, my almost 4-year-old wants to do everything mommy does, including taking showers, which has made me forgo them yet again in the mornings in favor of time, sanity.)
Pediatricans tell you that you don't need to bathe a baby every day on account of how much it dries out their skin (But Google any thread on how often you should bathe your baby, and you'll see everything from nightly to daily). Obviously, little babies aren't sweating at the rate of toddlers, full-bore children, or even teens, but does that mean if you're not getting super sweaty that you don't really need to shower that much?
Everyone's favorite hysterical relative, the Daily Mail, ran a piece in June of last year suggesting that "cleansing reduction" is a new trend — a disturbing trend that happens to leave you with better hair and skin. This means bathing only once a week to stop stripping the skin and hair of essential oils and good bacteria. To sniff:
Disgusting as it might sound, going for long periods without bathing is nothing new, according to Lancaster University sociologist, Dr. Elizabeth Lancaster.
According to Lancaster, daily showers are a relatively recent development and less than a century ago, a weekly bath would have been considered perfectly adequate.
'Now we think nothing of showering once, twice or even three times a day, before and after work or going out and after the gym,' she said in an interview with the Times.
'It has embedded itself in our routine and become an essential, not an optional, thing to do.'
Meanwhile, dry shampoo sales are on the rise, and full of celeb endorsements. (Kim Kardashian only washes her hair every two days thanks to the stuff!) Also, quitting shampoo — if you can withstand the process of your scalp returning to normal oil production (on overdrive because of over-shampooing) — has been a thing popping up online for a couple years now, too that also promises more beautiful hair.
In another really interesting experiment, a family blogged about taking water-only baths for six months and ditching soap altogether, to surprising results — no body odor, reduced acne, and a "significant reduction in groin smell."
But that's the Internet, and I wanted a real-world fact-check. I spoke with Dr. Sanjay Jain, an MD and author of Optimal Living 360, who focuses on balanced living for the body and mind, to find out what is an ideal frequency for showering and whether we need it like we think we do. Turns out we do, but we don't, but we do.
"There's no cookie-cutter thinking or hard-and-fast rule for all women (or men) when it comes to showering," he said. But there are considerations: Your environment, your activity level, and knowing your body. Humid environments, he explained, mean you collect more dirt than dry environments and would need to shower more. More exercise or activity means more sweating = a greater need for showers (and more likely soap). Preference could mean that you've noticed your hair doesn't do well without daily shampoo, or you may prefer the way your hair looks a few days after washing, "when the natural oils make it look more rich and alive."
Those were the specifics, but these are the generals: Showers don't need to be too hot, or too long, and you should always pat dry, rather than rub, to avoid irritating your skin (especially your face, and especially if you have any skin conditions, like acne).
That is all helpful and common-sense driven, but I wanted to confirm whether the water-onlys were onto something, or crazy, because I kinda want to try it. Showers are not just about personal comfort, reducing odor, and removing sweat/dirt, they are ostensibly also part of good health and disease-prevention, which benefits more than just the showerer, but society at large. So what are these crazy no-soapers risking by only hosing off?
Turns out, nothing, really, so long as other, far more critical hygiene is adhered to.
"Most of the body is covered in clothing, so there's not a lot of direct contact with the environment," Dr. Jain said. "We wash our hands more frequently than the body because of all that contact – we touch food, we touch our keyboard, we touch so many surfaces with bacteria and viruses on them."
Historically, he said, people typically took baths with only water, and that worked just fine. "Water is your basic foundation for cleanliness." Dr. Jain mentioned that when it comes to the notion that we need to use soap and shampoo in showers or baths every day, consider who is delivering the message.
"If you wash your hair every day and shower every day, you'll use up that bottle more quickly," he said.
But ultimately, to answer the question "How often should you shower?" the conventional wisdom is that showering or bathing every other day, or two out of every three days, (with soap and/or shampoo based on your own preference and needs) is "a fair assessment."
But he suggested considering the shower's role for more than just the body. "Don't just look at the biology of it, look at the mind," he said. "Just taking a shower is a feeling of freshness — there's a psychology to it. Someone who doesn't shower every day anymore might not have the same energy level. Showering makes people feel more confident, feel better, more beautiful."
So maybe don't completely skip your shower this week, but definitely stop what you are doing and go wash your hands.
Image via Mark Sayer/Shutterstock.