By Jenn Sinrich-Self
You’ve probably been showering on your own since before puberty, so you’ve got the entire process down to a science—turn on the water, hop in, and scrub yourself clean. Simple, right? The reality is there are a lot of other things that happen in the 15 minutes you’re behind the curtain, from shaving your legs to exfoliating your body.
To make the entire process more efficient and better for your skin, there are a few healthy shower habits to live by. The tools you use, the water temperature, and even your choice of body wash can have an effect on your skin. So, I asked top dermatologists to share the most common faux-pas that occur under the shower head.
- You’re taking extremely hot showers.
Hot showers feel so good, but they aren’t too hot for your skin. “Hot showers open the pores, strip the skin of natural oils, and wick much needed moisture away from the skin,” Joyce Imahiyerobo-Ip, M.D., director of cosmetic dermatology at South Shore Medical Center, tells SELF. Experts agree that a lukewarm shower—about the temperature of a heated swimming pool—is better than a steaming hot spray.
- You’re showering too often.
Hopping into the shower two or more times a day can dry out the skin because you’re constantly rinsing away your body’s natural oils and moisture. Many derms even believe that once a day is too much. Unless you’re someone who likes to work out and get sweaty every single day, you really only need to shower a few times a week at most, according to Marina Peredo, M.D., cosmetic and medical board-certified dermatologist and associate clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital. If the thought of skipping a shower makes you want to cringe, start by shortening the time you spend in the shower by only soaping up where needed.
- You’re using products with irritating ingredients.
You might love your tropical, pineapple-and-mango-infused body wash, but unless you’ve read the ingredients label, you probably have no idea what’s really inside that bottle. As Dendy Engelman, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon in NYC, explains to SELF, many cleansers are made with fragrances, preservatives, and sulfates that can increase the chances of irritation. This is especially true if your skin is cracked, dry, and sensitive.
If this sounds like your skin, look for an oil-based cleanser formulated for sensitive skin, since the oil will help your skin retain moisture. Engelman’s favorite for the body is Avene XeraCalm A.D. Lipid-Replenishing Cleansing Oil ($31). For the face, try Biossance Squalane + Antioxidant Cleansing Oil ($30).
- You’re not filtering your water.
This might sound like an unnecessary luxury, but, depending on where you live, hard water could be having a negative effect on your hair and skin. Unflitered water can contain minerals like calcium and magnesium. “These can leave residue on the skin and hair causing build-up, dryness, and irritation,” says Engelman. These minerals can also make it hard for your body wash to properly clean the skin, which can lead to dull, dry, flaky skin and clogged pores. If you’re dealing with hard water, try T3’s Source Showerhead ($150), which eliminates chlorine from your shower water along with dirt and unpleasant odors.
- You’re re-using yesterday’s washcloth.
No matter what fabric your washcloth is made of, you shouldn’t be reusing the same washcloth two days in a row without throwing it in the laundry. “Damp fabrics are a breeding ground for bacteria, fungus, and mold,” explains Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital. If you’re not keen on adding even more to your dirty laundry pile, try skipping a washcloth altogether and using your hands with a foaming body wash instead. Try Dove Foaming Body Wash ($6) or Nivea Silk Mousse Body Wash ($6).
- You’re leaving your loofah in your shower.
It makes sense to store what you use in the shower in your actual shower, right? But experts warn against this, as the hot and steamy environment is a breeding ground for bacteria. “Using a bacteria-infested product for exfoliation would make you more prone to infections,” explains Engelman. “Unless your loofah is super dry in between use and bleached regularly, you are risking more damage than good.”
- You’re overdoing it with the scrubbing.
Exfoliating is one of those self-pampering skin-care musts. It helps get rid of dead skin cells that sit on your skin’s surface, leaving your skin looking dull. And, while you should certainly stick to a regimen of exfoliating both your face and your body two to three times a week, any more than that is overkill. “Over-exfoliation will expose below-layers of your skin, weaken skin-barrier function and, in some cases, trigger inflammation,” warns Engelman. “If the barrier function is damaged, skin becomes vulnerable to infection from microorganisms, such as bacteria and fungus, and leads to sensitivity and irritation.”
- You’re shaving in all directions.
You might not always have time for the perfect shave, but when putting razor blade to skin, derms recommend trying your best to stick to shaving in the direction of which your hair grows. “If you shave in many different directions, you increase the chances of razor bumps, irritation, and even ingrown hairs because of the angle the hair was shaved off,” explains Engelman. She explains that shaving against hair growth gives you a closer shave, but the blunt-tipped end of hairs can grow back into the skin rather than up and out. So, it’s best to stick to shaving in the same direction the hair grows.
- You’re using last month’s razor.
Most of us become a bit too attached to our trusty razor, leaving the same blades on for months at a time, but experts say this quickly leads to infections like folliculitis. Folliculitis is inflammation of the hair follicles that can be accompanied by bacteria filled pustules. Not fun. Razors create teeny, tiny microscopic tears in the skin. So, if you’re using a dull or dirty one, you’re introducing all sorts of bacteria deep in there. For this reason, it’s best to replace your razor blade between every five to seven shaves, or once a month, depending on how frequently you shave.
- You’re not moisturizing immediately after you shower.
Studies have shown that moisturizing immediately after bathing gives significantly better hydration compared to delayed moisturizing or not moisturizing at all. This is even more important when you’ve just shaved your legs in the shower. “Shaving is a process that involves the razor, your hair, and your skin,” explains Zeichner. “Not properly moisturizing afterwards can lead to skin irritation and inflammation known as razor burn.” For this reason, he recommends a petrolatum-based moisturizer to coat and protect the skin post-shower. The newest generation of products come in easy-to-spread lotion formulas that are as effective as traditional ointments, but much less greasy, like Vaseline Intensive Care Advanced Repair Lotion Unscented ($8). There are also new in-shower moisturizers you can keep at the tub so you don’t forget this crucial step. Try Curél Hydra Therapy Wet Skin Moisturizer ($11) and Jergens Wet Skin Moisturizer ($6).
- You’re not wearing shower shoes at the gym.
Remember freshman year of college when you showered in a communal bathroom alongside dozens of other students? You probably (hopefully) wore flip flops to protect your feet. The same safety precautions should be used at the gym. Any time you’re rinsing off in a public shower, cover your feet. “Whenever a patient asks me how they acquired their foot fungus, I always respond, ‘There is fungus among us!’” Imahiyerobo-Ip says. Getting a foot fungus doesn’t mean you have bad hygiene; fungus is able to live on some people’s skin much more easily than others. This is why Imahiyerobo-Ip always recommends using shower shoes when using a public shower to prevent the transmission of unwanted fungus or viral infections like warts.