You probably don't put too much thought into your daily shower—it's just something you do every day to get clean and, depending on your routine, wake up or wind down. But certain habits may actually be leaving you with dry, itchy skin, or even prone to a raging infection. Nix these sudsy saboteurs before you lather up next.
Your water is too hot
Dry, itchy skin? Scalding showers might be to blame. “If there is tons and tons of steam coming out, then that’s a sign that your shower is too hot,” says Melissa Piliang, MD, dermatologist at the Cleveland Clinic. In addition to drying out your skin, Dr. Piliang warns that hot showers can cause eczema to flare up.
You don't have to give up steamy showers entirely. To get the same soothing effect, Dr. Piliang recommends letting the steam build up before you step under the water. “First turn on your shower as hot as you want it,” she explains. “Let it get nice and steamy and warm in there, and after it’s all heated up, turn it down to a comfortable temperature and then get in.” This way you can enjoy the heat without irritating your skin.
You’re using a harsh soap
You may love that squeaky-clean feeling that comes from scouring your skin, but soaps with antibacterial agents or harsher detergents may be causing more harm than good.
That squeaky sensation happens when all of the natural oils have been stripped from the skin. In contrast, "when the oils are present, they act as a lubricant so your hand will slide smoothly over the skin," says Dr. Piliang. Without that barrier, your skin is even more exposed to hot water, whipping winds, and other things that dry it out.
What's more, triclosan, an antibacterial ingredient used in some soaps, has been linked to more serious health concerns. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) maintains that the ingredient is not toxic to humans, but studies in animals have suggested that triclosan may alter hormone levels. Other lab studies have linked the chemical to contributing to the development of antibiotic resistance.
Dr. Piliang recommends skipping antibacterial soaps in the shower, and looking for products that are fragrance-free and contain added moisturizers, such as Aveeno Active Naturals Fragrance Free Skin Relief Body Wash ($7; amazon.com) and Neutrogena Oil-Free Moisture Sensitive Skin ($9; amazon.com). Everyone's skin is different, so you may need to try a few different products to find the one that's right for you.
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You're scrubbing too much
Unless you're covered in grime (from say, working outside all day), the only places that need major soaping are your armpits and groin. Water does the job for everything else—even after a sweaty workout, explains Robynne Chutkan, MD, the founder of the Digestive Center for Women in Chevy Chase, Maryland, and author of The Microbiome Solution ($16, amazon.com).
In addition to those natural oils, your skin is also crawling with "good" bacteria that are crucial for skin health. Scrubbing down from head-to-toe, even if you're using a milder soap, can still strip your skin of this beneficial bacteria that helps protect you from acne and eczema flare-ups, and yep, dry skin.
You’re not cleaning your razor
Razors can collect bacteria from your skin, and can then breed more germs while sitting in a damp, dark shower. That's why you must rinse it with scalding hot water before each use, says Sanford Vieder, MD, of Lakes Urgent Care in Michigan. Skipping this step can opening you up to infection, especially if you cut yourself, but even if you don't.
“When you use the razor you can obviously nick yourself and give yourself a cut, but the razor is also going to make very microscopic tears in the skin that can be a portal of entry for bacteria or fungus,” adds Dr. Piliang.
You should replace your razor blade completely about once a week. “If you use a dull blade you are at a greater risk of cutting your skin and creating an entryway for that bacteria to come in,” warns Dr. Vieder.
You’re skipping gym shower etiquette
Your years of dorm living may be long behind you, but that doesn’t mean you should abandon the practice of wearing flip flops when you use a communal bathroom.
“Athletes foot and warts can be picked up in public places,” warns Dr. Piliang. “Wearing shower shoes or flip flops on your feet when you’re in and out of the shower can help avoid these problems.”