Some people see showers as a necessary (and lovely) ritual that all decent human beings do daily…
While others believe it’s a chore to avoid until the last possible minute and then do as quickly as humanly possible.
If you’re in this category and have ever wondered how often you actually need to clean your body, the answer is: not as often as most Americans probably think.
Two dermatologists tell BuzzFeed Life that most Americans shower way more than is necessary.
According to Dr. Joshua Zeichner, assistant professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, how frequently we shower and what we perceive as body odor is “really more of a cultural phenomenon.” Boston dermatologist Dr. Ranella Hirsch echoes this sentiment. “We overbathe in this country and that’s really important to realize,” she says. “A lot of the reason we do it is because of societal norms.”
And those norms are mainly the result of good advertising.
After the Civil War, both advertising and “toilet soap” (i.e., soap for the body) became more prevalent in the United States, says Katherine Ashenburg, author of The Dirt on Clean: An Unsanitized History. “Americans turned out to be much more gullible and susceptible to these things than Europeans,” Ashenburg tells BuzzFeed Life.
Then, in the 1920s and ’30s, more women entered the workforce and more Americans left their farms to work closely together in factories, leading to another major cultural focus on cleanliness and bathing. This time, it came from business books like Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People and was mainly about success and attractiveness.
“Germ theory didn’t matter half as much as promises of beauty,” Ashenburg says.
But here’s the thing: Frequent showering may actually be doing more harm than good.
Zeichner and Hirsch say that showering too often (particularly in hot water) can dry out and irritate skin, wash away the good bacteria that naturally exists on your skin, and introduce small cracks that put you at a higher risk of infection.
Both doctors say that parents should not bathe babies and toddlers daily. Zeichner says that early exposure to dirt and bacteria may make the skin less sensitive as you age, and prevent allergies and conditions like eczema.
While your activity level and climate will affect how often you’ll want shower, you can probably skip the daily shower and take one every two to three days.
If you’re so inclined, you can clean the grossest parts of your body with a soapy washcloth or cleansing towelette to remove odor-causing bacteria on non-shower days. (Grossest parts of your body = “face, underarms, under the breasts, genitals, and rear end,” according to Zeichner.)
You should also put on clean undergarments each day; one study showed that we shed far more dirt and oil in our clothes than we do in the shower.
SO. You no longer have to stand in the stupid shower every morning getting your head wet for 10 minutes while you try to get up the courage to step out into the freezing bathroom!