How often should you wash? The skin, health and environmental benefits of showering less
A British YouGov survey finds one in six people are showering less due to the pandemic, we reveal the benefits to staying clean while washing less
The pandemic has been responsible for many changes in behaviours, one of which has been the growing concept of less. During the past 15 months, we’ve seen people going out less, spending less money, and spending less (or no) time commuting … The “less list” goes on.
With people spending more time in the house, because of social distancing, working from home or homeschooling, the routines that once were the staple of everyday life – wake up, take shower, brush teeth, make breakfast – have, while not exactly disappeared, been subjected to a shake-up. But none has been affected so much as washing.
A British YouGov survey conducted in February found that showering has decreased, with one in six people showering less than they did pre-pandemic, and 27 per cent of people between the ages of 18 and 24 most prone to skipping showers. A substantial 25 per cent have cut down on the number of times they wash their hair every week.
Interestingly, fewer showers does not mean we’re slathering ourselves in deodorant instead; research by retail analyst Mintel showed that 28 per cent of people are using deodorant less.
So, are we set to be a generation of the great unwashed, or are there benefits to ditching the daily shower?
How often should you wash?
“While there is no ideal frequency, the type of work that people do affects how often they need to shower,” says Dr Eman Kotb, specialist dermatologist at Medcare Medical Centre in Sharjah. “People who work at desk jobs and spend most of their time indoors do not have the same bathing needs as those who work with dangerous substances, animals, or in any jobs that people consider to be unhygienic.”
Dr Rajesh Kumar Gurumoorthy, specialist dermatologist at Aster Clinic in Discovery Gardens, says: “More than once-a-day bathing will be required in individuals who work under a hot and humid environment like a construction site or exercising under the sun. In such conditions, excessive sweating and humidity predispose the individual to bacterial and fungal skin infections.”
‘Avoid hot water and antibacterial soaps’
While washing is vital for skin health, and has also been proven to have positive effects on mental health, experts agree that too much washing can have a detrimental effect on skin health.
“Normal healthy skin produces natural moisturising substances like ceramides, sterols and fatty acids to keep the skin moisturised all the time,” says Gurumoorthy. “Excessive and frequent bathing with soap will remove the natural moisturisers and can lead to dryness and irritation. In people who have skin prone to dryness and eczema, taking baths frequently can lead to a flare up.”
“Avoid very hot water for showers,” suggests Dr Umesh Nihalani, specialist dermatologist at Dubai London Clinic, Nakheel Mall. “Water should be tepid or lukewarm. A quick shower is always better than a long bath.”
While antibacterial hand soap is vital for preventing the spread of Covid, dermatologists say we should be avoiding antibacterial body washes.
Kotb says: “Antibacterial soaps can actually kill off normal bacteria. This upsets the balance of microorganisms on the skin and encourages the emergence of hardier, less friendly organisms that are more resistant to antibiotics.”
The environmental impact of daily showers
Water waste, using electricity, ocean-contaminating microbeads found in shower gels, not to mention the plastic containers of shampoo, conditioners, body scrubs and more means that every shower has an impact on the environment.
“Understanding the level of impact is crucial in the long-term preservation of the environment,” says Habiba Al Mar’ashi, chairwoman of the Emirates Environmental Group. “The detergent in soaps breaks the surface tension of the water, something that we humans may not notice. Lower surface tension leads to oxygen depletion, causing harm to aquatic wildlife and environment.”
Less is more, and the less time you spend in the shower the better.
Habiba Al Mar’ashi, Chairperson of the Emirates Environmental Group
A standard showerhead has a flow rate of 9.5 litres per minute, meaning an eight-minute shower uses 76 litres of water. Showering once a day uses 530 litres per week, and 27,560 litres per year.
“One of the best ways to protect the environment is to cut down on water consumption, and one of the easiest ways to do this is to take shorter and fewer showers a day,” advises Al Mar’ashi. “Less is more, and the less time you spend in the shower the better. Reducing your shower time from the standard eight minutes will save gallons of water and in turn require less energy to heat the water.”
Karlee Ozener, the founder of Hello Klean, whose refillable and recyclable shower filter capsules remove chlorine, minerals and rust from water, also advocates shorter wash times. “If you’re showering in the morning wake up with cold water, rather than waiting for it to warm up,” she says. “And don't forget to turn off the tap while lathering. Running water for five minutes can use the same energy as running a 60-watt lightbulb for 14 hours.”
‘The feeling of being clean can reduce anxiety’
While some have chosen to shower less during the pandemic, changes in routine and structure have not made the importance of keeping to a regular daily schedule any less important.
“Changes in normal routines, such as work, and school can cause increased feelings of stress and worry,” says Carolyn Yaffe, psychotherapist at Camali Clinic for mental health. “Regardless of whether it is something you decide or not, changes in life experiences can affect you greatly. Change in and of itself can cause increased stress, anxiety or feelings of depression.”
Yaffe points to personal hygiene routines as a daily touchstone amid unavoidable change.
“Both bathing and showering have been associated with improved mental health,” she says. “A warm shower or bath can help decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety as they are very calming. This method of relaxation is effective as it also will help with sleep patterns, with the change in temperature after stepping out of a warm bath or shower having a calming effect on the body which will also help get a good night’s sleep.
“Developing good hygiene practices will make you look better and feel better which will improve self-esteem and help you feel more confident,” Yaffe says. “The feeling of being clean also can reduce anxiety and diminish feelings of panic.”
Clean eating, shampoo bars and fresh underwear
For skin health and environmental benefits, shorter and cooler showers should be the goal. There are also additional steps that can be taken to ensure cleanliness and eco-awareness.
“Instead of standard bottled goods, I would recommend shampoo and conditioner bars,” says Al Mar’ashi. “Shampoo bars have less ingredients than their liquid equivalents. The majority of shampoo bars consist of a mixture of vegetable oils, essential oils and herbal oils. It is also a good trade, as the use of plastic bottles is eliminated.”
Ozener recommends switching from cotton to bamboo towels and products to reduce your environmental footprint.
“Eating clean and avoiding processed foods can help you stay away from having to shower for longer periods without having any problems,” says Nihalani.
Alternatives to showering include filling the bathroom sink with water, for a rub down with a flannel or sponge.
“The skin will become less dry, it will not lose the protective layer,” says Kotb of this approach. But warns people: “A dirty flannel can cause bacterial infection, toenail fungus, athlete’s foot and warts. To avoid this, change or launder your flannel frequently and make sure it dries between uses.”
But whether you swap bottles for bars, or switch to washing the way your grandparents did, there is one thing experts are all agreed on: fresh underwear.
“Changing undergarments daily,” says Nihalani, “should be the routine practice.”
Updated: May 29, 2021 01:48 PM