How often should you bathe?

howoftentobathe_large If you’ve been staying home more the last year, you may be bathing less. What does that mean for your health?

How does bathing affect your health?

Because normal skin needs a layer of oils and normal bacteria to maintain its barrier, bathing too frequently can lead to dry and itchy skin, especially if the water you’re bathing in is too hot. Sometimes the dry skin can even lead to irritated and cracked skin, which breaks down the skin barrier and predisposes you to possible infections from bacteria entering these skin cracks. Hair can lose its luster because you’re also removing the natural oils by over washing and, at times, can lead to hair loss from a condition called seborrheic dermatitis. Seborrheic dermatitis can often be triggered by hot showers and removal of healthy oils from the hair.

How often should you bathe?

There’s no true consensus on how often you should bathe. In the United States, most people bathe daily but, in other countries, many people bathe only 2-3 times per week or less. Many times it can come down to habit and ritual, as daily showers can help people feel more awake, avoid body odor, relax tight muscles or simply because that’s what they’ve been taught to do.

Are there benefits to showering less?

Yes, the benefits are plentiful. It allows your skin to stay vibrant and healthy from the natural oils and bacteria that live on it and improves our immune system. The immune system creates antibodies to typical bacteria and environmental dirt and other pathogens that our skin is often exposed to and this allows us to build a more robust response every time we are exposed to these things in the future. There’s research to show that exposure to allergens and not hyper-sterilizing our environment, especially when we’re kids, can lead to less allergies as adults as well. There are also the added benefits of healthier hair and less money spent on water and bathing products.

What can happen if someone doesn’t bathe often enough?

Just like bathing too frequently can lead to dry skin, not bathing frequently enough can lead to skin problems as well. The normal oils that are needed to maintain a good skin barrier can accumulate and, mixed with salt and dirt, can often irritate your skin, leading to flare ups of conditions such as eczema or psoriasis, or cause itchy skin. The overgrowth of bacteria and oils that build up from not bathing can also lead to skin infections. Skin cells also reproduce, shedding old ones and growing new ones, and when you don’t bathe the dead skin cells can accumulate on your skin, leading to a hyperpigmentation of the skin. Of course, there’s the obvious effect of body odor.

Can someone bathe too often?

Yes. Although there are many factors that come into play as to what is “often,” including the temperature outside, your skin type, how active you are, what skin conditions and allergies you have, how long you shower for and with the temperature of the water you bathe in. If you stick with daily showers, limit them to five minutes with warm water, not hot. This is likely fine for most people. However, bathing 2-3 times per week is also likely just as healthy and good for the environment too.

What else should you know about bathing less?

To avoid dry skin when bathing too often, try to blot yourself dry instead of rubbing yourself off fully to maintain moisture, and apply a lotion/moisturizer all over the body every time after you bathe.

This should help to keep your skin healthy. When bathing less frequently, if you’re concerned about odor, focus on gently cleaning the genitals and armpits with a clean washcloth in between bathing days and this should keep the odor away.

Barbara Barash is a family medicine physician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and an assistant professor in the Ohio State College of Medicine.