It’s an age-old question: How often do we actually need to bathe?
While many people believe that daily body washing is essential for cleanliness and hygiene, others believe it strips the body of its natural oils and dries the skin.
What do the experts say about this body-washing controversy?
It all began when several celebrities came out with the news that they don’t feel the need to shower daily, sending the Twittersphere into a fierce debate.
Actors Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard revealed on The View that they’ve started to bathe their children less frequently as they get older.
“I’m a big fan of waiting for the stink,” Bell said.
On Shepard’s podcast, “Armchair Expert,” celebrity couple Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher revealed they’re also in the habit of washing their children every few days.
“If you can see the dirt on them, clean them. Otherwise, there’s no point,” Kutcher said of their routine.
Kunis adds, “I don’t wash my body with soap every day.”
Jake Gyllenhaal then chimed in during an interview with Vanity Fair.
I “think that there’s a whole world of not bathing that’s also really helpful for skin maintenance, and we naturally clean ourselves,” he said.
Despite the online backlash, it seems that bathing daily is becoming less and less popular.
According to a poll taken by Millennial Podcast in May 2020, 55.6 percent of listeners said they hadn’t been showering daily throughout quarantine.
Also in 2020, the Daily Mail revealed that roughly 25 percent of people in the United Kingdom had stopped showering daily during the pandemic.
The New York Times published an article in 2021 featuring people who decided to forgo the daily shower during the pandemic.
So, to shower or not to shower?
Derrick Phillips, consultant dermatologist at the Cadogan Clinic in London, says washing once a day is optimal for social reasons, but it may not be absolutely necessary for your health.
“Washing once a day is adequate for most children and adults to maintain a socially acceptable level of personal hygiene and cleanliness,” he says.
When it comes to the health effects of bathing, our bodies have it mostly under control.
“The skin is self-cleaning and naturally exfoliates,” he says. “Scrubbing helps to remove physical dirt and reinforce the perception of cleanliness, but isn’t necessary.”
In other words, a daily shower will help you smell and feel fresh and clean, but scrubbing your body from head to toe every single day is probably not going to make you any “cleaner.”
Some are concerned that showering could actually harm the skin, leading to:
- skin microbiome disruption
According to New York-based dermatologist Dr. Adarsh Mudgil, there’s little evidence to support this theory that daily bathing is anyway dangerous.
Daily washing “isn’t necessary, but I also don’t think it’s harmful to our skin as is being reported widely in the media lately,” he says. “Bathing daily can make the skin drier if you don’t moisturize, but that’s about all that can be proven. Its effects on our microbiome are speculative.”
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This means that how often you bathe isn’t likely to affect the health of your skin microbiome.
As Phillips and Mudgil explain, the optimal bathing frequency can change depending on circumstance and body type.
It works for some to bathe less often, including:
- people with sensitive skin
- those with skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis
- those committed to water conservation
- people who work indoors at a desk
Bathing daily may be best for:
- children or those who often get messy
- people who live in humid locations
- people who exercise frequently
- those with physically demanding jobs
According to Phillips, newborn babies should be bathed with less frequency because of their delicate skin.
“Newborn babies and infants have delicate skin that’s more sensitive to the drying effects of soap and hot water,” he says. “Daily washing is likely to be excessive and can be detrimental to their skin.”
For toddlers and young children, delicate skin is less of an issue.
According to Mudgil, children should bathe gently daily and should also be cleaned whenever they get dirty to avoid oil buildup and inflammation.
Children have a tendency to get messy quickly, so be sure to keep their bodies clean without excessively scrubbing them.
People with an active lifestyle
Whether you go for plenty of runs or you have a job that involves intensive physical labor, plenty of people find themselves building up extra sweat throughout the day.
If this sounds like you, you may find yourself wanting to wash your body more than once a day. That’s perfectly fine!
According to both Phillips and Mudgil, daily bathing soon after a workout or long shift is optimal.
People who live in humid locations
When the weather is excessively warm, the human body naturally produces more sweat to stay cool.
To keep your skin feeling fresh and to reduce the risk of sebum build-up, Mudgil recommends washing the body at least once a day during heat waves or in humid locations.
People with skin conditions or sensitivity
If you have a skin condition, the skin biome can be more prone to irritation. Phillips suggests that daily showering may not be ideal for you. These types of conditions can include:
“Washing strips natural oils from the upper layer of the skin, leading to drying and irritation,” Phillips says. “This can be particularly problematic in those with eczema who have naturally dry skin.”
He recommends being very gentle in the shower. Avoid products with fragrances and always use a gentle emollient like cream or lotion afterward to help restore oils in the skin and avoid irritation.
If you have a specific skin condition, speak with your dermatologist to find the best bathing routine for your needs.
In addition to the question of physical health and cleanliness, there are a few other things at play in the showering debate that are worth mentioning.
For one thing, many people say they’ve reduced the number of their showers for environmental reasons.
According to the Water Research Foundation, the average household uses 17 gallons of hot water a day for showers.
Taking fewer and shorter showers can help conserve water as well as the electricity needed to heat it.
Class and race dynamics
Some have also pointed out that there are class and race stereotypes at play in this debate.
“One big reason white elite disdain for bathing rankles so many people — from poor whites to immigrants to Black people — is how much whiteness uses “dirty” to Other and control the rest of us,” tweets journalist Tressie McMillan Cottom.
Cottom points out there’s a major double standard at play.
“We don’t care about your nasty legs or your stinky children,” she says. “We care that the school nurses used to divide out the poor kids to mock them for having stains on their feet. We care that housing policy presumed immigrants were filthy.”
In an article for Allure, Jihan Forrbes echoes this sentiment.
“As a Black American…the message you get from society at large is that people who look like you are lazy, dirty, and don’t dress well,” Forrbes writes. “The mantra ‘you have to be 10 times as good to get half as much’ reigns supreme in every Black household, and there is tremendous pressure to put your best foot forward when you go out in the world so you’re not negatively judged. Demonstrating good hygiene is just a piece of that.”
Whatever hygiene routine you choose, it’s important to remember that everyone has their reasons to bathe or not to bathe. There’s no one right answer.
Experts say bathing daily is safe for the skin and may help you have more positive social interactions. Here are a few tips on how you can build a healthy routine:
- Bathe daily if it works for your lifestyle and body type.
- Bathe every other day if you’re concerned about saving water or a skin condition.
- Spot cleaning is better than nothing if you can’t shower daily.
- Avoid products that are overly drying.
- Avoid using scrubs or exfoliation techniques more than once a week.
- Use body moisturizers and lotions after every shower or bath.
While bathing daily isn’t essential, Mudgil says it’s best not to wait longer than 2 days.
“We’re exposed to irritants, pathogenic organisms, and environmental pollutants every day. Leaving these on our skin for prolonged periods can’t be good for us,” Mudgil says.
Phillips recommends focusing on areas with hair and those that tend to get sweaty, such as the armpits and genitals, along with the feet.
Then watch out for irritating ingredients in your soaps, like:
- sulfates, like sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate
- cocamidopropyl betaine (CAPB)
“Conventional detergent soaps and shower gels are extremely drying and may contain ingredients such as sodium lauryl sulfate that can irritate sensitive skin,” says Phillips. “Look for moisturizing soaps and gels that contain humectants such as glycerine, which help to retain moisture in the skin”
And don’t forget the moisturizer.
“The more you bathe, the more vigilant you should be about moisturizing,” says Mudgil.
“Generous application of an emollient rich in ceramides immediately after washing will help to restore the natural oils and repair the skin barrier,” adds Phillips.
Even expert dermatologists are somewhat divided on the daily showering debate.
However, there are a few points that most people seem to agree on.
First, daily showering isn’t necessarily essential, but it won’t hurt you. If you feel sticky, grimy, or dirty, there’s nothing wrong with showering every day.
When it comes to the question of how often to bathe, pay attention to how your body feels. Let that be your guide.
Meg Walters is a writer and actor from London. She is interested in exploring topics such as fitness, meditation, and healthy lifestyles in her writing. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, yoga, and the occasional glass of wine.