Did you know that what you do in the shower can affect your skin health? Find out how to adjust your routine to one that’s gentle on the skin.

There’s nothing like a warm shower to provide a few moments of pause for relaxation and self-care. Research even suggests that showering can positively affect your emotional and physical health.

The shower is also an ideal environment to address the needs of your largest organ: your skin.

How can you make the most of your shower skin care routine while avoiding everyday habits that might be damaging to your skin?

Read on for eight easy shower habits to help you achieve your best skin.

Showering with water that’s too hot or too cold can affect your skin barrier.

“We recommend keeping your shower somewhere between 98°F–105°F,” said Dr. Teo Soleymani, associate professor of Dermatology and Dermatologic Surgery at David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “Lukewarm, somewhere around body temperature, or a few degrees warmer, is ideal.”

Soleymani explains that cold temperatures can make it hard to remove oil-based grime, especially if you have acne or clogged pores. And super hot water can create problems like burns and skin injuries.

Research suggests that water that’s too hot can also impact how irritating detergents may be for the skin. Showering with an appropriate water temperature may help prevent skin issues such as irritant dermatitis from flaring up.

Certain ingredients may be more likely to lead to skin irritation and issues like allergic contact dermatitis. Some of the most common ingredients that may cause skin reactions include:

  • dyes
  • fragrances
  • preservatives
  • enzymes
  • sulfates

The greater the number of ingredients, the higher the risk of irritation or allergic reactions. Gentler products are often made with fewer potentially irritating ingredients.

“Rule number one is that we want the least ingredients possible, partly because the more ingredients, the more likely one will cause a problem for you,” explained Soleymani.

Not sure whether to use bar soap or a body wash? Each has its advantages and disadvantages.

Bar soaps

Bar soaps often contain fewer ingredients than body washes. If you have ingredient sensitivities or allergies, simple bar soaps may be a better fit for your skin.

Common types of bar soap include:

  • Antibacterial bars: Added antibacterial ingredients help reduce bacteria and odors.
  • Glycerin bars: This type of soap uses glycerine to keep the product from being too drying.
  • Superfatted bars: Lipids help provide a protective film on the skin and may be gentler on the skin.

It’s also important to consider the potential health risks of added ingredients. For instance, research suggests that some lipids, such as mineral oils and paraffin, may be carcinogenic.

Additionally, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), using antibacterial washes may be problematic because they can lead to bacterial resistance or hormonal changes.

Furthermore, some bar soaps contain harsh cleansers that can cause dryness and irritation.

That said, added ingredients can also provide potential benefits. For example, one 2018 study noted that herbal or plant extracts, like rosemary and coconut oil, provide skin moisturizing properties.

Some ingredients may even provide anti-inflammatory benefits, such as:

  • avocado oil
  • chamomile oil
  • shea butter
  • olive oil

Body washes

Liquid body washes may contain milder surfactants (components that cleanse) but contain more ingredients overall than bar soap.

“[Dermatologists] tend to prefer bar-type soaps such as Dove or cream-based body washes over gels,” said Soleymani. “This is partly because for gels to be shelf stable and not develop mold, they have to include additional preservatives, which you don’t need in a bar.”

Soleymani recommends looking for dermatologist-approved products tested for common allergens and fragrances known to be irritating.

Your hair care products can also impact your overall scalp and skin health.

Finding the right shampoo and conditioner for your needs depends on your skin type, hair type, and environmental factors. Some things to consider when selecting shampoo and conditioner include:

  • whether your scalp and hair are naturally oily or dry
  • whether your hair has been colored or chemically-treated
  • any skin sensitivities and allergies
  • scalp conditions like dandruff (seborrheic dermatitis)
  • your lifestyle and environment

Finding the hair care products and routine to support optimal hair and skin health can be a balancing act. Both over and under-cleansing can lead to skin and hair issues.

“Under cleansing can allow a buildup of dead skin cells, which can allow overgrowth of natural funguses or yeasts that cause dandruff,” said Soleymani. On the other hand, he adds that over-cleansing has the potential to strip the skin of healthy oils and natural lubricants.

To find the right hair care products for your needs, look for ones that address your particular hair and skin care concerns.

Soleymani said, “If you tend to have a very dry scalp or dry, brittle hair, you want to look for something that has an abundance of additional moisturizers in the form of natural or non-allergenic oils, such as argan oil or avocado oil.”

In most cases, a hairstylist can help you find products to address your needs, but if you have persistent skin or scalp issues, consult a doctor.

Do you know whether your shower has hard or soft water?

According to the Water Quality Association, a nonprofit that advocates for better water quality, hard water is a problem that affects more than 85% of the United States. Hard water occurs when water contains higher levels of dissolved chemicals and minerals, including calcium, magnesium, and manganese.

These substances can affect your skin and hair health and may lead to irritation and dryness. In some cases, they may even contribute to skin issues such as eczema.

A wide range of substances in your water may also have potentially harmful effects on your skin. For instance, chlorine is a common chemical in water that can lead to skin issues, including itchiness, hives, and irritation.

Using a shower filter is one easy way to reduce potentially harmful chemicals and minerals in your water. When selecting a shower filter, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend looking for the following:

  • NSF-certified filters listed in the NSF database
  • a label that notes which contaminants the filter reduces
  • the overall price of purchasing, installing, and maintaining the system

Keep in mind that filters can’t completely remove all of the minerals and chemicals in your water.

Though your skin naturally turns over around every 28–56 days, exfoliating can help remove dead skin cells and product buildup.

Chemical exfoliants contain acids such as AHAs or BHAs to help remove dead skin cells and buildup. In contrast, physical exfoliants rely on texture to remove buildup from the surface of your skin.

One of the drawbacks of chemical exfoliants is that they may cause irritation or interact with other topicals. But, physical exfoliants that are too abrasive can also cause damage to the skin barrier.

How often you should exfoliate depends on your lifestyle and skin type.

If you feel a need to exfoliate more than once a month, Soleymani recommends speaking to a professional to determine the best routine and products for your needs.

“There’s a tendency to over scrub and over brush, and the body doesn’t like that,” said Soleymani. “When you over scrub either in the shower or outside, those micro-injuries can be portals of entry for environmental allergens and pathogens to get in and trigger an immune response.”

If your typical showers last around 8 minutes, you’re in the ideal window for shower time.

“You really don’t need more than 5 or 10 minutes. The longer you stay in the shower, the more likely you’re going to dehydrate your skin, take off natural oils, and injure your skin’s natural barrier,” explained Soleymani.

Your skin care routine doesn’t end in the shower. What you do after showering is also important for nurturing skin health.

After your shower:

  • Gently pat your skin dry with a towel rather than scrubbing it dry.
  • If you use moisturizer, put it on while your skin is still damp. This ensures optimal absorption of product, says Soleymani.
  • If you shower in the morning, apply sunscreen 15–30 minutes before going outdoors, even on cloudy days.

Your shower is a convenient and opportune time to get a head start on your skin care routine. While the products that are right for you will vary based on your skin and hair type, look for gentle, dermatologist-approved products featuring non-irritating ingredients.

And if you experience any persistent skin or scalp issues, be sure to consult with a doctor to learn the best way to address them.