Maximize your time in the stream togive your skin some TLC.

Showers are a morning staple for nearly everybody. Who doesn’t want to start the day clean?

You may think your skin care routine starts when you towel off and get in front of a mirror, but your shower plays a major role — whether you’re aware of it or not.

Your shampoo and conditioner, your body wash, and even the temperature of your water all affect your skin, which means your shower is another opportunity to prime your skin for the rest of your routine.

Read on to find out why your shower routine matters.

Although they’re usually considered “hair care” products, shampoo and conditioner play a vital role in the health of your skin — primarily your scalp.

Hair, skin, and nails often get grouped together because they’re a part of the integumentary system, the largest organ of the body.

Conditioner returns moisture to the hair and can prevent damage.

According to a 2015 article, shampoo cleans the scalp and hair and can help manage scalp disorders, including inflammation and dandruff.

The American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD) recommends conditioning hair after every shampoo. They also suggest focusing on the tips of the hair instead of the scalp or body to avoid a limp look.

Ingredients to look for in your shampoo and conditioner

Just like skin care products, shampoos may tout a variety of ingredients — from oils to vitamins.

Common ingredients in shampoos include:

  • detergents
  • conditioners
  • thickeners
  • sequestering agents
  • pH adjusters
  • preservatives
  • specialty additives

Though the research on specific ingredients varies, dermatologists generally recommend those that meet your specific hair needs. These can include hair loss, curly hair, straight hair, or dry hair.

Phyto-caffeine, minoxidil, and niacin can be helpful for hair thinning.

Histidine is a good option when it comes to UV damage, and essential and seed oils can benefit those with breakage and damaged hair.

Ingredients to avoid in your shampoo and conditioner

When it comes to hair and scalp care, you may want to consider avoiding certain ingredients.

These include:

  • sulfates
  • formaldehyde, a known carcinogen
  • parabens
  • BPA
  • triclosan

Ingredients like sulfates may be too harsh on hair, according to a 2015 overview. Parabens and triclosan have raised health concerns, particularly when it comes to the endocrine system.

However, a 2019 review on parabens indicated that concern is premature based on current data.

It’s worth noting that 2015 research indicated no link between sulfates and cancer. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also notes that there isn’t sufficient evidence to suggest that the levels of parabens found in shampoos are harmful to human health. Still, some people may prefer to avoid them.

Research from the same year indicated that BPA exposure during pregnancy and infancy can be a health hazard to a developing baby but that more research is needed to define safety levels.

A 2017 review on triclosan suggested potential endocrine system disruption and called for further investigation.

Formaldehyde, however, is a known health hazard.

What you use to clean your body is also part of your skin care routine, and how you choose may be the deciding factor between soft and supple or dry, cracked skin.

So, should you go for a soap or a body wash?

Both bar soap and body wash will help to:

  • dissolve dirt on the skin’s surface
  • break apart the oily layer of bacteria, sweat, dirt, and natural oils
  • remove pathogens from the skin

Pros and cons of bar soap for your skin

A bar of soap will certainly cleanse the body, and gentle, fragrance-free soaps shouldn’t cause irritation for normal skin.

However, a 2022 review suggests that some soaps can be harsher and may disrupt the skin’s barrier and pH levels.

There’s been speculation that bar soap may store bacteria, but an older 1988 study suggests that this isn’t the case.

Pros and cons of body wash for your skin

When it comes to body wash, there may be a benefit in the form of added ingredients that restore moisture. This is particularly important for dry skin types or those supporting conditions like eczema.

Some body washes also contain ingredients like retinol.

According to 2017 research, retinol may help improve acne and inflammation.

Most body wash comes in a plastic bottle, whereas soap may come in recyclable paper or cardboard. If you’re thinking about sustainability, that’s something to consider.

Body wash ingredients to look for

Again, ingredient needs will vary based on skin type, but beneficial ones may include:

  • retinol
  • glycerol
  • hyaluronic acid
  • coconut oil

Everyone’s skin is different, and you may need a different combination of ingredients than someone else.

For example, retinol can aid in reducing breakouts, fine lines, and wrinkles, but someone with sensitive and acne-free skin won’t need it.

Glycerol may also help with aging and provide hydration, while data suggests hyaluronic helps the skin restrain moisture.

Coconut oil may help with inflammation, and an older 2013 study indicated that virgin coconut oil helped improve eczema in pediatric patients.

Consider avoiding these ingredients:

  • fragrances
  • parabens
  • BPA
  • triclosan
  • benzophenone-3

Some people, particularly those with dry and sensitive skin, may find that fragrances exacerbate these issues. A fragrance-free body wash may be gentler on the skin.

As with shampoo, parabens, BPA, triclosan, and benzophenone-3 have been linked with health issues, mainly in the endocrine system, but research is still limited and mixed.

General tips for washing the skin

The AAD lists tips on how to gently wash the skin. Though geared toward people with psoriasis, these tips apply to most skin types:

  1. Use your hands: Loofahs and washcloths can irritate the skin.
  2. Be thorough but gentle: Wash the entire body with your hands. Consider beginning at the neck and shoulders and gently working your way down the body. Remember areas between your fingers and toes, which are easy to forget.
  3. Rinse: Ensure the body wash has rinsed off your body completely before stepping out of the shower.

It likely doesn’t come as a surprise that your facial cleanser is part of your skin care routine.

It’s best to wash with a gentle cleanser twice daily to remove dirt, bacteria, and oils, reducing the risk of clogged pores and breakouts.

Whether one of those cleanses takes place in the shower is up to you, but it can be beneficial.

Here’s why:

  • It’s convenient: You’re in the water anyway — might as well, right?
  • It’s efficient: The running water will get to all parts of your face, even if you miss a spot, ensuring the cleanser doesn’t linger on your skin and cause irritation.
  • Less mess: Since you’re in the shower, the water won’t splash or drip all over your countertop or floor.

You may even make your body cleanser do double time and use it on your face if it’s gentle enough.

Face cleanser ingredients to look for

What’s more important is the ingredients you choose. Similar to body wash and shampoo, find one that meets your unique needs. Some may include:

  • azelaic acid
  • ascorbyl palmitate
  • benzoyl peroxide
  • niacinamide
  • peptides
  • retinol

Research from 2020 indicated that azelaic acid was likely less effective at treating acne than benzoyl peroxide but on par with other methods. Retinol has been a mainstay in acne and pro-aging treatments.

A 2020 review indicated that strong evidence supported using azelaic acid for rosacea.

Research from 2017 indicated that the use of ascorbyl palmitate, or vitamin C, had an excellent safety profile and was used clinically to work on signs of aging, though noted research is still limited on efficacy.

A 2021 review indicated that niacinamide had numerous properties that could help aging, psoriasis, and hypopigmentation.

A small 2019 study of 60 women between 40 and 50 indicated topical use of peptides for 28 days could improve skin elasticity.

When it comes to facial cleansers, you can skip:

Just as with body wash, fragrances can irritate facial skin.

Coconut oil may help some conditions, but people with oily skin will want to avoid using it on their face to prevent breakouts.

Some dermatologists advise against using salicylic acid, glycolic acid, or benzoyl peroxide when using retinol. Combined, these ingredients may cause irritation to the skin.

The AAD also suggests avoiding alcohol, as it can be harsh and irritating.

How to wash your face

Washing your face can seem like such a basic task. However, there are best practices, according to the AAD.

  1. Wet your face before applying cleanser.
  2. Use your fingertips to apply cleanser to the face. Washcloths and sponges can irritate.
  3. Avoid scrubbing. Be gentle to avoid irritation.
  4. Use lukewarm water to rinse.
  5. Repeat twice per day and after heavy sweating. Anything more is too often.

The average shower lasts 8 minutes, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. There’s no rule on how long a shower should be, but it can be shorter than average.

Experts generally recommend 5 to 10 minutes.

The AAD suggests that people with psoriasis stay on the shorter end of the spectrum.

Your perfect shower in six steps

So, how do you achieve the perfect shower for you? What comes first, the shampoo or body wash?

There’s no consensus. Some experts suggest washing your body first with your hands (or loofah or washcloth). Others recommend letting your hair get sudsy first.

There’s no one-size-fits-all, and you should do what’s best for you. Ultimately, if you step out of the shower feeling clean and relaxed, you nailed it.

Still, these tips can give you a foundation to build off:

  1. Wash hair with shampoo: Washing your hair first gives the shampoo time to “run off” your body. This helps prevent breakouts and clogged pores.
  2. Apply conditioner: The AAD advises people to condition after every shampoo unless they use a 2-in-1 product.
  3. Exfoliate: This step is optional, and those with dry or sensitive skin may want to avoid it.
  4. Shave: Again, optional, but exfoliating first helps ensure a smoother shave.
  5. Wash your body: Cleanse your body gently, and be sure all of the product runs off.
  6. Cleanse your face: Wash your face last, ensuring any dirt and product are removed.

The ideal temperature for shower water

“Lukewarm” is the word most dermatologists will use when advising how hot to let the shower water get.

That means somewhere around your body temperature, or between 95–99°F (35–37.2°C) — and no hotter than 105°F (40.5°C).

A small 2022 study on handwashing indicated that prolonged exposure to water could damage the skin barrier, with hot water being the biggest culprit. The authors suggested using cold or lukewarm water for handwashing.

Skin care doesn’t stop once you step out of the shower, but you’ll have gotten a running start on it.

After getting out of the shower, follow these three steps:

  1. Gently pat yourself dry: Vigorous scrubbing with a towel can be irritating to the skin.
  2. Moisturize: Glycerin and hyaluronic acid can help lock in moisture.
  3. Apply sunscreen: If you shower in the morning, you’ll want to apply sunscreen to protect your skin from harmful UVA/UVB rays. Use broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30+ and apply about an ounce to the entire body, including the face (about the size of a shot glass).

Believe it or not, there’s a science to showering. Choosing the right products for your skin and hair type can ensure you get the most out of your time under the stream.

Some cleansers have ingredients to help clarify and moisturize the skin, so keep on the lookout for products that meet your specific needs.

When in doubt, talk with a dermatologist. They can help you figure out your skin type, diagnose any conditions, and choose the best products for optimal skin health.

Beth Ann Mayer is a New York-based freelance writer and content strategist who specializes in health and parenting writing. Her work has been published in Parents, Shape, and Inside Lacrosse. She is a co-founder of digital content agency Lemonseed Creative and is a graduate of Syracuse University. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.