You’d think something as simple as getting wet, applying soap, rinsing and drying wouldn’t be too difficult. But the fact is that most people shower wrong. And by wrong, I mean that many of your rituals (and mine – I shower wrong, too,) are harmful to your skin.
But fear not! After you read this post, you’ll be ready to rub-a-dub-dub like a professional.
A Brief Showering History
Ever hear the phrase, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater?” It comes from a time in our past when there was no indoor plumbing. Most working families only bathed once a week (Sunday, traditionally,) and it was a very complicated process. They’d draw buckets of water from outside, heat them on the stove, pour them into the tub, and only then could they start getting clean.
Obviously it takes a lot of water to fill a tub, so most families shared that single basin of water. The oldest members of the family bathed first, because they were often the dirtiest after working all week. And it followed with age, until the babies were cleaned last. By that time, the water was so filthy that it was often hard to see the baby at all, hence the phrase, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
|Seeing the difference could save lives.|
Or at least that’s how the myth goes. In truth, the phrase comes from a book written by Thomas Murner in16th century Germany. Most working-class families did not own tubs and instead scrubbed themselves over a pot of water. Full body immersions were rare and done in bodies of water or in a barrel. Those who could afford tubs typically had servants to fill them.
Still, it makes for a nice story.
Anyway, now we have water piped into our homes, heated automatically, and pouring out of a nozzle with a simple turn of a knob. But the ease of showering and bathing has caused us to do it more often, with some complications.
The Science of Your Skin
What’s the largest organ in your body? Intestines? Lungs? In fact, it’s your skin. And as a living thing, it is constantly healing and repairing itself. Dead skin cells naturally flake off, or go down the drain when we shower. In fact, our dead skin makes up 75 percent of the dust in our home. And what’s more, you’ll lose about nine pounds of skin every year.
|These facts make me think twice about guys with a French maid fetish...|
As gross as this may seem, it’s part of the natural process of your body keeping itself healthy. Your outermost skin layer, the stratum corneum (also called the “horny layer,” although I will refer to its scientific name because I have the maturity of a 12 year old,) is where all the shedding happens. The stratum corneum is made almost entirely of dead skin. Beneath this layer are the keratinocytes, living skin cells waiting to replace your dead skin. And beneath that is the basal layer, where skin cells are created. Together, these sandwiched layers of skin are your epidermis, your body’s defense against the elements
The stratum corneum, that dead outer layer, tends to look dull. And why shouldn’t it? It’s dead skin, after all. So to keep ourselves looking pretty, we usually scrub this skin off with mild hydroxy acids and exfoliants. In the shower, we often use loofahs or other rough surfaces to scrape off as much dull skin as possible. This exposes the living layer or keratinocytes, which have a more attractive color. But doing this too often can cause serious damage to your skin.
Scrubbing and Exfoliating
Remember in my earlier post about suntans when I said that our skin protects us from ultraviolet light? Well, it’s the dead skin in our stratum corneum that do the protecting. Because these cells are already dead, there’s no fear of DNA damage and mutation. Our dusty, grey friends serve as a wall, shielding all the living cells of our body.
Think of them as zombie linemen.
|"Not today, UV rays!"|
When we purposefully scrub these cells away to look prettier, we’re removing our line of defense against skin cancer. Also, removing the stratum corneum exposes the keratinocytes to damage. So if you follow up with exfoliants, hydroxy acids and more scrubbing, you’re no longer removing dead skin, you’re destroying healthy skin.
Too Hot to Handle
Hot showers are definitely relaxing. Nothing melts away tension like a cascade of steaming water. But hot showers are dangerous for your skin. Not only does the heat dry out your skin, but it opens up your pores.
Wait, isn’t that a good thing?
Not if your water is contaminated with harmful chemicals. I’ve read a lot online about how our body absorbs more chlorine during one hot shower than it does after drinking six to eight glasses of water. Almost all of these articles end with trying to sell filters for hot water heaters, or specialty showerheads, so I’m skeptical. But the science holds up: what’s in your water goes into you. So if the water in your home isn’t from a regulated treatment center, you may be dosing yourself with potentially harmful minerals.
Be sure to have your water tested regularly if you draw from a well.
Towel Drying Is Also Bad
So you’ve avoided scrubbing your face, used warm (not hot) water, and you’re stepping out of the shower. Danger is over, right? Wrong. The most common mistake people make while showering is how they dry off. That towel you’re grabbing is out to ruin your skin.
|Why, towel? Why!?|
The typical way we dry off is we rub a towel against our bodies, sometimes quickly, using the friction to dry off the water. It’s efficient, but it’s harmful. Our bodies were meant to air dry. Our oldest ancestors didn’t have access to Bed Bath and Beyond for their home décor needs. When they dipped into the nearest body of clean water, they had to stand and wait for the water to come off naturally.
They were doing it right.
It takes a lot longer, but air-drying is the simplest and healthiest way to dry off after a shower. It soaks your carpet and makes your pets want to lick you, but it keeps your skin intact. Towel-drying often scratches at the skin, causing irritation. And since your body has already been exposed to soap and water, your skin is most vulnerable just after stepping out of the tub.
Since air-drying takes forever, most dermatologists suggest patting your skin with a towel instead of rubbing with it. Gently dabbing the water off your skin relies on the towel’s absorbency to dry you off, not the friction caused by rubbing.