Ever since Time published a shocking response to a reader’s question about how often you need to shower, people have been scratching their heads in astonishment. The answer: You really don’t need to shower every day in order to stay clean. And the reason why is kind of gross.
According to Elaine Larson, an infectious-disease expert and associate dean for research at Columbia University School of Nursing, daily bathing does nothing to make you cleaner—or dirtier. It’s just something you do because you feel like you need to. “This isn’t new news that showering is not necessary,” says Larson. “This has been known for years, but for some reason, in our culture, we’ve equated cleanliness with taking a lot of baths and showers. That’s not necessarily the case. Bathing and showering is primarily for aesthetic reasons. It’s not for getting rid of germs.” Larson’s done her own research and mentions that one of her colleagues (who’s a microbiologist) once conducted a study where he had people stop showering or bathing for seven days to see what would happen. “After a couple of days, the germs on your skin kind of equilibrate, so they don’t increase in number after a certain amount of time,” says Larson. “Bathing is not for germs. Obviously, you get dirt on you, you’ll want to get rid of the temporary dirt that you’ve picked up, like if you were shoveling something, or if you were on the subway and you’re picking up other people’s germs.”
Interesting. But what if you exercise and break a sweat every day? Is it still OK to not shower? Larson’s answer is yes, but only because you don’t want to smell. “You should absolutely shower, otherwise you’ll stink,” she says. “But if you don’t, it doesn’t mean that you’re microbiologically dirty. Sweat is mostly sterile.” Indeed, we’ve reported that sweat isn’t what makes you smell after you work out; it’s the bacteria on your skin. In fact, Larson says that overwashing can be harmful for some people. “For older people or people with extremely dry skin, it’s probably better for them not to shower,” she says. “Every time you take a shower, your skin dries out even more.” She told Time that cracks in dry skin could allow germs to enter the body and cause illness.
Our other question: What about when you have your period? Shouldn’t you be showering more then? Again, no. You’ll probably want to wash that area more often because of obvious reasons, but you don’t actually need to shower more. “For women who are having their period, you wash for a lot of reasons. When you’re feeling dirty, you want to shower, so if you’re having your period, and if you’ve just worked out, you’ll want to wash more,” says Larson. “But we should understand why we’re doing it, and not have this idea that if you don’t shower every day, you’re not clean. That’s just not true.” So that’s the word. The only real benefit of showering is to smell good and “feel clean.” As for that bacteria you think you’re scrubbing off of yourself every day, that will always be on you. Always.
Do you like taking showers at night or during the day?