Yes, There Is a Right Way to Shower

·7 min read

These science-backed tips guarantee softer skin, healthier hair, and a smarter clean.

We asked the experts, and as it turns out, there really is a right way to shower. Though you can, of course, lather up however you want, these science-backed tips guarantee softer skin, healthier hair, and a smarter clean. Read on for some a-ha moments ahead of your next ahhh.

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Related:We Asked Derms How Often You Should Shower—Here's What They Said

How Many Times Should I Shower Each Week?

Three at minimum. (Seven is the max for most people!) Showering is one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce disease. Just be warned: There is such a thing as being too clean. “When you overwash, you strip your skin of ceramides, setting yourself up for dryness and itchiness,” says Shari Marchbein, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City. How do you know it’s time to wash? Do a sniff test. “Shower if you think you’re starting to smell, because it could signify a change in the skin’s microbiome, which can result in irritation,” advises Mona Gohara, M.D., associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine.

How Hot Should the Water Be?

Don’t worry, we’re not going to tell you to take a lukewarm shower—nobody wants to do that! The ideal temp is between warm and hot. To be sure you’ve got it right, turn on the water and check the mir-ror over the sink: If it fogs up entirely in a minute or two, you need to turn things down. “Chances are, if the water is scalding, you aren’t fully rinsing off all the cleanser residue, which can dry out your skin,” Marchbein says. Plus, hot, hot water can break down the skin barrier faster than very warm water, Gohara notes.

Related:7 Shower Mistakes That Are Ruining Your Skin, According to Dermatologists

Which Soap Should I Use?

When it comes to choosing a cleanser, the CDC and most dermatologists suggest looking for terms like “hypoallergenic” and “fragrance-free” on the package. These are hints the formula probably contains fewer and less-likely-to-irritate ingredients. Also, steer clear of antibacterial body washes, says Robert H. Shmerling, MD, senior faculty editor at Harvard Health Publishing. Marchbein agrees: ”They can be harsh on the skin and cause dryness and irritation.” If you want someone to point you toward a winner, Marchbein likes Dove Sensitive Skin Body Wash ($7; target.com).

Does Bar Soap Breed Germs?

Actually, no. Charles Gerba, Ph.D., professor of virology at the University of Arizona, points to findings from a study in which scientists inoculated bars of soap with disease-causing bacteria and had people wash their hands. After scrubbing, there were no detectable levels of bacteria on the subjects.

How Long Do I Need to Leave Conditioner In?

Conditioner closes the cuticle and smooths the hair shaft, making hair easier to detangle,” says Helen Reavey, a trichologist and the founder of the hair-care line Act+Acre. “It works instantly. Leaving it on longer doesn’t make it work better.” Cue the mind-blown emoji.

How Long Should You Shower?

That water hitting you feels oh-so-good. But according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, standing in the stream for more than 10 minutes can compromise your skin’s ability to act as a barrier, keeping the good stuff (moisture!) in and the bad stuff (pollution!) out. That’s not to say you can’t enjoy an extra-long shower once in a while. “The humidity is great for your skin, and the time to yourself can lower stress,” Gohara says. The trick is to “stick your arm in, then your leg, so you get the boost without pounding your skin.” Get out before your fingers look pruney. “It’s a sign you’ve sucked the moisture out of them,” Marchbein says.

How Often Should I Wash My Hair?

Let your scalp guide you, and only wash your hair when it’s greasy so you don’t strip out natural oils, says Michelle Henry, M.D., clinical instructor of dermatology at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City. “Fine types can go two or three days between washes, while tightly coiled types that tend to be drier can go up to seven days to help reduce breakage.”

In What Order Should I Wash Myself?

So you’re naked. (We’re not looking!) Now what? Gently brush your hair—it’s less damaging to detangle hair when it’s dry—or put on a shower cap. Turn on the water, get in, and then... 

  1. Shampoo and Condition Your Hair: If you’re washing your hair, thoroughly wet it and pour a dollop of shampoo into your palm: dime-size for short hair, nickel-size for medium, half-dollar-size for long. Sulfate-free shampoo is best for anyone with dyed, coily, or frizzy hair or a sensitive scalp because it can be less drying. Massage your shampoo into your scalp and rinse. Work another, dime-size dot through the length of your hair and rinse again. Then apply a dollop of conditioner (based on hair length, as above) to the bottom two-thirds of your hair; rinse.

  2. Wash Your Body: Work from neck to toe. “It’s important to wash all parts of the body, including the armpits, feet, legs, and private areas, as bacteria and sweat can accumulate in these areas and cause unpleasant odors and infections,” says Amy Freeland, Ph.D., team leader for the Domestic Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Epidemiology Team at the CDC. (Yes, to settle the Great Shower Debate once and for all, you do have to wash your legs.) Be gentle around the private areas, and only clean the outside—not the inside. “Most formulas are for external use only, so don’t use them inside the vagina or anus,” Freeland says.

  3. Shave (If You'd Like): The best time to shave is when your skin is warm, moist, and free of excess oil, which can clog razors. Consider a shave bar (Moisturising Shave Bar, $14; goodtime.org). It cuts down on plas-tic and lathers up nicely. Rinse your body when done.

  4. Wash Your Face: Doing this at the end of the shower helps ensure you've removed any conditioner along your hairline, which can trigger zits.

Do I Need to Exfoliate Before Shaving?

If you enjoy exfoliating, great, but it’s not a pre-shaving must. What’s more important is that you change your blade every six uses. If you suffer from in-growns, shaving in the direction of hair growth, though it feels weird, helps prevent bumps.

What's the Best Way to Dry Off?

Instead of rubbing, blot your body. If you washed your hair, twist it into or blot it with a microfiber hair towel, like the Microfiber Hair Towel ($23; mykitsch.com). Rub in lotion while your skin is still damp. Now’s the time to lock in hydration.

Our Shower Picks

Magical merch to turn your shower into a spa

Esker Bath & Towel Spray This herbal-scented mist makes your towels, robe, and shower curtain smell amazing. $50; eskerbeauty.com

Tweezerman Clean Sole Foot Scrubber Suction it to the shower floor and rub heels along the silicone bristles. Smooth rough spots with the detachable pumice. $26; tweezerman.com

Kneipp Dream Away Valerian & Hops Mineral Bath Salt Soak Sprinkle a capful into the shower—the heat diffuses the fragrance. $22; ulta.com

The Best Shower Tools

What you should wash with—a ranking of tools:

MEH: Loofah “They are way too abrasive,” Gohara says, adding that they can irritate your skin and harbor dangerous bacteria. A 2022 report from researchers in Toronto showed that loofahs can even cause skin infections. “If you’re going to use one, thoroughly rinse it, hang it to dry outside the shower, and replace it at least monthly,” Marchbein says.

GOOD: Washcloth A washcloth (moved in gentle, circular motions) is a great tool for exfoliation, which can remove dead skin cells, improve cell turnover, boost radiance, and help your moisturizer penetrate better. Gohara recommends doing this once a week. Go with organic cotton ones meant for babies, she suggests, and use separate cloths for your face and body

BEST: Your Hands “I use my hands for everything,” Marchbein says, noting that doing so results in less waste and less laundry. “They’re always with you, easy to clean, and gentle,” Gohara says. “And using them encourages you to be in touch with your skin health so you can feel any lumps or bumps or change in texture."

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