When’s the last time you showered? A few hours ago? A few days ago? A few…weeks ago? Be honest, this is a safe space. And if your last shower falls into the latter categories, rest assured that you’re not the only one. In fact, a new wave of individuals are becoming vocal about their decision to skip a daily shower. Instead they use freshening tricks, like swabbing a slice of lemon under the arm, or using baby wipes in unmentionable areas. Individuals who abide by these relaxed standards of cleanliness insist they’re not hippies, they’re not revolutionaries, they just don’t need to shower every day. And they might be onto something.
There’s bacteria on your skin…and that’s a good thing.
Most often when we think about our skin, we think of the harmful elements that our skin protects us from. We don’t often consider the fact that there is life on our skin. The “skin microbiome” refers to the trillions of microorganisms having a party on our skin at this very moment. The number of microorganisms in the human body is so plentiful that they outnumber human cells 10 to 1 and make up approximately 1-3% of the body’s mass. For a 150-pound person that’s 1.5-4.5 pounds.
Many of these microorganisms are bacteria that are typically not harmful to us, and in fact many provide a benefit. And our skin isn’t covered in just one type of bacteria. There’s an estimated 1,000 species of bacteria living on our bodies. Even more interesting is that specific parts of our bodies have very specific types of bacteria. In fact, the bacteria on the outside of your elbow, is different from the bacteria on the inside of your elbow. And each area appears to be finely tuned to its own purpose. For example, researchers at Baylor College of Medicine compared the vaginal microbiomes of pregnant women, to those of non pregnant women and found that the diversity in micrbiomes decreased dramatically leading up to pregnancy. This change likely occurs to ease the transition of a newborn from the womb.
Does the good outweigh the bad?
Common thought is that frequent showering leads to cleanliness, and cleanliness and healthiness go hand in hand. However, the true effectiveness of personal hygiene in preventing infection is up for debate. Often, interventions aimed at reducing infection have focused on several different aspects, including education, improving water quality and waste disposal–so it’s hard to pinpoint which element caused the reduction. In terms of the harm, previous studies suggest that showering could disrupt the balance of microorganisms on the skin, disbanding them into the air and surrounding cells. The important question then, is whether this disruption can be harmful. Dr. Julia Segre, who lead the Human Microbiome Project, thinks it could be,
…When we think about what promotes health and what causes disease, we have to consider that it could be the bacteria and the fungi and the other microorganisms that live together with us — that they could be out of balance.
For example, the cause of skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis is largely unknown. But there’s a chance that our actions, including hygiene and antibiotic consumption, may disrupt the delicate balance maintained by the bacterial ecosystem that inhabits our skin.
Beyond the disruption to the skin microbiome, daily showers may also damage the outermost protective layer of the skin, which is made up of dead skin cells held together by lipids. Hot water and soap work to dissolve the lipids and the use of a scrubbing device (think loofah) can damage the outer layer of your skin revealing the more delicate layer beneath it. Frequent repetition of this process, without giving the skin enough time to rebuild and reproduce natural oils before being stripped again, can eventually lead to dry, cracked skin.
So should I stop showering?
No, but it probably wouldn’t hurt to skip a few showers a week, especially if you’re not working up a considerable sweat during the day. And when you do shower, shorter, cooler showers with mild soaps should do the job just fine. Just a gentle suggestion though, don’t start off your next date with the fact that you don’t shower–chances are they won’t understand.