I’ll let you into a dirty little secret: I don’t shower every day. If I’m late for work and short on time, I don’t think twice about heading straight into the office and leaving the soap and water for another day. Before you screw up your face in disgust, hygiene freaks would do well do relax their cleanliness habits just a little.
As OZY recently noted, dermatologists believe that children under 11 only need to shower once or twice a week, whenever they get particularly muddy or dirty. And while oily teenagers may need to shower a little more frequently, adults could also do with skipping a few days between showers. Stephen Shumack, president of the Australasian College of Dermatologists, told the Sydney Morning Herald that daily showers can be damaging.
“Over-washing causes ‘defatting’ of the skin – getting rid of the natural body oils we produce to protect the skin cells,” he said. “This can cause actual damage making them more permeable to bacteria or viruses, precipitating itchy skin, dryness, flakiness and worsening conditions like eczema.”
There’s no set number of times we should all shower every week but those of us who are desk-bound can probably cut back. Shumack explains: “A sedentary person can get away with a shower once, twice or three times a week, especially in winter. It varies on your skin type and what you are doing.”
So if you’re sweaty or smelly then it makes sense to wash—but otherwise, you don’t have to worry about it so much. In fact, the reason Americans wash quite as much as they do (using up around 1.2 trillion gallons of water every year, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency) comes down largely to advertising. As Katherine Ashenburg, author of The Dirt on Clean: An Unsanitized History, told BuzzFeed Life, “Americans turned out to be much more gullible and susceptible to these things than Europeans.”
Despite the lack of benefits from daily showering, an AOL survey of 20,000 Americans found that 4% shower more than once a day and 65% shower every day. Some 21% shower every other day while just 10% shower less than that.
It would be far better for the environment if we learned to cut back on daily showers—and our hygiene wouldn’t suffer either. Daily washes may have become a societal norm, but the practice has far more to do with grooming than cleanliness, John Oxford, professor of virology at Queen Mary’s School of Medicine and Denistry, told the Times of London (paywall.) “We pay too much attention to the body beautiful and smelling good, with perfumes for men and women,” he said. “We should wash to stop cross-infection, not for grooming reasons.”