Taking a shower seems pretty straightforward, no? You turn on the water, step into the stall, wash your body, rinse off the soap and then towel-dry. But it turns out, we’re all probably making careless showering mistakes that are harmful to our skin.
After struggling with serious bouts of dry and scaly skin this winter, we asked Heather Woolery-Lloyd, the co-founder of Specific Beauty skincare, and Heidi Waldorf, the director of laser and cosmetic dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City, to break down the five most common showering mistakes.
1. You’re taking long, hot showers.
Sure, a steamy shower is one way to warm up on cold mornings or unwind after a stressful workday, but it just isn’t good for your skin. Period.
According to Woolery-Lloyd, long, hot showers strip the skin of its natural oils and can make common problems like eczema worse. “They can also increase generalized itching even in people who do not have eczema,” she says. For healthier skin, Woolery-Lloyd recommends keeping the shower short and the temperature warm or tepid (not hot).
But if you think turning the shower dial to full-on cold is better, think again. “The only benefit to a cold rinse is for the person who flushes [skin turns red] from warm water,” says Waldorf. “The cold will help to close the vessels that become dilated with heat. Otherwise, there is no benefit to the skin barrier with a cool or cold rinse.”
2. You’re using shower gels and body washes with excessive lather.
The more bubbles or lather a cleanser has, the more it strips your skin of its natural oils, Woolery-Lloyd tells us. “The ingredient in soap that does this is called a surfactant. Surfactants are chemicals that attract both oil and water,” she explains. “When combined with water, surfactants are able to bind oil and remove these natural oils from our skin.” So consistently showering with cleansers that contain strong surfactants can result in dry, rough skin.
When patients visit Woolery-Lloyd’s office and complain about dry, itchy skin, one of the first things she asks about is their soap. “Often times, just switching to a more gentle cleanser dramatically improves their symptoms,” she says.
Waldorf believes that Dove and Olay make excellent body wash products that strip fewer lipids and proteins from the skin and leave the skin better hydrated than most others. “However, the Dove bar — which is a syndet, not a soap — is better than standard commercial liquid washes. Unless you have a specific dermatologic need, there is no reason to use an antibacterial wash in bar or liquid form for your skin on a daily basis,” she adds.
3. You’re not rinsing soap completely off of your body.
Stepping out of the shower and seeing a strand of soap bubbles along the nape of our necks happens just about all the time. And if you’re like us, you probably wipe it away as you dry off. However, both dermatologists warn that not properly rinsing soap off can cause skin irritation and dryness. But it really depends on what type of soap you’re using, according to Woolery-Lloyd.
“Harsh cleansers, if left on the skin, can be irritating because of the chemicals and fragrance contained in these soaps. In contrast, there are many gentle cleansers that are actually designed to not be rinsed completely because they contain additional moisturizers to help restore the skin barrier after cleansing,” she says.
4. You’re applying deep pore facial masks after showering.
Many people choose to fully cleanse their faces in the shower and then apply a face mask afterwards. But it’s time we set the record straight on timing. Woolery-Lloyd tell us “masks should be applied before washing the face. Washing before and after a mask may be too drying for many skin types.”
And Waldorf co-signs this, saying, “Anything you apply after a shower will be more rapidly absorbed, so you may get more irritation. The most important after-shower product is something hydrating and occlusive to add back and seal in moisture.”
5. You’re rough towel-drying instead of doing a gentle pat-dry.
We’re usually intensely shivering after taking a shower, especially during the cold weather months. And even though we all want to wipe down fast and get dressed ASAP, how you dry off is just as important as how you bathe. To prevent dry skin from getting worse, pat down your skin with a towel.
Since water evaporates off the skin quickly after a shower or bath, leaving the skin dry, Waldorf stresses the importance of moisturizing after bathing. “Immediately applying a lotion or cream moisturizer to arms, legs and any other body parts that tend toward dryness,” she says.
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