Working from home has some people slowing down their showering routines to a trickle. How often should you bathe and what do doctors say about showering less?
The bottom line
More isn’t better when it comes to washing your skin. Showering more frequently may leave you smelling fresh but it doesn’t help prevent infection and it can actually be bad for your skin, say medical doctors. In fact, older people with drier skin may benefit from showering less frequently. Proponents of showering less say there is reason to limit your bathing and that some soaps can strip your skin of beneficial bacteria.
For most adults, the biggest reason for showering is to reduce body odor, especially if you are spending time around others, says Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore, who focuses on emerging infectious diseases. While it usually accomplishes this goal, he says, showering less doesn’t make you prone to infection, at least most of the time.
“There’s not strong data on how frequently you should be showering from an infection standpoint,” Dr. Adalja says. He recommends against using antibacterial products in the shower, as they tend to disrupt the skin’s microbiome, or microorganisms that live on the skin
One caveat: Diabetics prone to skin infections or obese people who may have fungal infections between skin folds may have a medical need for showering more frequently, he adds. “Anybody prone to skin or soft-tissue infections may need to keep their skin as clean as possible,” he says. Children and babies often need to be washed more frequently to prevent infection.
For those working at home, showering less can be a good idea because it helps keep beneficial microbes on your skin, says Elaine Larson, professor emerita at Columbia University School of Nursing in New York, who recommends that adults shower every three to seven days depending on their age and activity. Since showering further dries out skin, adults over 60 who already have less moisture in their skin may be more vulnerable to germs if washing more frequently, she says. “If you feel dirty, shower or take a bath, but don’t think you have to every day,” says Dr. Larson, who studies hygiene.
For many people in North America, a daily shower has more to do with learned habits than health, says Katherine Ashenburg, the Toronto-based author of books including “The Dirt on Clean: An Unsanitized History.” In Europe and elsewhere, the cultural norm is to shower less frequently. In North America, “people still really shudder at the idea of not washing or using deodorant every day,” she says. “It just seems to be in our DNA.”