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How to shower correctly to preserve your skin flora and external microbiome which is protective against outbreaks of atopic dermatitis, dryness, and other chronic issues, perhaps even skin cancer.
When you think of taking a shower, most of us do not think that there is a right way or a wrong way to do it.
I mean, when you were little and took your first shower by yourself, did your parents or caregivers give you instructions on how to do it “right”?
Of course not.
You just turned on the water to a comfortable temperature, stepped in the shower, soaped up and rinsed off.
That was it.
Taking a Shower “Wrong” Harms Your Microbiome
As it turns out, there really is a right way to take a shower.
The reason to consider the proper method for showering is because the microbiome of your skin is very fragile.
Water that is too hot and soap can destroy the proper balance of good bacteria on your skin.
When compromised, eczema, dryness, itchiness, and other problems can emerge possibly becoming a chronic nuisance.
The Problem with “Overwashing”
In the Age of COVID, questioning the wisdom of overwashing is a bit strange to be sure!
Washing your hands, for 20 seconds, many times a day is possibly the single most valuable thing you can do to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and other infectious diseases.
While washing your hands is a smart prevention strategy, applying this technique to the rest of the body is not!
Soap very effectively destroys any good flora it comes into contact with, so lathering up your entire body once or more every day is not a smart move.
When the good flora is gone, the skin becomes highly vulnerable to infections, dryness, and atopic dermatitis to take hold.
Yes, you can actually cause eczema simply by bathing or showering wrong!
The Reality of What Lives on Your Skin
The skin is the largest organ of the body, home to trillions of microbes. When properly cared for, the good microbes far outnumber the bad, providing a protective and enhanced immunological effect that is critical to wellness.
It’s not just microbes either.
Tiny, microscopic BUGS actually live on your skin too, and they provide some very beneficial effects…natural exfoliation among them. (1)
Before you freak out and go take a bleach bath to get those critters off of you, note that they are symbiotic in nature. By and large, they are helping you stay healthy rather than actively harming you.
Beneficial Flora Could Prevent Skin Cancer
A recent study conducted by the University of California, San Diego led by dermatologist Richard Gallo found that the exterior microbiome can even be protective against skin cancer. (2)
First, the team covered one group of mice with a bacterium that is present on most human skin called Staphylococcus epidermidis.
The second group got a bath of a different strain of the same bacterium.
Then the mice all got suntans.
Those mice coated with one type of the Staph epidermidis developed fewer skin cancers. The researchers theorized that this particular microbial strain produces a compound called 6‑N‑hydroxyaminopurine, which seems to prevent the replication of tumor cells.
Personal Care Products Matter Too
It’s not just too much soap, scrubbing and hot water that is damaging your skin’s microbiome.
Toxic personal care products with preservatives, chemicals, and other additives can harm these friendly creatures too.
Parabens are no doubt the chemical still widely used in personal care products that have gotten the most negative press over the years.
Companies don’t seem to care much about the research that shows how damaging it is, particularly in toxic deodorants and antiperspirants used so close to delicate breast tissue (parabens have been found in breast tumors).
It is up to you to avoid them!
Parabens One of the Worst Offenders
Researchers at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases discovered that products containing parabens can block the growth of Roseomonas mucosa. This is a beneficial bacterium that can kill another pathogenic bacterium, one that proliferates during eczema flare-ups called Staphylococcus aureus. (3)
Geneticist Julie Segre, who published the first topographical maps of human skin’s bacterial and fungal diversity, is at a loss as to why the gut microbiome seems to get all the attention. She has this to say about the importance of skin flora, which she calls the “microbial garden”.
I don’t understand exactly why it is that people have such a different sense of the microbes that live in their gut than they do about the microbes that live on their skin. Everyone wants to eat Activia yogurt and colonize themselves with bacteria, and then they want to use Purell.
How to Shower Correctly
Hopefully, you are now convinced that taking care of your skin’s microbiome is very important to your long-term health.
Beyond the prevention of outbreaks of atopic dermatitis, preservation of skin flora could even have an impact on whether you develop skin cancer based on the early animal studies thus far.
So, how do you shower correctly to preserve skin health?
Limit Soap to Three Areas
First and foremost, limit the use of soap to the “bits”.
What are the “bits”?
Armpits, groin, and feet.
For the most part, these are the only places you should use soap when you shower. This includes your face.
If you don’t have body odor issues due to a healthy diet and balanced gut function, not using soap on the groin area (or just soaping it up occasionally) is a very good idea too according to some doctors.
The exception to this rule would be when you use any sort of chemicals on the skin such as sunscreens which need to be forcibly removed because water alone won’t do the job.
Of course, hopefully, you avoid using chemical-based sunscreens anyway. But, if you still do for whatever reason (please switch to nontoxic brands!), you will need soap and water to get those chemicals off your skin.
Otherwise, just rinse everywhere with the exception of the feet, groin, and underarms.
This includes avoiding soap, cleansers, or exfoliants on your facial skin too.
For example, I never use cleansers on my face unless I wore makeup that day. Since I almost always go makeup-free, most days my face just gets a rinse in the shower or at the sink.
Your facial skin will age much slower if you stop with all the cleansing, toning, etc. You are doing more harm than good and spending a lot of money on expensive products for basically no benefit.
Bonus. When you stop cleansing your face all the time, you can gradually wean off the moisturizers too because your skin won’t be dry most of the time. If your skin is still dry despite avoiding soap, look to your diet. Eating the right kinds of fat is critical to skin health too.
Use Warm, Not Hot Water (that is filtered)
The second strategy to preserve the skin microbiome when showering is to watch out for excessively hot water.
When water is too hot, it will slowly strip away the oils in the outer layers of skin that help preserve moisture and protect skin flora. This can lead to flare-ups from increased susceptibility to irritants and allergens.
It’s important that the shower water is filtered as well. Chlorinated tap water can decimate skin flora just as surely as drinking it can kill them in the gut.
I suggest this green brand of shower filter for removing impurities that can adversely affect the skin microbiome. For a comprehensive solution that will provide clean water to every faucet, consider investing in a whole house water system.
You will be amazed how much healthier your skin looks and feels after just a few weeks of showering sans soap in only clean, filtered water, lathering up just the “bits” that really need it.
How Fast Does Skin Recover?
Sandy Skotnicki, an assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Toronto, has been practicing for 23 years.
When itchy, rash-prone clients come to her office, one of her first questions is, “How do you shower?”.
The typical response is that they wash their whole body with some sort of body wash…sometimes twice a day if they are working out.
Rather than prescribing some sort of steroid cream, she simply tells them to stop using soap everywhere and wash the bits only. (4)
Within a short period of time, they are totally fine!
(1) Ubiquity and Diversity of Human-Associated Demodex Mites
(2) A commensal strain of Staphylococcus epidermidis protects against skin neoplasia
(3, 4) Hygiene is Overrated
Wow,.glad to know I was showering correctly! I read a similar article on Mama Naturals website a couple years ago. I found that I was getting a lot of ingrown hairs on my legs if I shavee without rubbing myself down, so I do rub a loofah over them but just use water.
I have some sort of auto-immune issue where even short cool showers sometimes trigger full blown body inflammation where I feel like I’m burning up internally for several hours later if I’m run down when I take it. I’ve experimented with different soaps, shampoos, etc and none of it seems to make a difference. The location and difference in tap water quality doesn’t seem to make much difference either, but do you think the filter option would make a difference for this case?
It is good to do a natural peeling to your face from time to time – that takes away the dead cells, slightly massage it to stimulate the new cells and then apply a naturaly hydrating cream. My skin loves it! During the day we are exposed to may tiny particles of dust, pollution etc which water will unfortunately not wash away that easily. And then our pores are clogged…
So it is just a matter of finding the right natural toner water (non-abrasive, non sticky, not taking away the good bacteria etc).
Sarah Pope MGA
I don’t agree. Healthy skin exfoliates naturally if you eat well, have a balanced gut and don’t put chemicals on it. No need to strip dead skin cells away forcibly. I also have never seen a toner with ingredients that would kill skin flora. The more you put chemical laden personal care products on your facial skin, the faster you age it.
I wonder about shaving my legs. I use soap to do this, normally a lavender Dr. Bronner’s Castile soap. Are there any alternatives to using soap when shaving my legs? Just curious. I also use a mild facial cleanser to remove makeup, and then use coconut oil. I have read many benefits of coconut oil, and I’m wondering if it disrupts the skin flora in any way?
Sarah Pope MGA
Have you tried using coconut oil for shaving the legs? Otherwise, you can consider using an electric shaver that dry shaves instead. Coconut oil is fine and does not harm skin flora, but on the face, it is quite comedogenic for some people and can potentially cause breakouts. https://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/coconut-oil-may-not-be-right-for-you/
I tried this technique. The skin on my legs started to look gray with dirt buildup and dead skin cells. When I finally ran a washcloth with just a bit of natural, simple soap over them it looked like I had been a kid in a sandbox. Yuck. I don’t use a lot of soap, but some is necessary with some abrasive mechanism (washcloth etc.) for people who are outdoorsy and active. My natropath reminded me that we detox through our skin and it helps to remove those toxins somehow. Choice of soap, cosmetics, and non-toxic water is huge though! And a lot of soap is unnecessary. A normal sized bar of soap carefully stored to not soften lasts our family of 5 several weeks.
Sarah Pope MGA
Why couldn’t you just use a washcloth and water to gently assist the skin to exfoliate?
We have well water, tested regularly. Do we need afilt
Sarah Pope MGA
Yes you need a filter! We have well water too. I would suggest getting your well water tested first because depending on where you live it could have a number of issues that need to be addressed (such as heavy metals, glyphosate residue or drugs residues) which would impact the type of filter you use. Here’s a link to the various types of water tests. https://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/go/water-testing/
You said to use soap on the bits only then a little ways down you say not to rinse these areas. Is this correct? We leave the soap on then?
Sarah Pope MGA
You definitely rinse the soap off. Sorry if that was confusing. Also, some people don’t use any soap on the groin…. if you eat healthy, have balanced gut function, and hence little to no odor issues, that would be even better according to some dermatologists I’ve spoken with.
Hi Sarah. Great, unique post as usual.
One of the many great things about following the wisdom of our ancestors is there wasn’t, as far as I know, a widespread, culturally accepted practice of animal torture. Vivisection is a sadistic activity shielded under the authority of Science. I feel sorry for the mice.
(1) What type of soap (such as castille or goat’s milk soap) is best?
(2) I typically make my therapeutic epsom salt baths as warm as I can stand so that I will sweat. Is this harmful for my skin’s biome?
Thanks for all the helpful research!
Sarah Pope MGA
Yes, a natural soap like castile is ideal. Here’s how to choose a good brand: https://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/castile-soap-history-uses-benefits/
Espom salts do not harm the microbiome. In fact, it is best to not rinse off but just towel dry afterward.
Do you recommend any types of shower filters? I’m using VitaPure which is suppose to remove chlorine and chloramine. Would love to know your thoughts.
Sarah Pope MGA
Yes, good point as chlorinated water will kill skin flora too. I recommend this eco filter. https://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/go/eco-shower-filter/