I’ll never forget it: standing in the cafeteria line for the day’s gruel (okay, maybe not gruel, but close) and noticing the mean girl from 11th grade in line behind me, tittering and sneering at me. She was a year older than I was so I wasn’t entirely sure that her attention was directed toward me until she nudged my shoulder and taunted, “Jodilyn didn’t take a shower this morning. Her hair is dry.” Now I know that sounds utterly ridiculous now, as one’s hair ought to be dry by lunchtime and no one ever showered in my school’s locker room, but her inaccurate observation left me a scarring impression. From that miserable day on I made absolutely sure that no one would ever again suspect that I hadn’t showered, so I shunned my hair dryer for the next two high school years. The “wet look” I sported became my personal shield.
It also became my personal hell years later when I left the east coast for Las Vegas and its dry, desert climate.
Eventually frustrated with my flaky, dry skin and limp hair I went to see a dermatologist who asked me, “How often are you showering?”
“Oh, every day, sometimes twice,” I proudly proclaimed.
Her facial response was all I needed to see to understand that I had just answered my own question. Turns out, many skin experts recommend cutting back on showers — especially during the colder months. When we shower, she explained, we deplete our skin and hair of their natural oils. Furthermore, many of us are simply taking showers based on ritual, not out of any real necessity to cleanse ourselves. Her basic philosophy was similar to mine in other aspects of life: eat when you’re hungry, sleep when you’re tired, and bathe when you’re dirty.
Unbeknownst to me, I was creating my own skin destruction.
I am not, however, alone. Gyms are chock-full of people who shower multiple times per day. I’ve known clients to shower before their sweat session as well as afterward (you know who you are). What’s more, if any of these gym goers spread their workouts over two or three visits in a day, you can see how quickly their showering quota climbs.
Historically, the knowledge that too much bathing would lead to disease and stripped skin was common. Basins were placed in bedrooms to wash the hands and face, and cloths were used for the occasional undercarriage regimen. When baths were taken, several people would oftentimes share bath water, beginning with the eldest and working down in age to the youngest. In fact, sometime in the 14th century, perfume was adopted by the Europeans as a way to mask unpleasant odors resulting from these hygienic practices.
Of course now, with the whole indoor-plumbing-hot-water-availability, we humans have flipped a one-eighty and taken our personal hygiene (among other things) to the extreme.
Besides dry skin, some dermatologists suggest that we also strip away some of our body’s defenses. Surface bacteria, intent on protecting our immune system, run down the drain alongside the outermost layers of skin and lipids that retain its moisture. Delicate new layers are then exposed prematurely, leading to cracked, itchy skin. Everyday lotions aren’t enough to cut it, either.
Since moving to Colorado four years ago, my new mantra has become: Dry skin is old skin.
Before you mindlessly head into another shower, ask yourself why. Did you just finish an intense workout? Were you recently tackled in the mud? Were you exposed to something noxious? Are you noxious? If you don’t come up with a good reason to do so, step away from the shower. Your skin, hair and immune system will thank you for it.
Jodilyn Stuart is the Health & Sports Senior Staff Writer for 303 Magazine, owner of ModaBody Fitness, and has been a professional fitness geek since 1997. If you have questions, feel free to email at: [email protected]