Showering daily — is it necessary?

Robert H. Shmerling, MD

Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing

Do you shower or bathe daily? If you do, you’re not alone.

Approximately two-thirds of Americans shower daily. In Australia it’s over 80%. But in China, about half of people report bathing only twice a week.

In the US, the daily shower tends to start around puberty and becomes lifelong. But have you ever stopped to ask yourself why?

Perhaps your answer is: “because it’s healthier than showering less often.” Think again. For many — perhaps most — the daily shower is more about habit and societal norms than health. Perhaps that’s why the frequency of bathing or showering varies so much from country to country.

Are there reasons to shower every day?

Besides considering it healthier, people may choose to shower daily for a number of reasons, including:

  • concerns about body odor
  • help waking up
  • a morning routine that includes working out.

Each of these has merit, especially considering that personal or work relationships can be jeopardized by complaints about body odor or personal hygiene. But what is considered acceptable in this regard varies from culture to culture. And some (perhaps a lot) of what we do when it comes to cleaning habits is influenced heavily by marketing. Ever notice that directions on shampoo bottles often say “lather, rinse, repeat”? There is no compelling reason to wash your hair twice with each shower, but it does sell more shampoo if everyone follows these directions.

When it comes to concerns about health, however, it’s not at all clear that a daily shower accomplishes much. In fact, a daily shower may even be bad for your health.

What are the health impacts of showering (or bathing) every day?

Normal, healthy skin maintains a layer of oil and a balance of “good” bacteria and other microorganisms. Washing and scrubbing removes these, especially if the water is hot. As a result:

  • Skin may become dry, irritated, or itchy.
  • Dry, cracked skin may allow bacteria and allergens to breach the barrier skin is supposed to provide, allowing skin infections and allergic reactions to occur.
  • Antibacterial soaps can actually kill off normal bacteria. This upsets the balance of microorganisms on the skin and encourages the emergence of hardier, less friendly organisms that are more resistant to antibiotics.
  • Our immune systems need a certain amount of stimulation by normal microorganisms, dirt, and other environmental exposures in order to create protective antibodies and “immune memory.” This is one reason why some pediatricians and dermatologists recommend against daily baths for kids. Frequent baths or showers throughout a lifetime may reduce the ability of the immune system to do its job.

And there could be other reasons to lose your enthusiasm for the daily shower: some people suggest that the water with which we clean ourselves may contain salts, heavy metals, chlorine, fluoride, pesticides, and other chemicals. These may cause problems, too.

The case for showering less

Overcleaning your body is probably not a compelling health issue. Yes, you could be making your skin drier than it would be with less frequent showering. This is not a public health menace. However, daily showers do not improve your health, could cause skin problems or other health issues — and, importantly, they waste a lot of water. Also, the oils, perfumes, and other additives in shampoos, conditioners, and soaps may cause problems of their own, such as allergic reactions (not to mention their cost).

While there is no ideal frequency, experts suggest that showering several times per week is plenty for most people (unless you are grimy, sweaty, or have other reasons to shower more often). Short showers (lasting three or four minutes) with a focus on the armpits and groin may suffice.

If you’re like me, it may be hard to imagine skipping the daily shower. But if you’re doing it for your health, it may be a habit worth breaking.

Related Information: Skin Care and Repair

Comments:

  1. Lorne Logan

    I suggest googling Napoleon’s reply to Josephine -“Do not bathe – I shall be home in a week.

  2. Harry

    Taking a shower significantly improves my mental health.

  3. Sean

    Several North Europeans I befriended during my college days had a greater awareness about the scarcity of water than most of my American friends. None of them took a shower daily. They used to say that taking a shower daily was very American.

  4. Costas Law

    Thanks for the article which in any case helps to beat through knowledgeable information trite routines of contemporary run, run, run western style life. But being a Greek I value immensely the sayings of my Ancient Greek predecessors: Παν μέτρον Άριστον. Everything in its proper measure. No indifference, but no excess either. Considering all parameters, which are not necessarily of the same value to all, find your middle line. That will be good for the water, the pre cosmetic era soap, the energy of your water heater, your good bacteria and your stink covering deodorants. And the U.S. Midwest, keep clear of skunks!

  5. John McElligott MD

    I agree the temperature of bath or shower is often to hot. The soaps contain fragrant chemicals that cause drying and itchy skin. I recommend non fragrant soaps and more tepid water. Now hair washing is a different topic that you need to address.

    I deal with overt the road truck drivers who are home just a few day a month and work in hot environments and trucks frequently. So climate is a big issue. Skin infections are frequent and often require hospitalization. Again the job makes a difference.

  6. Peg Gregson

    There is nothing like a warm soothing shower to distress; why jumble marketing influences into common sense health practices and routines; and cultural differences…frequently influenced by lack of a resource such as water

  7. Lollipop

    I think showing everyday is important! or else one would smell!……. and smelling is not fun!
    Antibacterial soap are very nice to use because it removes the dead skin off your skin….. and you have new re- generation of skin!…… and you feel you have had a good wash!

  8. Lola Oni

    Very interesting article. It’s good to note that one size does not fit all. There are so many reasons to have a daily bath – which by the way can be done in different ways – a soak, a shower, filling a container or bucket, using soap/not using soap, using a sponge/not using one. Of course there are soaps and shampoos that are harsh and strip the skin of oils, you don’t have to go for those, there are much milder skin cleansers that could be made from natural products. So:
    -To reduce water wastage, for example, use a bucket.
    -Use mild natural cleansers and apply natural oils to keep skin moist.
    -Water over your body literally brings you alive and is relaxing at the same time. (Most will like to feel that everyday)
    -Daily cleaning removes dead skin and your skin can ‘breathe’.
    -The skin is one of the excretory organs, so I guess it follows that we should want to clean it regularly (with the right things).
    -Daily wash and moisturising enhances blood flow to the skin.
    -Smelling nice boosts your self confidence and relationships, which impacts your mental health and well-being.

  9. Thomas ADAMS

    Since retirement, not being a sweaty person, once a week.
    Since 2008, and Jacuzzi tub installed, a combo of tub with Epson salt at 5 min. soak and 15 min jets (no soap), and a few hours later, giving time for Hot Water tank to recuperate, in a separate shower with full soap down and shampoo & conditioner.
    Shower-only before going to doctors, barbers, or social function.
    My wife never uses the Jacuzzi but she showers every day.
    Also, since retirement, get to sleep, doze, nap in my clothes.
    Thanks for the article!

  10. Dr. Gamze Yazgan

    You’re soooo brave to write the article in the US because I’m sure so many are shocked with the idea of less showering. I might share about cultural differences. Showering doesn’t include peeling and detailed cleaning. Many eastern cultures have one or two baths a week with peeling and detailed cleaning for a long time, not daily showering. But, they do daily washing/cleaning of legs and feet before going to bed. At least every mother teaches their kids washing hands and feet before going bed at night.
    And all Muslim cultures must clean and wash the groin/gluteal area after every defecation…Not wiping of with the toilet paper…
    Before and after each meal everyone do necessarily wash their hands and mouth… Again not wiping of with paper..
    It is so natural that different cultures bring different approaches for cleaning. As health concern, I believe your points are really important. Everyday shampooing and using body wash detergents are not good for our body and hair. Use natural soaps especially olive oil soaps for body.. Another thing for showering and going out with wet hair is that may trigger facial nerve palsy or headaches, especially in cold weathers.

  11. Pallavi

    In India, weather is not as cold as in USA so if we do not bathe, it starts smelling. In fact, in summer season, we take bath twice a day – once in the morning and once in the evening after coming from the work.

  12. Mac Lewman

    I live in Hawaii get sticky, shower daily but have been considering these questions. The bottom line is I dont mind most body odors if not too strong. So im baking off with the soap and espeically the antibiotic soaps. Thanks good article. ML

  13. Carla

    We Americans have a serious problem with showering daily.

    My young son and I were advised by the dermatologist to discontinue daily showering to relieve serious dry skin.

    Some visitors were appalled and sneering when first visiting us and finding both bidets and washlets which are very popular in Europe and Japan.

    No, we are not soooooooo super clean as we pretend to be.
    Nothing better than refreshing your genital area after voiding, not mentioning the monthly days we ladies can use some refreshment down under.

    Have you ever seen how useful a bidet can be with infants and toddlers and the elderly.
    Once properly covered and well padded bidets are perfect for bathing your little angels. No need for all the paraphernalia.

    Where are those of you shouting to save the planet. Start saving the water.
    What about the bacteria under your French stiletto fake nail tips, wonder
    how often do you “shower” them.

  14. Dr SOM MAJUMDAR

    Very informative article on FOR and AGAINST “Daily Bath”. As an example, I do not take shower every day, may be twice a week at the most, sometimes a little more; but certainly not on daily basis for last many months. I do not feel anything uncomfortable nor any body odour I experience because I change clothes every day. I do have a healthy body surface with no itching sign at all of any kind. So . . . ?? !!!

  15. Pauline

    It’s quite possible to clean armpits, feet and private parts daily without showering and drying out the whole body. What’s wrong with a bowl of water and a flannel and soap. That’s how I was brought up with a bath once or twice a week and it’s good enough now!

  16. Paul Tagney

    Would this apply to over washing of hands also?
    ie: Where I often stay for many months in eastern Europe, most people have the habit of continually washing their hands as soon as they get home, or in any restaurant before eating.
    I personally think that my hands develop their own immune system to deal with most of what we pick up through the day with normal hand contact, ie: touching railings on stairways, holding railings in buses and subway cars.
    So once or twice a day I find enough for the hands, and as you’ve suggested a few times a week for the shower, mainly on arm pits and groin.
    Thanks for the article’s support for my life style.

  17. Jersey

    There really is no reason to bathe frequently throughout the week – unless following a heavy workout or such. Armpits and groins can be “spot-bathed” with warm water a little soap and a washcloth. The water used for pleasure-showering is best saved for plants and trees. Let us all pitch in to save our habitat – the environment on which we depend for life itself.

  18. Mark

    I agree with the columnist’s advice and practice it, myself. Unless I’m doing something to work up a sweat, I shower a few times per week and use soap where skin touches skin. My skin and hair are not dried out like they were when I showered daily. I do use an underarm deodorant. Overall, I think Americans, on average, take more showers than necessary. And good luck trying to get them to stop using anti-bacterial soap.

  19. d silverstein

    PLEASE: Identify me by first name or anonymous only.
    Do certain foods, etc? impact body odor? (onions, garlic, seasonings, et al)
    which foods most likely to contribute???

  20. Ellis

    A quick shower with a mild soap and warm, not hot, water isn’t going to hurt most people’s skin–except perhaps for those with skin conditions, who should do what the doctor prescribes.

    A daily shower is invigorating, will make you feel better, and those around you will appreciate it!

  21. D Ramsay

    Being clean and odour free is important but this doesn’t require a shower or bath every day. Too much washing removes natural oils.

  22. Mohsin

    I am a daily shower taker and have always associated that with health benefits simply because of better hygiene. After reading this article though, I am wondering if daily bath is such a good idea. Since I have been wedded to this habit all my adult life, I wouldn’t be stepping away from this daily ritual. But I will be more conscious not to indulge in over cleaning and be more thoughtful of the choice of soap, shampoo, etc. So thanks for sharing your thoughts on this topic.

  23. Marcela L Lorenz

    I shower every day, not because I sweat or dirty, but out of habit. After reading the above, I will shower 3-4 times a week only. My skin is very dry, now I know the reason.

  24. Linda

    I take a hot bath every day. It helps my joint problems better than otc pain meds, and gets me going! If I have a cut or scrape, it helps it heal up. It just plain feels wonderful! Reason enough to do it!

  25. Suleiman

    I live in tropical Africa. It gets really hot and humid. Sometimes it is so hot you can’t sleep or even think. Not everyone owns air conditioning or even fans. The only relief is a bath – sometimes several times a day. And even that is a luxury for people who live in water-deprived areas.
    Ultimately the number of showers should be determined by where you live and the kind of work you do. Personally I love my showers as they help me start my day and help me sleep after a tough day at work.

  26. Ken

    In our household, the daily shower is therapeutic as well as cleansing. As we age, aches and pains are noticeably alleviated by a hot morning shower. Stretching and challenging muscles, with the aid hot water, is invigorating and helps set the tone for a more comfortable day of work. So, forget the soaps, shampoo, and other chemical treatments if you wish, hot water alone can be cleansing. To prevent dry skin, a mild lubricating body lotion will work wonders.

  27. Debbie

    Women, I feel particularly, shower daily to reduce vaginal odor which increases as hormonal changes take place.
    But, what about our feet?! Would a daily shower not reduce the potential for different types of foot infections as well as the nail fungus?
    I suppose I can see validity in “washing the fringe” as one reader commented of her grandmother’s words – or aking sure you “wash your spots at least” as it was explained to me. But by the time you do all of that, a shower, if possible, would just be quicker it seems. There may be small or no evidence for showering daily when it comes to just ‘skin health’, but I think it can be beneficial to those with certain health conditions such as arthritis and other chronic pain conditions. It can be soothing also for anxiety sufferers and the warm water increases circulation which may be beneficial for tight muscles.
    What are your thoughts on this?

  28. Tom

    Great points in the article! The soap industry definitely recommends more of its products than are needed. I appreciate those products, just not in the volume or frequency they suggest. I have a desk job in an air conditioned building and see no need for a daily shower. Usually a “bird bath” in the sink to get the pits and face is good enough. This saves time and water. What’s not to like about water conservation and extra time? I still shower 2 or 3 times per week, and if I’ve gotten dirty laboring at yard work a shower is nice. A stick of deodorant at the office takes care of those few times things get ripe. Hopefully things can change.

  29. Cheroot

    I agree with these points, especially for the very young and elderly that don’t have raging hormones and such pumping out sweat and oils nonstop. That said, it is best to start a habit of good grooming while young and not abandon it when old. I disagree that warm weather makes people smell bad; my opinion is that body odors (good or bad) are the result of what people eat and how their metabolism is working. No amount of showering will change that.

  30. Difu

    I agree. Daily shower is unnecessary especially in winter. Wiping the body with a damp small towel is often good enough at removing body odor. The biggest water consumption in the average household is personal hygiene (think shower and toilet flushing). By reducing frequency of shower, you can cut down water consumption significantly, save money, and help the environment too!

  31. Paul R Lichtenstein MD FAAD

    When washing your hair “shampoo, rinse repeat does have some merit. The first washing cleans off the superficial grime and grease. The second thoroughly cleans the hair and scalp. Notice how much more lather is produced on the second shampoo cycle.

  32. Alain

    Think of the planet, when the norm for 10 billion persons will be a daily hot shower with soap and other adjuvants, the scarce resources of power and water involved, the addition to the waste load in the drains, etc
    Perhaps ,a slight amount of body odour may be allowable to help save the world, quite apart from the health benefits listed above.

  33. AndyG19

    Dr. Schmerling suggests only washing the armpit and groin areas when you shower. But what about the exfoliation that some of us do when we shower, using mildly abrasive clothes or gloves? I find that, as a person over 70, exfoliation keeps my skin less itchy and scaly. And I do keep the exfoliating gloves scrupulously clean.

  34. Anteneh Omer

    I recommend to take bath daily with water only. It feels fresh. I suggest the daily use of soap and shower gels for arm pits and groin area only. In addition, taking shower with soap every two or three days is good enough from my experience.

  35. Hiyam

    As a Biotech Engineer, I’ve seen the tremendous role that our organ-associated microbiome plays in overal health and immune system. Perhaps more alternatives of pre and probiotics should be focused on as cleansers for a daily basis instead of harmful soaps/shampoos that damage and weaken our bodies. Very helpful! Thanks

  36. Carol Lindsey

    Great points! As a PA in dermatology, I have found it to be challenging for my American patients to reduce bathing frequency. My grandmother felt strongly that she was clean enough after just “dipping her fringe,” and never espoused a daily bath.

    The potent, scented cleansers and frequent hot water washes contribute to a myriad of dryness and sensitivity related complaints, many of which improve with the uses of non-soap cleansers and tepid water. Sadly, most Americans have lost the “fingernail brush” hygiene step (a habit that greatly reduces infections that result from scratching). In any case, the skin biome is finally coming into the spotlight, and pre- and pro-biotic cleansers and emollients will be a welcome addition to my medicine chest.

    • Kate

      “Dipping her fringe” – hilarious. Our elderly neighbor back in the forties told my mother that she just washed her “cheesicle parts.” Kate Walsh

    • Christine

      In babies too it’s beneficial to reduce the number of baths??

    • Susan Connolly

      I agree with this article. I believe that in Western Society, people do overshower, and with hot water.

      Though not a health hazard, it does mean stripping good oils and healthy bacteria. Also, the use of sented bathing & shower products filled with harmful chemicals. Using 100% Natural products is a good and healthy thing to use and or diy your own.

      I shower every 2nd day…in the Summer, if it’s hot and humid, more often, and Never with Hot Water.

      Just my opinion and what works for me. As a university student back when…our first year Sociology Professor said something that I believe has served me well…he said to our class “If you learn anything from my class, learn to Question Why? Are we doing, going along with etc etc because we truly want to, or because Society dictates…what we have been Socialized to believe is right, the Norm. Cheers!

    • Anonymous

      Another fad. Please take a daily shower and don’t forget the nether regions.

    • Angela

      Interesting, I do wash my hands, which I forgot, and I do use a nail brush because I garden a lot.

    • Scott

      It does seem as if this column was written from the parochial perspective of an office worker. Many, many people live all of their working hours and most of their other hours in a quite different kind of environment.

    • Wen Chung

      This article is great. I have a different opinion. I always take shower everyday scratching skin by finger nails everywhere of the body with hot water to make a good blood flow circulation of the entire body, which is much better than any inevitable negative effects. I am an honor as a reader of your magazine renewed yesterday.

  37. Cindy

    In warm weather many people smell whether or not they exercise, often times not even realizing they have acquired an odor. Please shower daily

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