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If you spend your spare time online, you'll know it has been rather impossible to avoid various celebrities kicking up a stink (quite literally) about their bathing habits recently. Take Brad Pitt admitting he doesn't shower daily or Mila Kunis ditching soap. Add to that the viral Twitter thread about whether you should wash your legs in the shower, and it seems pretty much everyone has an opinion on what's hygienic and what's not.
The thing is, cleansing has become a little confusing. Should you use a mitt, loofah, puff, flannel, sponge or your bare hands? What's the optimum water temperature for washing your body, and should you shower every day? We enlisted two skincare experts to tell us where we might have been going wrong this entire time.
How often should you wash your body?
"How, and how often, you should wash your body is always a fascinating topic for my patients," says Dr Rachel Nazarian of Schweiger Dermatology Group. "Adult skin can be washed every day, but only if using these guidelines: short showers, lukewarm water and a gentle cleanser," she says. "Aggressive, daily cleaning techniques will cause skin to break down, flaring atopic dermatitis, eczema, and often causing uncomfortable itchy, red skin."
That said, Dr Nazarian believes daily washing isn't a necessity. "Skin does not need to be washed daily, but given the amount of sweating, oil production, and dirt it accumulates for most adults, I wouldn't recommend most people wash less than three times weekly." Dr Nazarian cites that there are many people who don't shower daily, but says a vast majority should wash three or more times a week.
Aesthetician, biomedical scientist and skin expert Alicia Lartey says it can be argued that exposing ourselves to extra dirt and germs can strengthen the immune system – but there is a limit. "I highly recommend that everyone washes themselves at least once a day; you would not believe just how dirty we get going about our daily lives." This is especially true if you live or work in a city or use public transport.
But can you ever over-wash? "I have seen some people state that washing yourself every day can be drying for the skin," says Alicia, "but that is where moisturiser comes in. The wildest thing I think I've heard is that washing every day can ruin the pH of your skin," she adds, but explains that the body is able to self-regulate and adjust easily.
Alicia rates Glow Recipe's Watermelon Glow Pink Dream Body Cream, $56. Also try Neutrogena Hydro Boost Body Gel Cream, $16.99, which is very gentle and absorbs quickly, or Frank Body Smoothing AHA Body Lotion, $19.95, if you experience body breakouts and ingrown hairs.
What should you use to wash your body in the shower or bath?
This all depends on personal preference, but from a dermatologist's point of view, using bare hands or a soft cloth or flannel is best. "Ensure the cloth is washed and fully dried after each use," says Dr Nazarian. Leaving a damp cloth in the shower or bath is a no-no, as it could accumulate bacteria which can be transferred to your body the next time you use it.
Previously a big fan of an exfoliating Säpo Sponge, which she owes to her Ghanaian heritage, Alicia now also loves to use a Japanese washcloth, which is basically an exfoliating towelette. "Part of the reason I am obsessed is because it has a similar design to my säpo. I recommend changing loofahs and sponges once a week," says Alicia, "or at least putting them in the washing machine once a week." The same goes for body puffs and mitts, which should be replaced regularly.
What's the best water temperature for a bath or shower?
"Our skin harbours bacteria in several main areas," says Dr Nazarian, "primarily armpits, groin, and feet. The ideal way to shower is to use lukewarm — not hot — water." Alicia agrees: "One thing I always recommend is that the water you are using to wash yourself should not be very hot as this can be drying for the skin." This is especially important if you're prone to dry patches or skin conditions like eczema. As a result, Dr Nazarian says that showers should be short, typically less than 10 minutes. "Excessively hot water can strip the natural oil off our skin and irritate it. Long showers, even in appropriately lukewarm temperatures, can also dry out skin."
What's the best shower gel for all skin types?
"A gentle, unscented cleanser should be used to clean the armpits, groin and feet after shampooing and conditioning your hair," says Dr Nazarian. Interestingly, though, she believes soaping your entire body isn't necessary. "Soapy water runs over areas such as arms and legs throughout the shower, passively cleaning them," she explains. However, it doesn't hurt to give your limbs a quick once-over, especially if you're using something gentle. Try CeraVe's Hydrating Cleanser, $12.99, which can be used on face and body, and Aveeno's Daily Moisturising Body Wash, $7.50, which is packed with moisturising colloidal oatmeal.
How can you treat body acne in the shower?
From bacne to bum spots, you'll have to tweak your showering habits if you're keen to minimise body acne. "Once I began to experience body acne on my back, my exfoliation habits had to change," says Alicia, who previously used a more rough, exfoliating loofah. "When you are managing inflamed breakouts, one of the worst things you can do is excessively, mechanically exfoliate that area. I had to say goodbye to my säpo and began to use chemical exfoliants," otherwise known as acids.
Try the La Roche-Posay Effaclar Micro-Peeling Purifying Gel Wash, $20.99, or the Revolution Salicylic Balancing Body Blemish Cleanser, $12, which feature beta hydroxy acid or salicylic acid. They exfoliate deep inside the pore to prevent blackheads and breakouts. Lastly, for skin staining left behind by spots, try something with exfoliating alpha hydroxy acids, like Mario Badescu's AHA Botanical Soap, $11.