Nothing could be more refreshing than a shower at the end of a tiring day, many would agree. It could be a cold one in summer or a hot one in winter.
A shower being part of a daily hygiene routine, many would not dwell much on it, though they would believe that the longer they dwelt in a shower, the cleaner they got.
Surprisingly, experts disagree with this and say there are chances that one could be doing it wrong, or worse, overdoing it and even causing oneself some harm, healthwise. Probably it is time to unlearn some of the common notions and practices of keeping ourselves clean with the right perspective on a bath.
To take a bath or a shower?
A shower and a bath are both bathing acts but what is the difference? A bath is when one immerses oneself in a tub of water; while one showers standing under a spray of water. The terms are often used interchangeably, but wrongly. While most people prefer to shower as it is quick and convenient, there are many who like to fill up the tub and soak themselves in it.
“Showers should be kept short for healthy skin,” says Dr Somodyuti Chandra, consultant dermatologist, Medica Superspecialty Hospital, Kolkata. “While long, hot showers feel wonderful, it can damage the skin’s natural barrier and result in a dry and irritated skin. The recommended duration is five to ten minutes. This amount of time will allow you to hydrate your skin without overdoing it. The same rule applies for baths.”
- For those with dry skin conditions like senile xerosis, psoriasis, and eczema, a hot water shower can do more harm than good. People with these conditions must take short showers in lukewarm water. And they must be cautious during winter, as long, hot showers can cause inflammation and worsen eczema symptoms.
- Dr Raina Nahar, Senior Consultant, Dermatology, Nanavati Max Super Speciality Hospital, Mumbai, says the ideal way to bathe is to soak oneself in lukewarm water and use a mild cleanser to foam the body. “Wash the foam off thoroughly with clean water. Avoid tough loofahs or pumice stones as they may lead to friction-induced pigmentation,” she says.
- Loofahs are not for everyday use – and definitely not for the face, warns Dr Rinky Kapoor, Consultant Dermatologist at The Esthetic Clinic, Mumbai. “Your skin does not need exfoliation every day and using a loofah will only take away all the natural oils and leave the skin dry, flaky and prone to damage.”
- Keep in mind that dry skin ages faster. Therefore, if you really must use a loofah then limit it to two times a week, she says. In additions, loofahs can be hotbeds for germs to multiple over time, possibly leading to serious infections.
- Dermatologists recommend making suds using your hands and wash your body in a top-down manner — from the head to the toes.
The right cleanser
When it comes to cleansing agents, there are many options in the market such as soaps, body washes and shower gels. Dr Chandra says that it is important to choose the right kind of cleansing as looks and fragrance of a product can be deceiving.
“Shower gel and body wash are seemingly the same thing, but there is a difference,” she says. “The level of hydration, pH and ingredients in a given formula differ between shower gels, body soaps, and bar soaps. Of the lot, bar soaps have a high or alkaline pH, which degrades the natural oils of the skin, leaving it dehydrated.”
She recommends ‘syndet soaps’ instead. Syndet is a blended word combining ‘synthetic’ and ‘detergent’. These soaps are made by binding different synthetic detergents that are skin-friendly and gentler than ordinary alkali-based soaps. “Syndet soaps hydrate and moisturise the skin, and are more effective than normal soaps,” says Dr Chandra.
Dr Kapoor says it is important to consider one’s age and lifestyle while choosing a cleanser. “As one gets older, the skin begins to become weak, and soaps can be harsh on the skin. A mild cleanser like a light shower gel is recommended. If your daily routine exposes you to a lot of dust and sweat, then a soap is a better option, otherwise a mild shower gel is enough,” she says.
The right way and time
- Morning baths are good for blood circulation and giving you energy for the rest of the day.
- Having a shower or bath at night is a great hygienic practice, as it washes away the germs, dirt and swear accumulated on your skin throughout the day. However, you should do it after a gap of 30-45 minutes from dinner as it can impact the digestion process, recommends Dr Nahar.
- Shower based on your daily activities: If you play sports or perform any activities that make you sweat, you may need to clean your body more than once. But whether you play sports or not, you need to clean your feet, groin and underarms every day, advises Dr Kapoor.
- Keep in mind that showering too much can also deplete your body’s healthy bacteria, which helps defend against infections.
Hot or cold?
James Bond, the famous spy created by British author Ian Fleming, would always start his shower with hot water and finish with cold. This style of his earned the name ‘the James Bond Shower.’
“Starting with hot water helps to wash away the oil and grease, but too much heat can strip the natural sebum, and leave the skin dry and scaly,” says Dr Kapoor. “Gradually switching from hot to cold water improves circulation and relaxes blood vessels and in turn regulates the blood pressure. It improves lymphatic drainage by removing waste from skin cells, this protects the body from infections, tightens the skin and helps to prevent swelling and ageing of the skin. The important bit is that cold water closes the pores and prevents loss of natural skin oils,” she says.
Dr Nahar says that cold showers reduce stress, enhance immune response and add an additional glow to your skin. “The mild shock of cold water sprinkled on your skin puts the circulatory system into an overdrive and increases the blood flow. Ironically, a cold shower also warms the core, protects the vital organs and boosts metabolism to help burn a few extra calories. It constricts the circulation near your skin,: she says.
However, cardiac patients should avoid cold baths as it can trigger arrhythmia, she cautions.
A modified version of this shower is the hydrotherapic thermal treatment called ‘Scottish shower.’ The user stands in an enclosed shower stall where a trained therapist or an automated valve system alternates hot and ice-cold water sprays. A complete treatment last about 10 minutes and it is said to tone the body, burn fat, hydrate the skin and de-stress.
Keeping the hair clean
“Hair texture, type, and styling habits are all factors that determine the frequency of a wash,” says Dr Chandra. “Washing your hair every other day, or once in three days, is generally sufficient. Shampoo-wash your hair if it is visibly oily, if your scalp itches or if you notice flakes.”
“Once the hair is at the skin’s surface, the cells within the strand are not alive anymore,” says Dr Kapoor. “Hair does not need as much washing as the rest of the body. Wash it once a week if your scalp is normal or dry; wash it twice a week if you have an oily scalp. Make sure to use the right shampoo and conditioner that suits your hair type.”
Pat your skin dry instead of rubbing, recommends Dr Chandra. “Patting is gentle on the skin and not abrasive. Rubbing can irritate the skin, cause rashes and acneiform eruptions,” she says. She recommends applying a moisturiser within five minutes of the shower to seal in the hydration. Dr Nahar recommends a microfibre towel to gently dab and dry the body.
While your skin takes in moisture during a shower, it loses some of its natural oils in the process. Apply a moisturiser after drying your skin to restore this.
Well, did anyone say what is in a bath, or a shower!