Is showering daily bad for our health?

·4 min read
Asian woman Enjoying the shower She is washing her hair.
Showering was not top of everyone's to-do list amid the UK's various coronavirus lockdowns. (Posed by a model, Getty Images)

Whether it was baking banana bread or binge-watching Tiger King, we all had our own way of keeping busy amid the coronavirus lockdowns.

Showering was apparently not top of everyone's to-do list, however.

With socialising off the table and millions working from home, a YouGov survey suggests nearly one in five (17%) Britons were bathing less often.

Experts and officials have repeatedly stressed regular hand washing is critical to warding off the coronavirus, but is a daily shower important for our overall health?

Read more: How to ditch unhealthy lockdown habits as restrictions ease

The perceived importance of hygiene has fluctuated over the centuries. 

The ancient Romans are famous for their luxurious baths. Over 1,000 years later, Queen Elizabeth I reportedly said she bathed once a month, whether she needed it or not.

Hygiene is said to have became more of a daily concern during the Industrial Revolution, when a surge of people migrated from the countryside to dirtier cities.

Indoor plumbing then became more commonplace, but only for the upper classes.

"It became a sort of arms race," said Dr James Hamblin – a Yale University lecturer and author of Clean: The New Science of Skin and the Beauty of Doing Less – told The New York Times. 

"It was a signifier of wealth if you looked like you could bathe every day."

Showering regularly may help to ward off BO. (Stock, Getty Images)
Showering regularly may help to ward off BO. (Stock, Getty Images)

Is showering every day good for our health?

Showering every day may ward off body odour (BO). Hand washing aside, the benefits could end there.

For some, obsessively cleaning may even worsen their health.

Water is drying, leaving skin more prone to cracking – a potential entry point for infections. 

People with dry skin, which tends to come about with age, may be better off forgoing a daily shower, or being more diligent when it comes to moisturising.

Read more: Oral hygiene may be 'life-saving' amid the pandemic

Excessive washing may also strip your skin of its softening oils, while disrupting the infection-fighting "good" bacteria that live unseen on all of us.

"Your body is naturally a well-oiled machine," dermatologist Dr Brandon Mitchell, from George Washington University, told Time.

"A daily shower isn't necessary."

That being said, certain bacteria and fungi thrive in the warm, moist environments created by sweat.

These infections can develop into so-called "jock itch" – a rash that commonly affects athletes, developing in the sweatier parts of their body.

"Athlete's foot, pimples and even boils" may also come about, Dr Sarah Brewer – medical director of Healthspan – told Yahoo UK.

When it comes to warding off BO, too, a daily shower may be more important for some than others.

Read more: Sniff four odours twice a day to regain smell post-coronavirus

"When a person hits puberty, hormonal changes can affect the glands in the skin," Dr Daniel Atkinson, clinical lead of Treated.com, told Yahoo UK. 

"This means they may sweat more and the sweat may have a more noticeable odour."

Dr Brewer agreed, adding: "Women experiencing hot flushes and night sweats due to the perimenopause [when the body is transitioning into 'the change'] and menopause will also find a shower helps."

People who exercise frequently or have a manual job may also benefit from washing regularly. 

Watch: Angelina Jolie didn't shower for three days before bee photoshoot

Ultimately, bathing every day is unlikely to do any serious harm.

"Deciding how often to shower is usually down to personal preference," said Dr Atkinson. 

"Showering every day is not necessary from a clinical perspective, but depending on your level of physical activity you may feel a shower helps to keep you feeling fresh. 

"A lot of people like to shower in the morning to help them wake up and get ready.

"It can take some trial and error for each individual to identify the best cleaning routine to keep their skin healthy."

Rather than lathering your whole body, Dr Mitchell recommends focusing on BO problem areas, typically the armpits. The backside and groin can also release secretions.

Genitals should only be washed with water. Soap can disrupt the area's delicate bacterial balance, which may trigger fungal infections, like thrush.

In some cases, failing to shower sufficiently can be a warning sign of a more serious problem.

"If someone stops taking care of themselves it can be linked to mental or emotional disorders, such as depression or even dementia," said Dr Atkinson.

When it comes to hair washing, each individual likely also has to find what works for them. Dandruff may be less visible if the hair is washed regularly, particularly if using a specialist shampoo.

Watch: The importance of hand hygiene