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You work out, build up a sweat, and then you probably hop in the shower, right? Americans are known for, shall we say, obsessive showering practices, but it may not be good for you. On average, Americans shower nearly once a day, which is more than the British, Japanese, and Chinese.
Sure, washing away the grime after a hard workout seems like the practical thing to do, but daily showers may actually damage the outermost protective layer of the skin, disrupting the delicate balance maintained by the bacterial ecosystem inhabiting the skin. In fact, many disruptive skin conditions, such as eczema and psoriasis, are autoimmune conditions with strong links to a lack of “good” bacteria in and on our bodies.
But with things like ringworm and MRSA sometimes hiding out in gyms, is it really safe to skip post-workout showers? The answer is often “yes”, with a few tricks. But first, here’s why you’d want to consider sometimes cutting out an after-exercise shower in the first place.
Over-sanitation and excessive showering is leading to widespread extinction of crucial bacteria that keeps us healthy. Nitrosomonas eutropha, one ammonia-oxidizing bacterium (AOB), was once present in our skin bacteria—before we started washing it away. Scientists believe this bacterium actually kept us clean and fresh-smelling, boosted our immune system, and tamped down inflammation, all by feeding on the ammonia in our sweat and converting it into nitrite and nitric oxide. While Americans no longer have AOB on their skin, scientists have detected it on the skin of the Amazonian Yanomami people. Some soap companies are actually introducing beneficial, probiotic microorganisms into their products.
Here are ways to cut back on post-workout showering to get your bacterial balance back in check:
After a jog or light cardio work: I suggest you let your own body do the work of repopulating your skin by showering only on days you work out heavily. A light jog doesn’t really constitute the need for a shower.
After working out at home: Unless you’re super grimy, try skipping the shower every time. Or, opt for soap-and-shampoo-free shower days, where you just let the water wash away your sweat. If you don’t work out daily, then showering every other day is most definitely sufficient.
After hitting the gym: Working out in a public gym means a post-workout shower is most warranted, but you may not need to get one every time. Using cardio equipment like treadmills means you only need to wash your hands after a workout. And when using other equipment, you can cut your risk of picking up an infection by wiping machines down before using, and using a towel to reduce the amount of your skin hitting the machine’s surface.
No matter how often you shower, be sure to always avoid antibacterial soaps. Triclosan, the main ingredient in this type of soap, fosters unhealthy hormone changes, including messing with your sperm. A 2014 study published in EMBO Reports found triclosan increases calcium levels in sperm, changing their swimming behavior and lowering sperm quality.
Antibacterial soaps are neither safer nor effective. Luckily, regular unscented, castile soap and water effectively kills harmful germs. But if you want to take your quest for better bacterial balance to a whole new level, try probiotic soap. A new brand called Mother Dirt AO+ includes soap, shampoo, and mist products that contain beneficial microorganisms shown to improve skin health.