Shower slip-ups

Does anything compare to the sheer luxury of a long, hot shower? Dermatologist Ann-Maree Kurzydlo points to habits to avoid to make the most of your “me time”. 

The long, hot shower

On a cool day we crank up the hot water so that the bathroom disappears in a fog and we emerge scrubbed clean and as red as a newborn. Some use this shower time to relax, others for serious thinking and a few to rediscover an operatic career.

Unfortunately, taking lengthy hot showers isn’t really that great for our skin. Water — especially hot water — strips the protective oil layer of our skin, drying it out. The hotter the water and the longer we stay under it, the worse it is.

This is especially true for people with skin conditions like dermatitis, where skin integrity isn’t optimal to begin with. So go easy on the hot tap, do what you need to and get out of there!

The wash

We use hot water and detergent to get our dinner plates squeaky clean. A hot shower and soap does the same to our skin, removing its natural protective lipid barrier and  compromising its integrity. This creates dryness, irritation and itch, with increased susceptibility to dermatitis and allergies.

It’s best to avoid soaps, gels or washes that foam or lather up well, as these usually contain detergents. This includes products labelled “natural” or “organic”. Instead opt for “soap-free” washes. Unless you’ve been to rugby training, only a small amount of a mild soap or soap-free wash is needed, and even then only in selected areas of the body.

Don’t neglect your feet

Most of us clean our feet by default, and simply let the soap and water run down over them. But just because our feet are a long way away doesn’t mean they should be ignored! Your feet have many sweat glands, creating a moist environment. Moisture and warmth are the perfect setting for fungal and bacterial growth, which leads to odour and infections. A mild soap works well here (one of the exceptions to the soap-free rule), and be sure to wash between your toes.

The loofah and razor

The need for a loofah is questionable, since our skin does a great job of exfoliating itself. But if you insist on using one, beware! They never really dry out properly in your shower and collect dead skin cells, creating an ideal incubator for bugs. Then we diligently scrub our skin with this ball of bacteria, which can increase the likelihood of infection. Wash loofahs well, wring them out and hang them in an area where they can dry out completely.

Razors sitting in the shower for extended periods fall victim to the same fate. Bacteria such as staphylococcus can flourish on razors, which is then spread to hair follicles causing infection. Razors should be changed as frequently as possible.

Correct hair care

Just like fingernails, hair is made up of inert keratin proteins.  And while washing removes excess oil that builds on the scalp, dirt and environmental contaminants, shampoo, like soap, is usually full of detergents that can strip oil from hair and make it dry and lacklustre. The most common mistake is over-washing. Many women recognise that excessively washed hair is harder to control. Using a conditioner helps, but daily washing is usually unnecessary.

Blow-drying also damages and dries hair out. Let it dry naturally if you can, or use a lower heat setting or a heat-protective spray if you must use a hair dryer.

Step out of the shower

For some people, towelling is like an Olympic event. Rubbing hard at your skin isn’t necessary and even though it might feel good, it can worsen certain skin conditions like psoriasis. Just make sure you dry well between your toes, a haven for bacteria and athlete’s foot.

Moisturise

Moisturising your skin, even in sweaty summer, stops dry, flaky and irritated flare-ups. It’s best to moisturise when your skin is still damp, so pat it dry after the shower and apply a moisturiser (heavier moisturisers in winter and lighter in summer). Many good brands are available, but try and avoid anything that smells like a rose garden.

When applying moisturiser to hair-bearing areas like the arms and legs, apply it lightly in the direction of the hair growth instead of grinding it into the skin in a circular motion, which may block hair follicles and cause infections.

Post-workout

Showering post-workout removes sweat and odour-causing bacteria from our skin, which reduces infections. It’s also important for swimmers to wash off chlorine as soon as possible after swimming.