The Best Way to Shower, According to Experts

iStock.com/skynesher
iStock.com/skynesher

Of all the necessities involved in personal hygiene, showering would appear to be the least challenging task. You stand under a water spray, lather up, and let your body’s accumulated bacteria go down the drain. If you feel like fiddling with the temperature, hot showers are said to “open your pores.” Cold showers are alleged to make you more alert. Tolerating either extreme is a sign of attrition. Throw in a loofah scrub and you’re good.

But what if we’ve been showering all wrong? What if there is an objectively correct way to get clean that contradicts much of what we’ve learned about bathing through observation and cartoons?

THE DIRTY TRUTH ABOUT GETTING CLEAN

A man lathers up in the shower
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If you’re lathering yourself up from head to toe, you’re doing it wrong, according to Rajani Katta, MD, clinical professor of dermatology at the McGovern Medical School at UTHealth in Houston and author of Glow: The Dermatologist's Guide to a Whole Food Younger Skin Diet. “Generally speaking, you don’t need soap all over your body unless you’ve gotten really sweaty,” she tells Mental Floss. A thorough lathering isn’t going to hurt you, exactly, but soap and hot water strip away the skin’s natural oils, drying it out and causing irritation, discomfort, or even infection. Instead, Katta says, soap “should go under your arms, around your private parts, and wherever there’s a skin fold,” which harbor greater numbers of bacteria. (Go in whatever order you like: Katta says it doesn't matter.)

As for those long, hot showers that feel particularly good after a stressful day or during the winter: While they might be psychologically beneficial, they’re not doing your epidermis much good. If water is too cold or too warm, the cells and lipids that make up our skin barrier can develop reactions. (Let too-warm water blast you in the forearm for a minute and you’ll likely see it turn red.) “Temperature extremes, whether too cold or too hot, can cause skin irritation and inflammation,” Katta says. “Ideally, you’ll want to use lukewarm temperatures and limit showers to no more than 10 or 15 minutes.” The idea is to cleanse, not antagonize, the tissue.

According to Katta, shower frequency shouldn’t weigh too heavily on your mind. If you’re breaking a daily sweat owing to work or fitness, it’s a good idea to shower daily. Otherwise, and unless your dermatologist has advised differently due to a skin condition, showering multiple times weekly is sufficient.

THE SCIENCE OF SCRUBBING

A woman uses a bar of soap in the shower
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“Body washes have kind of taken over the world,” Katta says. “It’s interesting that my younger patients all seem to use body wash while older patients tend to gravitate toward bar soaps.”

In this case, older means wiser. According to Katta, body washes have more water content that bar soaps, which means they use more preservatives and other additives to prevent or inhibit mold and bacteria growth. In some cases, those ingredients can prompt allergic reactions. If you’ve ever used a wash and then found your skin irritated, that’s probably why. “Bar soaps tend to have less [additives],” Katta says. If a wash is gentle on your skin, it’s fine to use it, but don’t discount the standard soap chunk.

(And no, bar soap does not make it more likely you’ll transmit bacteria with repeated use. Two often-cited studies in 1965 and 1988 concluded bars contaminated with staph, E. coli, and other not-so-pleasant pathogens did not pass along the germs in subsequent handling. In its guidelines for handwashing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers hand and liquid soap to be of equal efficacy.)

Don’t bother with loofahs or washcloths. While it’s not terribly likely they could harbor bacteria, they’re no more effective at dispersing soap than your fingertips, and it’s possible people with sensitive skin could find them irritating.

Once you get to your head, Katta says that shampooing is a highly individual practice that doesn’t invite objective advice. Use whatever products you like. If you have dandruff, you might want to shampoo more frequently. You can even wash your hair first thing, before the rest of your body. The only practice you want to time out is shaving: Later in the shower is better, since the warm water has had time to soften hair follicles and reduce chances of skin irritation. Immediately after showering is also a good time to clip any Howard Hughes-esque nail overgrowth.

KEEP YOUR HEAD MOIST

A dog poses while wrapped in a towel
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The most important part of a shower has nothing to do with the shower. It’s about not letting your skin lose its moisture. Don't rub yourself completely dry: Instead, pat yourself with a towel so you remain slightly damp and then immediately apply a moisturizer to take advantage of your post-shower skin hydration.

Katta doesn’t recommend a specific brand of moisturizer, but says that thicker formulations are best. For that reason, try not to opt for anything that comes in a pump bottle. “Anything in a bottle has a high amount of water and may not lock moisture into the skin well,” she says. “Look for a cream-based formulation or ointment in a tube.” Petroleum jelly reduces moisture evaporation from skin; other ingredients like dimethicone, ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and glycerin can help lock in moisture.

If you’re wary about feeling like a greasy mess just before you leave the house, you can switch to a nightly showering routine. That way, Katta says, you can lube up without getting it on your work clothes.

Now you’re all clean. For information on how to keep your fanny sparkling, check out the best way to wipe.

New Cross-Bred Cosmic Crisp Apples Can Stay Fresh for Up to a Year

Cosmic Crisp
Cosmic Crisp

Healthy snackers know only too well the disappointment that comes with biting into what looks like a deliciously crisp apple and getting a mouthful of mealy mush instead. It’s just one of the pome fruit’s many potential issues—they also brown quickly, bruise easily, and don’t last as long as whatever bag of chips you might be tempted to reach for instead.

Enter the Cosmic Crisp, a Washington-grown patented hybrid apple that could be the answer to all your apple-related complaints. According to New Atlas, researchers at Washington State University began breeding the new variety as a cross between Enterprise and Honeycrisp apples in 1997, and it’s officially hitting stores now.

cosmic crisp apple on tree
Cosmic Crisp

Not only does a Cosmic Crisp apple resist bruising and browning better than other kinds of apples, it also boasts an exceptionally long storage life. In a controlled atmosphere, it should stay fresh for a full year—meaning you’ll soon be able to enjoy a crisp, satisfying snack in the middle of March, when out-of-season apples usually leave much to be desired. In your own refrigerator, Cosmic Crisp apples are good for about six months, and they’ll even last for several weeks if you leave them out at room temperature. The long shelf life might cut down on the number of apples that you end up tossing in the trash because they went bad before you got around to eating them.

In a 2012 report published in the American Society for Horticultural Science journal HortScience, the Washington State University researchers found that a group of 114 consumers rated the Cosmic Crisp apple, or WA 38, higher than Fuji apples in sweetness, sourness, flavor intensity, crispness, firmness, juiciness, and overall acceptance. The apple's website even suggests that bakers can reduce the amount of added sugar in recipes that contain Cosmic Crisps.

The Cosmic part of its name comes from the whitish specks on the apple’s skin, which reminded taste testers of a starry sky. In reality, those specks are lenticels—porous openings that allow the apple to exchange gases with its environment.

If you don’t see Cosmic Crisp apples in your grocery store yet, here’s a simple trick for keeping any apples fresh for longer.

[h/t New Atlas]

The Reason So Many Babies Are Conceived in Winter

yurizhuravov/iStock via Getty Images
yurizhuravov/iStock via Getty Images

Does it feel like many friends and family members announce the pending arrival of a baby during the fall and winter months? That’s not exactly a coincidence. It turns out the cold season is associated with more reproductive activity than any other time of the year. The month of December alone accounts for 9 percent of conceptions in the United States. Science is gaining a better understanding of why.

All living creatures heed an evolutionary instinct to target seasonal births. If conception happens during colder months, babies will be born during warmer months, when resources will be bountiful. Northern states have births peaking in June and July, while southern states come a bit later in October and November. The farther south, the later the birth peak, since people in these warm climates are less influenced by frigid temperatures.

What are frisky humans responding to in colder months? Research suggests that the cooler temperatures and shortened days signal that it's time to get busy. Other theories suggest that men may be more fertile in colder months, or that a woman’s ovum receptivity might change with decreased daylight. Not only are couples potentially more sexually active, but that activity might wind up being more (re)productive.

Are there benefits to conceiving at other times? Possibly. One 2013 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences gathered data from nearly 1.5 million births and found that average birth weight in the first five months of the year decreased by 10 grams. Babies born during the summer months were 20 grams heavier. Mothers who conceived in summer tended to gain more weight than those who conceived at other times.

If you have a disproportionate amount of friends with a September birthday, it’s likely that their parents consciously or unconsciously followed their evolutionary instinct nine months earlier.

[h/t Smithsonian]

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