Skin care myths: Dermatologist explains mistakes in hygiene

dr  Stefanie Derendorf Dermatologist non-bathing
Photo: dr Stefanie Derendorf (private)

There are many myths surrounding showering and personal hygiene. Is showering every day bad for your skin? Do contrast showers fight cellulite? Does washing too often make hair greasy? A dermatologist provides answers.

dr Stefanie Derendorf is a dermatologist at the Dermatologie am St. Anna Platz in Munich’s Lehel district. In an interview with Utopia, she clears up myths and misunderstandings about personal hygiene. According to her, most body care products are superfluous – and you should only soap up on five parts of your body when you shower.

Dermatologist: Many people make mistakes when it comes to personal hygiene

Utopia: What we think we know about personal hygiene is not always true. Do many people come to your practice who have misconceptions about hygiene?

Stefanie Derendorf: Yes, that is often the case with patients with skin problems. Most don’t realize they’re doing something wrong.

Utopia: And what are you doing wrong?

Derendorf: Young people often do too much personal hygiene, with older and male patients it is often not enough. Quite often patients only have to change their routine, that’s half the therapy.

Utopia: How Much Care is Appropriate?

Derendorf: That is individual.

Utopia: And related to showers?

Derendorf: Here I would recommend: Listen to your body. If you have a normal skin type, do not do heavy physical work or do sports, and have not applied sunscreen, two to three times a week is completely sufficient.

Taking a shower every day is not unhealthy

New Year's resolutions to save energy
Taking a shower every day is said to be bad for your skin. (Photo: CC0 / Pixabay – PublicDomainPictures)

Utopia: There are many myths surrounding hygiene. For example, showering every day is said to be harmful to the skin. Is that correct?

Derendorf: No, it’s not unhealthy. People with normal skin can shower every day. If you work physically, if you sweat or have dirt on your body, then it makes sense to wash on the same day. But if this is not the case, it is actually not necessary to shower every day. It also uses a lot of water.

Utopia: And people who don’t have a normal skin type?

Derendorf: If you suffer from skin diseases, showering every day may not be advisable. For example, many people suffer from skin that is too dry. They often have cracked, red patches and itching on their arms and legs. It is harmful for this skin type to take a shower every day. Because dry skin lacks, among other things, fat, which is further removed by frequent showering. This dries out the skin further.

Utopia: As an alternative to taking a shower, you can also grab a washcloth and clean your body with it. This became popular again with the “non-bathing” trend and is touted not only for saving water but also for being healthy for the skin. Is that correct?

Derendorf: Cleaning yourself every day with a washcloth instead of taking a shower works just as well. It’s even better for dry skin.

Do contrast showers fight cellulite?

Utopia: Another myth that persists: do contrast showers fight cellulite?

Derendorf: Many patients ask me what can be done against cellulite. The fatty tissue pushes through connective tissue septa, which leads to orange peel skin. The most effective measure against this is weight loss.

With contrast showers, you alternate between cold and warm showers. This is supposed to boost fat metabolism and stimulate blood circulation. This can certainly have a positive effect, also on fat burning. But there are no studies that prove this.

Only five parts of the body should be lathered

shower myths shower daily soap body
dermatologist dr. Stefanie Derendorf advises against soaping the whole body. (Photo: CC0 Public Domain – Pexels/ Sora Shimazaki )

Utopia: Should you always lather your whole body when showering?

Derendorf: Soap removes dirt and greasy substances from the skin. Soaping makes sense on areas rich in sebaceous glands and areas that get a lot of dirt. These are the hands, the armpits, the feet, and the center of the chest and back. These should be lathered regularly – but not daily – with a skin-neutral washing gel. Water is enough for the rest of the body.

Utopia: Are most shower gels skin-neutral?

Derendorf: Most washing lotions are alkaline. When we apply these to the skin, they leach out fats – that’s the point. But at the same time we loosen our protective acid mantle from the skin, which regulates moisture and protects against pathogens.

Utopia: Then what to use?

Derendorf: There are also washing lotions called syndets that have a pH value similar to that of our skin. They are particularly recommended for people with dry skin because they do not attack the acid mantle. [Anmerkung der Redaktion: Allerdings fand Öko-Test 2022 bei einem Test in vielen Syndets PEG-Verbindungen und kritische Konservierungsstoffe.]

Utopia: What else should you pay particular attention to when buying washing lotions and shampoos – apart from the pH value?

Derendorf: From a dermatological point of view, it is best to avoid products that foam heavily. Because the foam is caused by surfactants and these dissolve fat from the skin and dry it out. If possible also on fragrances, because these can cause contact allergies. When it comes to shampoos, silicone-free products are often recommended, which are considered harmful to the environment.

For skin care you only need three products

Utopia: It feels like there is a separate product for everything. This starts with shower gels – for relaxation, peeling, creams – and goes on to body lotions, shampoos, conditioners, hair masks and a whole host of facial care products. do we really need this?

Derendorf: I have the feeling that the cosmetics industry is fooling us these days into thinking that we have to use an incredible number of products. It used to be different – and back then there were no more or fewer skin problems. Social media also contributes to this. They recommend long and complex skin care routines that are not even intended for people with skin diseases, but for normal skin types. Young people are made to feel that they have to use numerous products to care for their skin. It can’t be good, it’s just marketing.

Utopia: Which products do you really need for skin care?

Derendorf: Young, healthy skin only needs a wash lotion, a make-up remover and sun protection – ideally combined with day care. That’s it. In the case of acne, pigment spots or for anti-aging, a serum or intensive care can be added if necessary.

Utopia: Cleansing products for the face would therefore be superfluous. Can you just wash your face while showering?

Derendorf: I would recommend washing your face once a day – preferably in the evening to wash away any dirt from the day. Water is completely sufficient, unless you have applied waterproof cosmetics or waterproof sunscreen. In the case of severe acne, it can make sense to cleanse the face immediately after getting up. But yes, when you take a shower, you can simply wash your face with the shower water.

“Old wives’ tale” about washing hair

Utopia: Does washing too often make hair greasy faster?

Derendorf: That’s a fairy tale. The sebum glands on the head don’t work more or less if you wash your hair more often. There is also no study that proves this. It is usually enough to wash your hair two to three times a week. I would not recommend less, because then the sebum content of the scalp can increase – and that can make you really ill.

Utopia: How?

Derendorf: Various factors play a role here. Hats are often worn in winter, and some people wash their hair less often. In addition, the hat blocks the release of sweat and heat through the skin. Certain fungi can then multiply on the greasy scalp. This leads to itching and flaking – and must be treated medically. Incidentally, in addition to hats, bicycle and motorcycle helmets can also have the same effect.

Utopia: Is it possible to do without shampoo or shower gel entirely, i.e. only shower with water?

Derendorf: It’s a question of the dose. I think we can wash ourselves with just water a lot more often than we think. But I wouldn’t recommend doing without it entirely – just for scent reasons.


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