Life Wellbeing Shower power: Everything you need to know
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Shower power: Everything you need to know

Having a shower: it's not as straightforward as you think. Photo: Getty
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With the good winter rains having soaked the paddocks and filled the reservoirs, you’re no doubt thinking it’s time to put aside the water-saving bucket and have a long, hot and guilt-free soaking under the shower. And not just on Sundays!

In fact, fellow Australian, because you’ve been so spartan in your bathing habits – dabbing at the armpits and nethers with a damp cloth whilst the family averts its gaze – you’ve probably forgotten how to properly wash yourself.

We suspect it’s a form of national amnesia. Where to scrub the hardest and how to rinse various cracks and crevices that have otherwise been left to moulder for years – these are the questions facing a nation whose citizens have taken to wearing clothes pegs on their noses.

Hence, The New Daily offers the following guide to showering.

Why do we need to wash at all?

Mainly so we don’t end up alone, according to a University of Western Sydney study titled “Relationship Dealbreakers – Traits People Avoid in Potential Mates’’.

Based on data collected from 6500 people, the study, led by psychologist Peter K. Jonason, listed the top five reasons why people get rejected in a short-term relationship.

Number 2: “Smells bad.’’

Number 3: “Has poor hygiene.’’

Even number 1 suggests a failure to keep oneself nice:  “Has health issues such as STDs.’’

Body odour and poor hygiene are big turn offs.
Body odour and poor hygiene are big turn offs.

So a shower twice daily, then? 

Ah, there’s the rub. You might attract mates aplenty by scrubbing and soaking yourself silly, but you’re just as likely to turn them off by turning into a dried-out prune, suffering cracks that make you prone to infection and eczema.

Also, you’ll kill off the microbes that aid digestion, skin health and immunity.

Associate Professor Stephen Shumack, a dermatologist at the University of Sydney Medical School, says that people who spend their days sitting around – that is, anyone with a desk job or couch addiction – need only shower once a week.  Maybe three times if you’re feeling icky.

The daily shower dries out the skin and hair, stripping away natural oils and potentially causing health problems.

Shower too often and you'll rob your hair of its elasticity.
Shower too often and you’ll rob your hair of its elasticity.

Older people, whose skin is drier and thinner, need to avoid bathing too often. The same goes for hair: over time it loses elasticity and protein and is more liable to break.

While massaging the scalp is good for encouraging blood flow, too much shampooing is damaging.

Realistically you only need to wash your hair every few weeks. Even people with dandruff and scalp conditions are advised to wash their hair no more than twice a week.

There’s a lot of material online about the desired frequency of showering – and dermatologists are in agreement. We do it too often.

Umm, buy lots of floral soap?

Soap is fine for washing your hands, armpits and the old reach-around. And maybe between your toes – but be sure to rinse the soap and dry thoroughly.

An ordinary bar of soap can pick up fungal infection and other infections and even grow mould that in its early stages is invisible.

So the irony here is that soap can transmit an infection to between the toes. So, on balance, you’re better off washing with water and maybe baking soda if you’re prone to infection.

Read up about soap and you won't want to have a bar of it.
Read up about soap and you won’t want to have a bar of it.

Also, don’t use anti-bacterial soaps because they’ll play havoc with the healthy bacteria that, in effect, is part of you.

While washing your hands is the best way to reduce the risk of catching colds, flu and other bugs, these infections are more often viruses and immune to anti-bacterial agents anyway.

Unless you’re covered in mud, avoiding soaping the arms, legs, and trunk. A rinse with water is sufficient.

If you’re worried about smelling bad, wash your clothes more often than your body. Your clothes pick up dead skin, stray hairs and odours.

Also, it may be healthier to spray your clothing with perfume, cologne or deodorant than directly spicing up your skin.

What about hot water?

The main benefit of a hot shower or bath is psychological. It gets the circulation going.

But this can be dangerous for people with diabetes, heart condition, blood pressure issues and for pregnant women.

It can cause either a spike or a loss of blood pressure that may not be noticeable beyond a swooning effect that can be mistakenly seen as feeling relaxed. The problem is it puts a strain on your heart.

Some like it hot. But the experts recommend a lukewarm flow.
Some like it hot. But the experts recommend a lukewarm flow.

The other downside, like using soap, is it strips away the healthy oils from your skin. You’ll have noticed when cleaning a dirty frypan that cold or lukewarm water isn’t as efficient as piping hot water.

For this reason, dermatologists recommend a lukewarm shower. On a cold day that means a short shower.

What about scrubbing? 

Use a washer from the linen cupboard rather than a loofah. A washer will provide a mild exfoliation, vital as we get older and our skin becomes more sensitive.

Also, a loofah tends to become mouldy very quickly and should be discarded within a few weeks of first being used.

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