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.

Bombshell, Victoria’s Secret’s Bestselling Fragrance, Also Happens to Repel Mosquitoes

Dids, Pexels
Dids, Pexels

People love Bombshell, the best-selling fragrance at Victoria’s Secret, for its summery blend of fruity and floral notes. Not everyone is a huge fan, though: As Quartz reports, the perfume is surprisingly good at warding off mosquitoes. In fact, it’s almost as effective as DEET insect repellent, according to the results of a 2014 experiment by researchers at New Mexico State University.

Researchers took 10 products that are commercially available and tested their ability to repel two different species of mosquitoes: the yellow fever mosquito (Aedes aegypti) and the Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus), both of which are known to transmit diseases like dengue fever, chikungunya, and yellow fever. In doing so, volunteers subjected their own flesh to the test by placing their hands on either side of a Y-shaped tube containing the blood-sucking critters. One hand was covered in a synthetic rubber glove, while the other hand was sprayed with one of the products but otherwise left bare. Researchers recorded which tunnel the mosquitoes flew to, and how long they avoided the other end.

Three of the products contained DEET, while four products didn’t. In addition, there were two fragrances (including Bombshell) and one vitamin B1 skin patch. The DEET products were the most effective, but Bombshell proved to be nearly as good, keeping mosquitoes at bay for roughly two hours.

“There was some previous literature that said fruity, floral scents attracted mosquitoes, and to not wear those,” Stacy Rodriquez, one of the study’s authors, said in a statement. “It was interesting to see that the mosquitoes weren’t actually attracted to the person that was wearing the Victoria’s Secret perfume—they were repelled by it.”

This isn’t the first time a perfume has had an unintended effect on the natural world. It turns out that tigers are obsessed with Calvin Klein’s Obsession for Men cologne, partly because it contains a synthetic version of civetone, a pheromone that's secreted by glands located near a civet’s anus. This substance was once used to create musky fragrances, but nowadays the scent is mostly reproduced in a lab. Still, the fake stuff must be pretty convincing, because big cats go crazy when they catch a whiff of it.

[h/t Quartz]

Mystery Solved: Scientists Have Figured Out Why Some Squirrels Are Black

Rena-Marie/iStock via Getty Images
Rena-Marie/iStock via Getty Images

It can be something of a surprise to see an animal sporting a fresh coat of paint. Blue lobsters occasionally surface after being caught in traps. A pink dolphin was spotted in Louisiana in 2007 (and several times since). In the Chinese province of Shaanxi, a cute brown and white panda greets zoo visitors.

Another anomalous animal has joined their ranks. Black squirrels have been spotted in both the United States and the UK, and now scientists believe they know why.

Like many animals with unusual color schemes, black squirrels are the result of a genetic detour. Researchers at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge University, and the Virginia Museum of Natural History collaborated on a project that tested squirrel DNA. Their findings, which were published in BMC Evolutionary Biology, demonstrated that the black squirrel is the product of interspecies breeding between the common gray squirrel and the fox squirrel. The black squirrel is actually a gray squirrel with a faulty pigment gene carried over from the fox squirrel that turns their fur a darker shade. (Some fox squirrels, which are usually reddish-brown, are also black.)

A black squirrel is pictured
sanches12/iStock via Getty Images

Scientists theorize a black fox squirrel may have joined in on a mating chase involving gray squirrels and got busy with a female. The black fur may offer benefits in colder regions, with squirrels able to absorb and retain more heat, giving them a slight evolutionary edge.

In North America, black squirrels are uncommon, with one estimate putting them at a rate of one in every 10,000 squirrels. In 1961, students at Kent State University in Ohio released 10 black squirrels that had been captured by Canadian wildlife authorities. The squirrels now populate the campus and have become the school’s unofficial mascot. Their coloring might help them hide from predators, which might come in handy at Kent State: The campus is also home to hawks.

[h/t The Guardian]

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