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Long, hot showers are one of life’s simple pleasures. But as wonderful as they are, sometimes you just need to get down and dirty (er, clean)—fast. So whether you slept through you alarm or just want to make sure you’re getting the best bang for your utility buck, here’s everything you need to know for the most effective suds session.
Get Ready for the Best Shower of Your Life
1. Cool it down.
Steaming hot showers may feel amazing, but the hot water dries out the moisture from our skin like nothing else, says Lauren Ploch, M.D., a dermatologist at New Orleans’ Ochsner Medical Center. The hot water removes more of your natural oils, so if you really need a fix, spend a couple minutes max in hot water, and then turn it down to lukewarm (a.k.a. not hot enough to make your skin red).
2. Keep it short.
Your shower should ideally last five to 10 minutes, says Marie Jhin, M.D., a San Francisco dermatologist. And remember, it’s all about quality, not quantity: Showering twice a day can seriously dry out your skin, Jhin says. Though it seems like more water means more moisture, it’s actually the opposite—over-showering strips the skin, making it even drier.
Refuse to accept a life without that toasty-warm, sinus-clearing shower feeling? Us too. One good alternative is a space heater for your bathroom, says Karyn Grossman, M.D., a dermatologist at Grossman Dermatology in Beverly Hills. And you can skip that final ice-cold rinse, supposedly for shinier hair. You’d have to go all out to make any difference to hair, Grossman says. So unless you don’t mind a daily polar plunge, it’s usually not worth the displeasure.
3. Lather, rinse,
Once you’ve found the right temperature, Grossman recommends getting your shampoo out of the way first. And although “lather, rinse, repeat” has been around since the beginning of time (and marketing), Grossman says you only need to “repeat” if you have a super oily scalp. Everyone else, feel free to disregard.
Then slap conditioner on the ends of your hair—generally, more for thick hair and less for thinner strands—to let it sink in. The warm, wet environment works magic: Follicles open up, letting the conditioner sink in extra deep and making it more effective than if you had rinsed off immediately, Grossman explains. Wait until the end of your shower, and then use a comb to detangle hair.
4. Lose the loofah.
Blame it on Legally Blonde, but we’ve always had a loofah hanging in the shower. The problem? Ploch says people tend not to clean loofahs and hang onto them past their prime (usually just two months), making them a breeding ground for bacteria. A better choice would be a washcloth, she says, which people find easier to remember to clean every week, or to just use your hands.
5. Clean where it counts.
Another shortcut: You really only need to cleanse the “dirty areas,” a.k.a. those with a high density of sweat glands, like the groin, the buttocks, underneath the breasts, and the armpits, Grossman says. Soaping up your whole body actually strips your skin of necessary oils, especially in areas like your shins or arms.
And while those body washes that smell like the Amazon rainforest or fields of lavender are tempting, feel free to keep it simple. Go for a gentle cleanser (Ploch recommends sydnet soaps like Dove’s Beauty Bar), and don’t overdo it.
6. Add in the extras.
If you’ve covered all the basics but still want more alone time (guilty), now’s the time to add in any other steps, like brushing your teeth, shaving, or using a pumice stone on your feet. The warm, wet environment has softened your skin, allowing dead cells to slough off more easily.
Despite common misconceptions, if you’re shaving down there, there’s no need to exfoliate your bikini line with a grainy scrub (or pumice—yikes), Grossman says. The best way to avoid ingrown hairs: Use a razor that doesn’t go overboard with blades, so no Mach 3 Turbos. Too close of a shave takes off the top layer of skin, making it easier for the hairs to grow in the wrong direction.
7. Lotion up.
Apply moisturizer right before or after you step out of the lukewarm water, Grossman says. Yes, you read that right—you can moisturize in the shower. And that’s actually a great time to do it, Grossman says, since it’s the lotion’s job to trap the moisture in the skin. She recommends an in-shower moisturizer like Nivea’s In-Shower Body Lotion, Soaptopia’s Oil Slathers, or even just plain coconut oil (hello, old friend).
If you find your skin is still next-level dry and flaky, choose a lotion with a chemical exfoliant like alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), Ploch says. While physical scrubs can be harsh and abrasive, AHAs like ammonium lactate or salicylic acid get rid of dead skin cells while providing moisture (…the essence of wetness). Ploch says two good choices are AmLactin’s Moisturizing Body Lotion or CeraVe’s SA lotion.
Finally, if you choose to moisturize fresh out of the shower, make sure to slather on the cream within three minutes of patting dry, Ploch says. Also, Jhin suggests keeping the door closed and overhead fan off while showering. This traps the humidity and steam in the air and softens your skin, so more moisture can sink in instead of evaporating. (Sorry, ceiling mold).
Some mornings it’s all we can do to jump in, lather, and get out of the shower. But covering all your bases can make a big difference in how dry and itchy your skin feels. Go in with a game plan, and you’ll finally be able to focus on what really matters—whether that’s terrible singing, meditating, or deciding what you want to eat for breakfast.