Does a Bath *Actually* Get You Clean? A Derm and a Germ Expert Weigh In

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There's nothing I love more than a good bath. But I can't shake the feeling that I'm just stewing in my own filth, leaving my body no cleaner than it was when I got into the tub. For that reason, I always take a shower before a bath and sometimes another shower after. Caren Campbell, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in San Francisco, says I'm overdoing it because baths do get you clean.

"If baths are relaxing for you psychologically, great, do it," says Dr. Campbell. "If we are getting nit-picky, a shower offers a better opportunity for cleanliness as the water is running down the skin and into the drain. But any dirt or debris is diluted in a bath and if it offers psychological benefit this outweighs any real difference between the two."

Experts In This Article

That said, if you've just spent a day in the garden and are covered in dirt, it's best to take a quick shower and rinse that off before getting in the tub. As long as you're not filthy, Dr. Campbell says you've got the green light to take a soak. The biggest issue with baths, she says, is that they're often too hot or too long.

"Dermatologists recommend lukewarm water. Hot water causes more water to evaporate from the skin causing dryness," says Dr. Campbell. And your bath should only last five to 10 minutes. "The concern is more [time in] hot water causing more evaporation of water from the skin and drying out the skin."

Take a closer look at a dermatologist's shower routine:

Jason Tetro, author of The Germ Files, adds that too much time in the tub can leave your skin more attractive to certain pathogens.

"Remember that bathing is good for cleanliness but could be bad for skin integrity," says Tetro. "We need a balance of oils and bacteria and long baths could potentially remove these leaving our skin dry and potentially at risk for colonization with potential pathogens."

Before you hop into the tub, you'll want to give it a scrub.

"I would suggest giving the tub a good disinfection to remove any potential pathogens that might be lurking around," says Tetro. "The risk is low but having that assurance is always a good thing. You can use a variety of different disinfectants from your local store."

When taking a bath, Dr. Campbell suggests keeping it simple.

"Similar to a shower, use lukewarm water, use your hands to apply soap to underarms, groin, and face [and rinse]," says Dr. Campbell. "Towel off when you are done; this is the best time to apply a thick cream to slightly moist skin to lock moisture in."

If you choose to add something like oils or bubble bath to your water, be wary of the ingredients and what could potentially irritate your skin. "I do not recommend anything in the water as many of the ingredients and options are fragranced and can cause potential allergy/rash to the skin," says Dr. Campbell. However, she says magnesium or Epsom salts are good well-studied bath additions. However, if you're hoping to absorb nutrients from bath salts, Dr. Campbell says you're better off getting it through food or an oral supplement.

So go ahead and enjoy that bath and know that you'll get nice and clean.

What you need to make your next bath more enjoyable

Bob & Sola Blue Art Bath Vessel With Dead Sea Salt — $55.00

This hand-blown vessel from Bib & Sola is filled with dead sea salt which can help soothe skin ailments and leave you feeling relaxed.

Boy Smells Lanai Candle — $32.00

Fill your bathroom with the scents of coconut, pink peppercorn, orange blossom, coal, and clove to help wind down at the end of the day with the Boy Smells Lanai Candle.

Bathing Culture Teracotta Detox Scrubber — $20.00

Great for removing calluses and dry skin, Bathing Culture’s scrubber leaves your feet feeling baby soft.

Eir NYC Post Session Salts — $20.00

The Eir NYC Post Session Salts are infused with arnica to deeply sooth for aching, tender muscles. Bergamot and ginger help to soothe the mind leaving you relaxed all over.

Maude pH-Balanced Body Wash & Bubble Bath — $27.00

The Maude pH-Balanced Body Wash and Bubble Bath is fortified with omega fatty acids and vitamins B3, B5, C, and E to nourish your skin. Add this fragrance-free bubble bath to warm running water.

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