Obviously, we shower to keep our skin blemish-free. But what if your shower time ritual was actually causing breakouts? It turns out that certain bad habits in the shower can contribute to acne—or backne, or buttne—in ways that you’d never expect. Weren’t expecting that one, right?
Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you to stop showering. (Although this writer did, and it was surprisingly not terrible.) Instead, I tapped a couple of dermatologists to pinpoint exactly where this paradoxical and seriously annoying dilemma comes from—plus how to avoid it.
Read on to learn 6 ways your shower habits could be causing your breakouts.
1. The water’s too hot or too cold
To get the right temperature for clear skin, you have to play Goldilocks. “Cold water tightens the skin’s pores, which doesn’t allow the natural secretion of sebum and acne-causing bacteria,” says Neil Sadick, MD, of Sadick Dermatology. “Whereas hot water opens pores and stimulates excess sebum production that leaves it prone to further irritation.” He claims the best strategy is to use lukewarm water in the shower.
2. You shower too frequently
Hate to break it to you workout junkies, but more than one shower per day can irritate your skin, according to Dr. Sadick. Choose yours based on what you’re facing that day: “In the morning to remove byproducts the body has naturally eliminated overnight; before bed to remove pollutants; or after workouts to remove perspiration,” he says. And know that if you skip the workout shower, there are lots of other genius ways to freshen up that fitness instructors swear by.
3. Your shampoo and conditioner are to blame
Your hair products could be effing up your skin. “Shampoos, especially those containing sulfates, can trigger back acne as they are rinsed away,” says Dr. Sadick. “Choose sulfate-free and preferably organic products.” And to help lock in moisture, a lot of traditional conditioners will use quats (like Polyquaternium 10), which bind to your hair as you go about your day, but they can also cling to your skin and clog your pores in the process.
4. You’re washing up in the wrong order
I don’t know about you, but I tend to rinse out my conditioner at the very end of my shower, but this can lead to breakouts on your neck, shoulders, and back. And even natural products could potentially lead to breakouts as they’re rinsed out of your hair and down your back, says Terrence Keaney, MD, a Washington, D.C.-based Dove Men+Care expert dermatologist. The best way to avoid that? “Shampoo and condition first, then wash your body afterwards. This gets rid of any residual conditioner that wound up on your back,” says Dr. Keaney. Brilliant!
5. You over-exfoliate
Of course, you exfoliate to get rid of dead skin cells and help prevent zits, but it’s a lesser-known fact that overdoing it can have the opposite effect. “Overzealous scrubbing with exfoliants, body brushes, or loofahs can cause significant skin irritation and lead to breakouts,” warns Dr. Sadick. “Less is more with exfoliating,” echoes Dr. Keaney. “If you’re over-aggressive with exfoliating, it can cause redness and dryness which is not good for the skin.” Post-shower, always make sure to rehydrate skin with a non-comedogenic moisturizer.
6. You’ve got hard water
I’ve heard rumors that Cameron Diaz only washes her face with Evian, and it made sense for the first time when Dr. Sadick said tap water’s not always conducive to clear skin. “Water coming from the tap is hard in most areas, full of heavy metals that impede proper rinsing of cleansers,” he says, noting that a filter could be a good idea. “They can’t eliminate all heavy metals, but they may help prevent acne.” Check out the filter that two holistic skin pros recommend, and prepare for glowier days ahead.
Originally posted September 9, 2016, updated August 26, 2018.
If you’re already battling a breakout, we’ve got you covered—here’s everything you need to know about clearing up your skin the natural way. You could also try this Kate Bosworth-approved trick or spring for monthly facials like this writer did.
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