Be honest. How long do you stay in the shower? While you may indulge in a few extra minutes under the steam, is taking long showers bad for you? If you say under the water for a while, and really crank up the heat, you might leave the bathroom feeling all sorts of calm of relaxed. Or, you might leave feeling dizzy, itchy, and dried out. It all depends on the state of your health, as well as any skin conditions you might have. But either way, there's no denying your shower habits can impact your health.
Before we get into all the positives and negatives, let's take a second and talk about ideal showering habits. "Generally speaking the ideal shower is a warm, five to ten minute shower," Dr. David Greuner, surgical director of NYC Surgical Associates, tells Bustle. This is the perfect amount of time to get clean, wake up, and leave all your beneficial skin oils in tact.
But there are benefits to the occasional hot and cold showers, of varying lengths, too. "Both hot and cold showers have their benefits and can be effective when done in moderation," Greuner says. "If you’re sick or have some achy or tight muscles, five minutes of a hot shower will help relieve your symptoms."
Here are a few more surprising ways long showers can affect your health, for better or for worse.
1Hot Showers Might Lead To "Winter Itch"
While hot showers may feel great, making them a part of your daily routine can dry out your skin — especially in the winter months. "The effect of prolonged exposure to steaming water on the skin can leave your skin dry, cracked, and irritated. And inflamed skin may itch," Dr. David Lortscher, a board-certified dermatologist, and CEO and founder of Curology, tells Bustle. "In a dermatology office, we often see this 'winter itch' in our patients [when the weather is cold.]" So turn down that temp a bit, and keep your showers shorter.
2Prolonged Showers Can Strip Away Your Skin's Natural Barrier
"Standing in the shower for a long time may feel good ... but it isn’t good for your skin because it can disrupt the normal skin barrier," Heidi Waldorf, MD, of Waldorf Dermatology Aesthetics, tells Bustle. "The skin barrier is important because it keeps irritants out and reduces symptoms of itching, dryness, burning, and discomfort."
Here's why it happens. "The time in the water strips the natural proteins and lipids that make up the brick and mortar ‘wall’ of ... the outer barrier, of the skin," Waldorf says. "Using soap instead of a replenishing cleanser [or] body wash, aggravates the situation. It’s generally good to avoid extreme temperatures which can aggravate it further."
3Super Hot Showers Can Lead To Infections
When your skin's natural barrier is disrupted during a long shower, the resulting dryness can lead to microscopic breaks in your skin, which can "increase the exposure to infections, chemicals, and allergens," Dr. Arielle Kauvar, a NYC-based dermatologist, tells Bustle. "Shorter, cooler, less frequent showers are better for skin, especially in the winter when cold weather reduces humidity levels. Moisturize immediately after bathing and [pat your skin] dry to seal in skin moisture."
5Long, Hot Showers Can Make You Dizzy
Ever stand in the shower so long you start to feel dizzy? Or maybe you get a bit lightheaded once you step out? "In regards to blood pressure, hot showers can lower your blood pressure because the heat dilates peripheral blood vessels, which can make you feel lightheaded or dizzy in the shower," says Greuner. "If you have a heart condition or blood pressure issues this is something you should speak with your doctor about."
6Long Showers Can Make Skin Redness Worse
Another side effect of blood vessels dilating is skin redness. "Hot showers/baths cause vasodilation, or enlargement of the capillaries (tiny blood vessels near the surface of your skin)," says Lortscher. "When you have inflamed active acne lesions or post-acne inflammatory [redness], capillaries are already more dilated in these areas. Heat causes further dilation, making these areas appear even more red than your surrounding skin."
That's why, if you struggle with redness, a cooler, shorter shower may be best. "For those with rosacea, who have a tendency to facial redness, dilated blood vessels, and acne-type bumps, reducing factors that cause facial flushing is key — that includes hot showers and baths," he says.
7Warm Showers Can Make It Easier To Fall Asleep
On a good note, long, hot showers can make it easier to fall asleep at night. "Your body temperature falls when you go to sleep," sleep expert Dr. Sujay Kansagra, of Duke University, tells Bustle. "Taking a hot nighttime shower just before bed artificially raises your temperature. The sudden drop in temperature after the shower may help you get to sleep faster."
8Long Showers Can Soothe Your Aching Muscles
You might think a bath is the only way to truly relax sore muscles. But hot showers can do the trick, too. "There are benefits to taking a hot shower such as easing muscle tension, as well as having a calming effect that relaxes you and relieves stress," says Greuner.
9Hot Water Can Make You Feel Better When You're Sick
The next time you have a cold, stand in the shower for a while for a little relief. "Hot showers are ... great when you’re sick to help moisturize the nasal passages and help decongest you," says Greuner. It's all thanks to the steam, which finds its way up your nose, and helps you breathe easy.
10An Evening Shower Can Help Ease Stress
Long showers are the perfect stress-reducing activity. As Kansagra tells Bustle, taking one in the evening can help relax the body and the mind, "leaving you in the perfect mindset before heading off bed." Bonus points if you turn down the lights and include a few drops of lavender aromatherapy oil to the mix.
11Long, Cold Showers Can Make You More Alert
While it may sound like the worst idea ever, there are benefits to taking long, cold showers, too. "Cold showers can help increase alertness, improve circulation, and speed up muscle recovery," Greuner says. So if you're ever struggling to wake up, or can't keep your eyes open while studying, popping into a cool shower might just do the trick.
While taking a long shower may be a mixed bag health-wise, be aware of your health needs and plan your shower times accordingly.