Health

11 Gross Things That Happen When You Don't Shower

That tub is looking pretty good rn.

This is what happens if you don't shower for too many days in a row.
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Once you get to day three or four post-shower, the cleanliness questions may start to arise. You might, for example, find yourself staring in the mirror and wondering how long is too long to go without a bath. But there’s more to bathing than just freshening up, and knowing what happens when you don’t shower may convince you to wash on the regular.

Not too regular, though — in general, experts recommend you shower every two or three days. “The idea of needing to shower daily to maintain personal hygiene is more of a social norm and habit,” says dermatologist Dr. Elizabeth Bahar Houshmand, M.D. “Regularly taking excessively long showers or baths can strip away natural oils from your skin’s barrier. This can cause dryness and irritation.”

That said, you can shower more often if there’s something about your lifestyle that requires a daily wash, says family and emergency medicine doctor Dr. Janette Nesheiwat, M.D. “If you are someone who sweats a lot, has a history of bacterial infections, works out daily, or works in a high-risk environment [such as a school teacher or healthcare provider] then it’s best to shower daily to prevent infection and to prevent the spread of infection," she tells Bustle.

Once you figure out a showering routine that works for you, you should be good to go. But if not showering for a week has left you with some suspicious changes, experts have shared the potential side effects you may experience, below.

1. Sweat And Bacteria Will Mix

While sweat itself doesn't have an odor, it can mix with the natural bacteria on your skin and start to cause B.O. if you don't hop into the shower. There are two different types of sweat glands that can lead to various aromas: the eccrine glands and the apocrine glands. The eccrine glands are found all over the body and open directly onto the surface of the skin, while the apocrine glands are found in areas near hair follicles, like your armpits and groin.

The eccrine glands secrete sweat, which helps you cool off. And the apocrine glands secrete a different fluid when you're under stress. Once either combines with the bacteria on the skin, you can get body odor — like that of the extra-pungent stress sweat, says Nesheiwat. "Body odor is in part from the bacteria producing gas," she says, and it can get worse the longer you avoid the shower.

2. Acne Can Crop Up

While there are many different causes of acne, some folks may notice that skipping out on a shower can make a breakout worse. This is especially true if you fall asleep before cleansing your skin and snooze with the dirt, oils, and makeup that accumulated throughout the day.

"Dirty skin on the face can result in clogged, large pores, blackheads, [and] acne," says Nesheiwat. So even if you're really tired, you should at the very least try to cleanse your skin and then take your usual shower the following day. The causes and types of acne vary from person to person, so if you're unsure what to do, don't hesitate to ask a dermatologist.

3. Dead Skin Can Build Up

You shed millions of skin cells every hour. And without regular cleaning, some of that dead skin can build up on the surface of your skin. The end result? Skin irritation, says Dr. Aishah Muhammad, M.D., pediatrician and personal trainer. “Dead skin and grease naturally gather on the top layer of skin,” she said in a previous interview. “By not washing, this buildup can leave your skin feeling itchy and dry.”

4. You May Have Other Skin Irritation

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Acne isn’t the only consequence of not washing your face enough. Other skin irritation may be what happens if you don’t shower, says Houshmand, like dryness or red, inflamed patches that you don’t usually experience. This can likewise be the result of dirt or dead skin cells that accumulate on your skin over time.

5. Germs Can Take Over

Right now, there are millions upon millions of bacteria crawling all over your body. And yes, they're there even if you've showered. But that's not necessarily a bad thing.

As Nesheiwat says, "We all have good bacteria that lives on our skin. But if you don’t help out the good bacteria by washing and exfoliating, dead skin cells accumulate, creating a medium for bacterial or fungal overgrowth, infection, and inability to fight the bad bacteria and fungus we encounter."

6. Fungal Infections Become More Likely

If your skin is unable to prevent or fight bad bacteria and fungi, an infection can happen. "Our skin is our defense to the environmental toxins and debris we encounter on a daily basis," Nesheiwat says. "If not cared for properly by washing, then we allow the opportunity for a fungal infection, [like] ringworm from the floor mat of the gym, or a bacterial infection [such as] staph you may have picked up on the subway,” she tells Bustle.

Taking a shower after coming into contact with surfaces like these can help keep you healthy and hopefully stave off various infections. "Bugs, bacteria, and parasites like to hide under the nails, in the groin, behind the ears, or armpits," Nesheiwat adds. "It’s important to wash these areas routinely."

7. You Could Get Sick

That bad bacteria doesn’t just impact your skin — it can also cause illness if germs that aren’t washed away make their way into your body via your eyes, mouth, or nose. “By not washing, you are more likely to have a number of different bugs on your hands and face,” Muhammad said in a previous interview. “This puts you at risk of developing a cold or infection as bugs may be present and can leave your body fighting off their effects.”

8. Patches Can Form On The Skin

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If it's been a minute since your last rinse, you might start to notice brown patches on the skin that arise when oils, dirt, and sweat accumulate, says Houshmand. This condition is called dermatitis neglecta, which literally means "neglecting the skin." She says this usually only occurs in extreme cases, like if you go without a shower for weeks or months at a time. Nonetheless, it can be what happens when you don’t shower.

9. Skin Conditions Can Get Worse

In addition to causing new skin problems to pop up, not showering can also lead to flare-ups of existing conditions like atopic dermatitis, better known as eczema, says Houshmand. Eczema makes your skin red and itchy and can also impact your skin's barrier, putting you at risk for further irritation. Regular cleansing may help you avoid some of these complications. “Bathing and skin care products are a critical component of treatment and avoiding flares,” she tells Bustle. “One of the best ways to find relief is to reintroduce moisture into the skin through proper bath or shower and moisturizing immediately afterward.”

10. Your Hair Can Get Oilier Than You Think

Many people get oily hair a few days after shampooing, which can either make your stands shiny and hydrated or utterly difficult to manage, depending on your hair type. It'll be up to you to figure out how often to shampoo, but do keep in mind that not washing hair regularly could allow for product and grease to build up and cause scalp irritation and odor, says Nesheiwat.

11. You Can Get A Scalp Rash

Scalp buildup isn’t the only side effect of not washing your hair enough — sometimes skipping the shampoo for too long can lead to a condition called seborrheic dermatitis, says Houshmand. This can cause red, scaly patches, swelling, and flakiness. While washing your hair every single day isn’t necessarily what’s best for your skin or tresses, keeping a regular shampooing schedule can help prevent this irritating rash.

Studies referenced:

Byrd, A. (2018). The human skin microbiome. Nature Reviews Microbiology, https://www.nature.com/articles/nrmicro.2017.157

Mathur, P. (2011). Hand hygiene: Back to the basics of infection control. Indian Journal of Medical Research, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3249958/

McManus, L and Mitchell, D. (2014). Pathobiology of Human Disease. https://www.sciencedirect.com/referencework/9780123864574/pathobiology-of-human-disease

Mogilnicka, I. (2020). Microbiota and Malodor — Etiology and Management. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7215946/

Nguyen, A. (2019). The Dynamics of the Skin’s Immune System. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6515324/

Saha, A. (2015). Dermatitis Neglecta — A Dirty Dermatosis: Report of Three Cases. Indian Journal of Dermatology, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4372914/

Stulberg, D. (2002). Common Bacterial Skin Infections. Americal Family Physician, https://www.aafp.org/afp/2002/0701/p119.html

Toney-Butler, T. (2021). Hand Hygeine. StatPearls, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470254/

Experts:

Dr. Elizabeth Bahar Houshmand, M.D., a double board-certified dermatologist

Dr. Aishah Muhammad, M.D., pediatrician and personal trainer

Dr. Janette Nesheiwat, M.D., a family and emergency medicine doctor

This article was originally published on Feb. 26, 2016

This article was originally published on