The Effects of Showering Too Often, Too Hot and Too Long

The title of this article is about something that anyone with teenage children will certainly recognize—that while you cannot get pre-teens to go into the shower, you cannot get teenagers out of the shower. For quite a while, there were three teenagers in the Wiechers household with only one shower (come on folks, it is a European house!). I was awoken every morning by one of my children who thought (s)he was the Netherlands’s next "Idol." After this cruel awakening and the realization that they were not even a mere 5% of Susan Boyle, I grudgingly arose to tell them that their showering is too often, too hot and too long.

Rather than taking the quick 3-min, 19-sec second shower like most people, they were taking what I refer to as the "I don’t care if my brother or sister is waiting for me" shower. These showers do not just occur in the morning, but also in the afternoon after school as well. They even occur in the evening, this time for the relaxing and stress-releasing properties of dihydrogenmonooxide at elevated temperatures.

Our shower is programmed as such so that the water can only rise above body temperature if the user pushes a certain lever to allow the temperature to elevate to dangerously hot levels. Every time I am in the shower, I find that the previous user has been steam-stripping his or her skin; and it's not only their skin, I almost need to replace the tiles in the bathroom because even the mortar is steamed off. Just as the mortar is steamed off of the tiles, these teenagers are stripping their natural moisturizing factor (NMF) away from their skins.

The advent of confocal Raman microspectroscopy has enabled scientists to report that the skin's levels of NMF diminish towards the skin surface. NMF is a complex mixture of amino acids, lactate and ions that are all water-soluble and easily extracted from the skin by water when an individual swims or takes a shower. I recall an article in which the skin of long-distance swimmers was reported to not be badly affected by their activity; however, this article cannot be found. It possibly was presented at the International Society for Biophysics and Imaging of the Skin (ISBS) Conference held on Oct. 28-30, 2004, in Orlando, Fla., USA, immediately after the IFSCC Congress but the event abstracts only revealed an article stating the opposite: “The results suggest that recreational swimming can induce significant modifications in some skin biophysical properties related to skin hydration.” This abstract, "Variations of skin biophysical properties after recreational swimming," was published this month as a full paper in Skin Research and Technology.

In this article, Sophie Gardinier et al. describe a study where skin hydration, skin pH, transepidermal water loss (TEWL), skin temperature and sebum casual levels were measured at 0, 4, 24, 48 and 72 hr after the start of the study. The study was repeated a second time but after the subjects had been swimming for 1 hr between the first and second measuring point. During the control period, none of the skin parameters showed any significant variation over time on all body sites that were measured. In contrast, during the swimming period, significant changes were found 1.5 hr after swimming for skin pH (increased) and sebum casual levels (reduced on upper chest but not on the forehead), while TEWL and skin temperature remained unaffected. From the next measuring point (t = 24 hr) onwards, all changes had disappeared.

But how does this scientific backing help a parent in a "shower battle” with their teenagers? First of all, these teenagers argue that their shower water is not chlorinated (true), to which I argue that the water in our city is hard, which increases the irritancy effects of water. My daughter is doing competitive synchronized swimming, (currently her team is in third place in all the Netherlands) and she swims 7–14 hr per week. Each swim is followed by extensive showering and indeed, her whole team is suffering from dry skin.

The point of this article is not my family's shower habits but rather the consequences of excessive showering. Extracting too much NMF leads to damage in barrier function. When the barrier function is damaged, skin penetration of topical skin care products increases, from cleansing liquids to ever-so-mildly-formulated cosmetic products.

The personal care industry is often blamed by consumers for the irritancy reactions caused by topical products. However, the same consumers would not have these irritancy complaints if they did not shower too often, too hot and too long. The question then is: How does the personal care industry explain to consumers that water dries them out when we cannot even convince our own teenage children ?

If anyone knows the answer to do this question, please let me know. It will save me money (water utility bill), it will save my children’s NMF, it will reduce skin irritancy for consumers and reduce product complaints for the personal care industry. The effect of excessive showering is definitely a hot issue that the personal care industry may have left alone too often for too long.

Johann W. Wiechers, PhD
Independent Consultant for Cosmetic Science, JW Solutions
Scientific Advisor, Cosmetics & Toiletries magazine 
Gasthuispolderweg 30 2807 LL Gouda, The Netherlands
[email protected]

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