Rinse, cleanse, rinse, repeat. Sounds pretty foolproof, right? Among all of the skin care treatments, products, and trends that exist, taking a shower might seem straight-forward in comparison. But much like how hand-washing tutorials went viral at the start of the pandemic, there is a right (and wrong) way to carry out your everyday shower routine. At its core, the correct way of showering prioritizes your skin’s health. It’s methodical and takes into account things like water temperature and the order of each step. It also considers the right cleanser, exfoliant, and lotion ingredients for your specific skin type.
The above factors are why many experts agree that your skin care routine starts in the shower. It makes sense: how you treat your skin in the shower sets the canvas for what will follow. For instance, if your skin becomes dried out in the shower (either via scalding hot water or an excess of harsh products), it’ll require different ingredients to treat it. On the flip side, if you’re not using the right products or ordering your steps correctly, your skin may not be reaching its maximum potential. Ahead, TZR tapped dermatologists to find out all of the bad bathing habits they see, along with the proper way to care for your skin in the shower.
The water temperature you choose for your shower makes a difference in both the health of your skin as well as how clean it gets. A hot shower can feel cozy on a cold winter day, but the truth is, it can be detrimental to your skin. As Dr. Geeta Yadav, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Facet Dermatology explains, hot water can “strip your skin of its natural oils and disrupt the barrier, leaving skin susceptible to dryness and irritation.” This dryness can get amplified if environmental conditions are also working against you (that is, moisture-sucking air and prolonged use of indoor heaters during the colder seasons). Not to mention, hot showers can shorten the lifespan of a spray tan if you’ve got one, and can exacerbate eczema flare-ups if you’re prone to them.
However, showering with water that’s too cold also has its downsides — mainly, it won't effectively remove dirt, oil, and grime from the skin's surface, says Dr. Yadav. “Cold water can also lead to a poor shaving experience, as the hair may not soften up enough to yield a smooth shave,” she notes.
Lukewarm water for your shower is the sweet spot. “A good rule of thumb is if you wouldn't want to bathe a baby in it, then the water is either too hot or too cold,” says Dr. Yadav, who says about 100°F is just right.
Correct Order Of Applying Products
While there’s little research discussing the correct order of washing your hair, face, and body in the shower, board-certified dermatologist Dr. Purvisha Patel recommends cleansing from top to bottom, beginning at the scalp. Your hair contains product buildup, dirt, and oil, all of which can clog pores and lead to acne on your face and body if not cleansed first. “If you have particularly oily hair, the oils can make their way down to your face and cause pimples,” says Dr. Patel.
Dr. Yadav adds to this point, noting that she’s “seen patients with body acne caused by ingredients in their shampoo or conditioner, whether due to comedogenicity or just failure to effectively wash away the product buildup.” To play it safe, the best practice is to cleanse your hair first, and then your body — this will ensure there’s no leftover dirt or oil from your hair (or film from your shampoo and conditioner) sitting on your skin.
Ingredients To Look For In Your Shower Products
Just like ingredients in your face cream and serum are important, the ingredients you choose for your in-shower products can help boost your skin. Aside from seeking out formulas that won’t be overly harsh or stripping, it’s important to consider your skin type when it comes to choosing cleansers and exfoliants. Board-certified dermatologist and Monat affiliate Dr. Lian Mack recommends seeking out moisturizing ingredients for your body cleanser, especially if you suffer from dryness. “Glycerin, hyaluronic acid, squalene, and niacinamide are all good options,” she says. If you’re acne-prone, Dr. Mack says to avoid body cleansers with oils in them, as “the additional oil from the cleanser may exacerbate clogged pores and worsen acne.”
For those whose skin skews oily, Dr. Patel says to use an exfoliating cleanser that contains alpha hydroxy acids. “These types of cleansers are perfect for cleansing the oil glands on your skin, which can help to decrease oil production and ultimately lead to less acne,” she says. If you do choose to use an exfoliating cleanser, Dr. Mack says to limit it to two to three times a week to avoid irritation.
Between washing your body, face, and hair (and doing it all in the right order), where does shaving fit into the program? Dr. Yadav recommends shaving towards the end of your shower routine, as “the water works to soften up the hairs and waiting longer will result in a smoother shave.” For the best shave possible (and to reduce the risk of ingrown hairs), make sure you’ve washed and exfoliated your body prior to shaving — this will get rid of that barrier of dirt, grime, and dead skin cells that your razor would have to otherwise fight through.
Also, make sure you’re using “a new disposable, one-blade razor every time you shave to minimize bacteria on the blade and to avoid injury to the skin,” says Dr. Mack, who says that a dull razor is more likely to lead to nicks and cuts. Finally, always use a lubricant (either shaving cream or a rich body wash will suffice) while shaving, and make sure you’re shaving in the direction of hair growth.
What you do to your skin post-shower is just as important as your in-shower routine. For one, instead of aggressively towel-drying your skin, try patting it to the point of dampness. “This will help to lock in the water from the shower when moisturizer is applied, which will keep your skin more hydrated and less irritated,” Dr. Yadav tells TZR.
When it comes to what you put on your skin, focus on quality ingredients that cater to your skin type (versus piling on every oil, cream, and lotion you can find). “You’ll want to use something that will support your skin barrier with nourishment and hydration,” says Dr. Yadav, who says that ceramides and hyaluronic acid are foundational ingredients to look for. “If you're applying your products in the AM, I'd encourage you to use a body lotion infused with SPF to protect skin, while an evening body care routine could include active ingredients like AHAs or retinol to help rejuvenate skin.”
Here are some products that’ll help elevate your in- and post-shower routine.