‘Shower Cocktailing’ Is The Answer To Every Common Body Care Concern

There’s a product recipe for everything.

by Elise Tabin
shower routine for every skin concern
The Body Issue
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Hot on the heels of “the everything shower,” the viral TikTok trend that incorporates every imaginable body product in one bathing session, comes the next new fad: shower cocktailing. The idea behind it is to amp up the basic daily ritual by implementing a concern-specific regimen to improve the look and feel of the skin from the neck down.

Different skin issues require special attention when it comes to what you use in the shower. Dr. Jeanine Downie, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in Montclair, New Jersey, says if you don't use the right body products, the skin will feel dry, itchy, and become easily inflamed post-bathing, leading to scratching that can cause marks and scars.

But choosing the right formulas is only half the equation. Water temperature and the length of your showers can also influence skin hydration, cleanliness, texture, and even acne and eczema. According to Dr. Brendan Camp, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, excessively long and hot showers can dry out the skin by removing too much oil, which is necessary to trap in moisture. But turning the handle too far the other way and showering in cold water may not soften the skin enough to effectively rinse away dirt, oil, and debris that settle on the body. Instead, a lukewarm temperature is the way to go. And if you want to go one step further and make sure you're only showering in purified water, swap your standard showerhead for a filtered one to sift out heavy metals, chlorine, and other impurities that can wreak havoc on your skin.

Ahead, TZR taps top dermatologists to unpack everything you need to know about creating a skin-specific “recipe” for the most common body concerns and what products to stockpile in your shower.

Body Breakouts

The skin below your neck isn't immune to breakouts, which happen for the same reasons on the body as they do on the face: inflammation, a buildup of dead skin and bacteria, dirt, and oil lodged within the hair follicle. They can be just as difficult to prevent and treat, too. Camp says these breakouts are frequent in the summer because sweat and oil clog pores and contribute to the formation of acne. Still, stress, heavy products, and hormonal fluctuations can also aggravate the progression of pimples.

Breakouts on the chest, shoulders, neck, and back can also result from shampoo and conditioner residue that lingers on the skin, forming a film and clogging the pores if not washed away thoroughly. As such, always wash your hair before your body. And if you work out regularly — and sweat while doing it — showering immediately afterward can help control acne, too.

It's important to stock your shower with effective anti-acne body washes that contain salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, tea tree oil, or retinol. Dr. Camp says that salicylic acid, a beta-hydroxy acid, penetrates pores and removes excess oil, while benzoyl peroxide has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and keratolytic properties that treat new and existing acne.

Dr. Corey Hartman, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist based in Birmingham, Alabama, says body washes are short-term therapy since they are applied and rinsed off quickly. So, if you want to get more out of them in terms of clearing up breakouts, let them sit on your skin for a few extra minutes. While washing with anti-acne cleansers can help mitigate breakouts, you don't have to use them head to toe. “Just wash the areas where breakouts persist with a cleanser formulated for acne and use a gentle hydrating wash everywhere else,” Downie adds.

Sulfur-based detox and clay masks are also practical for banishing breakouts, especially when the skin gets sweaty. While most clarifying treatments work for the face and body, you can double up their benefits by using them in the shower for their antibacterial and anti-fungal benefits. Just massage one onto areas with pimples, let it sit for a few minutes (while you shave your legs or do a hair mask), and then rinse it off.

Beyond cleansers and masks, exfoliators are essential to include in an anti-acne shower routine. “Exfoliators gently remove dead skin cells that might contribute to blocked pores and acne,” says Camp. But not all formulas are created equal. “Physical exfoliants act as abrasives to remove dead skin, while chemical exfoliants break apart the bonds of dead skin cells and facilitate their removal from the skin's surface.” No matter which one you choose, avoid over-exfoliation or exfoliating raw or irritated skin, which can exacerbate breakouts and lead to redness, burning, and stinging.

Preventing body breakouts continues post-shower. “Using a body toner on areas where acne appears may help remove additional oil and residue,” Camp says. Spot treatments can also be applied to zap away more resistant pimples.

Even though breakout-prone skin types may hesitate to use body creams and lotions, they are indispensable. Rather than slathering on thick creams, Camp says oil-free lotions are the way to go since they're less likely to contribute to pimples and are generally more appropriate for acne-prone skin.

Dry-As-Hell Skin

Dry skin transpires for numerous reasons, but according to Camp, the common denominator is insufficient oils. He says taking excessively long or hot showers (or baths) coupled with harsh soaps or cleansers can strip away the skin’s natural oil and lead to hard-to-combat dryness and even eczema flare-ups. So, for that reason alone, sensitive and dry skin types should follow the same shower routine.

Rather than using bar soap as a body wash, stick with fragrance-free, hydrating cleansers formulated with ingredients that reinstate moisture, like hyaluronic acid, ceramides, glycerin, and shea butter. Hartman says oil-based cleansers, which often contain ceramides or emollients, also benefit extremely dry skin. “When using any body wash on dry skin, the formula shouldn't contain preservatives, sulfates, or surfactants, which can strip away oil, which the skin, especially this type, needs.”

However, if you take more than one shower per day, Camp recommends skipping the second one or making it a “focused shower,” where you only apply cleanser to the underarms and groin area to preserve oil on the rest of the body. Overwashing dry skin will result in itchiness and a decreased barrier function, allowing bacteria to infiltrate the skin easily. Waterless body cleansers are another quick and easy option for refreshing the skin without depriving it of moisture. You’ll also want to keep exfoliation to a minimum — no more than once per week — to avoid disrupting the protective skin barrier.

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You can also layer a body conditioner onto wet skin in the shower, which protects it with a thin layer of oil. Then, once you step out of the shower, lock in moisture while the skin is still damp with a body lotion rich in ceramides, petrolatum, or glycerin, all of which are non-irritating.

Eczematous skin also falls under the dry skin category. “With eczema, the skin needs moisture, so incorporate super hydrating body washes without scents or many additives,” Downie says. “Skin prone to eczema flare-ups also reaps the benefits of ingredients such as colloidal oatmeal, which helps moisturize and calm inflammation.”

Bumpy Skin (Keratosis Pilaris)

Those annoying little goosebump-like bumps on the legs and the backs of the arms, which you may mistake as pimples, are keratosis pilaris (KP). “Keratosis pilaris is a form of dry skin in which keratin plugs accumulate within hair follicles and cause the appearance of pink, rough-textures bumps,” Camp says. While the root cause of KP is still undetermined, there may be a genetic component to it.

To combat “chicken skin,” Camp recommends using body washes with keratolytic agents, such as alpha hydroxy acids like lactic acid and glycolic acid, and beta-hydroxy acids like salicylic acid. These ingredients help break apart keratin plugs, making the skin feel softer and smoother.

After using an acid-based cleanser on bumpy areas, Hartman says to reach for a traditional scrub — nothing too abrasive — since cleanser alone will only do so much. Then, apply to damp skin an exfoliating moisturizer that contains the same keratolytic ingredients plus humectants for added moisture. Body lotions with retinol can also help speed up cell turnover to tame the look of inflamed, red bumps.

Skin that suffers from KP may be more irritated and susceptible to ingrown hairs from shaving, but if it’s your preferred hair removal method, you can still use your razor in the shower. It’s best to let the water soften the hair as much as possible before shaving and to use a sharp, single-blade razor to minimize the risk of ingrowns and bumps. Then, Downie says to rehydrate the skin with an oil before drying off.

Dull Skin

It's not just the skin on your face that can appear lackluster. The body is equally susceptible to dullness that needs a little zhuzhing.

To lift away dead skin cells, dry brush the body before getting in the shower, which revs up blood flow and helps regenerate the skin while giving a light exfoliation. Then, once you’re in the shower, apply an exfoliator rich in alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), which will help lift away dead cells and reveal fresh, bright skin underneath. A buildup of dead cells can cause light to reflect improperly and leave the skin lackluster and rough.

Redness and discoloration can appear alongside dullness anywhere on the body, especially on the chest, back, legs, and shoulders. The underarms are another area where these issues manifest themselves, which Camp says is likely due to irritation from shaving, dryness, or developing a reaction from an antiperspirant or deodorant product.

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Post-shower body care is equally as important to brighten skin. Camp says moisturizers that contain gentle exfoliants, such as lactic acid or urea, may help reduce the appearance of dark spots when used regularly over three months. “Of course, always protect discolored skin from the sun, which can exacerbate hyperpigmentation. Sun-protective clothing and sunscreens can help protect skin from the sun’s UV radiation.”

While Hartman isn’t dead set on the idea that an in-shower cleanser will do all that much for discoloration, he says polyhydroxy acids are OK. “Cleansers can be a player in the mix, but there are other ingredients, like tranexamic, mandelic, and hydroxy acids, that you'll need to use to eliminate discoloration.”