Medically reviewed by Mary Lucas, RN
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 2/13/2022
Women with sensitive skin, prone to acne and vulnerable to dryness have likely heard a common refrain from their armchair expert friends and family about how their shower time could be making things worse.
It’s such a common refrain in the skincare world that some people aren’t sure you should even shower daily — for bigger reasons than the possible harm it may cause to your face.
What’s the right kind of shower for your facial skin? Short or long? Warm water or cold water?
The truth is that the word on showers and their benefits/dangers for the skin on your face isn’t all that clear, and rather than take one opinion on the matter as “gospel,” you should instead consider your own skin needs and how showering may help or hinder you in getting your face what it needs to glow.
Perhaps the most important information in this discussion is the question of what showering does to your skin — and there are already some disagreements.
But the general consensus is that showering daily can do a few things to your skin and the skin of your face.
In a worst-case scenario, daily showering can contribute to skin problems such as dry skin, itching, cracking and over-controlling bacteria. Skin bacteria can be reduced by showering, which can sometimes be a good thing — but isn’t always.
While it may be surprising to hear this, bacteria are not all bad. In fact, there’s an important relationship between bacteria and your skin’s health.
Your skin does require some bacteria for its health. For instance, it’s important that your immune system receive regular contact with microorganisms to stay on its game.
Keeping your skin dirt- and bacteria-free doesn’t make you healthier, so much as it prevents your immune system from properly training its antibodies for future encounters.
Therefore, the tougher antibacterial soaps many people use in showering and hand scrubbing situations might kill off the important “should be here” bacteria. When this happens, you’re really just making space for more dangerous bacteria to set up shop.
And that’s a big concern for people who take hot showers excessively, because over time, that excessive showering can cause your skin to dry and crack, giving these more dangerous bacteria access to your body beneath the skin barrier.
That can lead to some major issues, infections and problems down the road.
As many cautions as we just threw at you, however, there are still plenty of reasons to take that advice with a grain of salt.
While you may have heard “experts” advising against washing your face during your shower routine, the reality is that there’s very little evidence to suggest any danger to your face in particular.
We weren’t able to find anything in the way of studies suggesting that washing your face in the shower could lead to increases in acne, wrinkles, dryness or skin conditions like rosacea or eczema.
What will cause your skin problems, however, is using the wrong products, many of which may be the ones in your shower.
For instance, according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD), avoiding alcohol and abrasive cleaners, as well as washcloths, sponges and mesh cleaning tools that can irritate your skin should be a top priority.
That means that a lot of the tools you typically use to wash your body (that may be sitting in your shower) aren’t good for the skin of your face.
And after a deep body scrub, you need to remember not to scrub hard on your face. Cleansers should be applied with your fingertips, and the cleanser you use should be washed away with the same gentleness.
And as the AAD points out, there’s the question of water temperature, which they recommend should be “lukewarm” for face washing. If you enjoy hot or cold showers, this is likely unwelcome news.
You’re probably asking: “What’s so bad about hot water? What about steam rooms and hot towels? What about my scalding shower water is so bad for my face?”
It turns out, there’s a lot about it that can be bad.
Research shows a correlation between excessively hot water and increased risk for irritation and inflammation of the skin on your face.
Far as we’re concerned, that doesn’t mean that a shower is bad for your face. It does, however, mean that your face-specific routine may be best staged outside of the shower, where you can control temperature, reduce the likelihood of injury due to water temperature fluctuations and generally do better work for your skin health.
You may be wondering about the benefits of steam, and whether they counteract the irritation risk.
Steam and hot water can provide many benefits for your skin — and the things in your skin.
One of the best examples is what steam does to oily skin and acne: it can loosen and soften buildup, and make things like blackheads and other solid blemishes easier to remove from your pores.
Steaming your skin can also apply additional benefits for things like serums and moisturizers later. By opening up your pores and making your skin more permeable, topical products can often be better accepted by your skin.
And despite what you may have heard elsewhere, steam is actually beneficial to your relative skin moisture levels. It can help you not only add water to your individual skin cells, but can make subsequent products like moisturizers and serums more effective, too.
Last and perhaps most important: steam is good at increasing blood flow in the blood vessels in your skin, which can lead indirectly to increased collagen production, eventually causing your skin to look plump and firm.
All that said, it’s recommended that you use a hot towel or bowl rather than a shower, which allows you more control over the time and level of contact water has with your face, and also lets you tweak the temperature.
These things are important for people with issues like rosacea and redness, as well as people who suffer from broken capillaries.
Women with sensitive skin types should also be cautious, as steaming can aggravate inflammatory conditions (which means people with eczema should also be wary).
So, the shower is out, and we’re in agreement on that. Where do you wash your face, then? Where, when and why?
You should be washing your face twice a day, plus an extra time if you get sweaty, as you might after exercise or some time in the heat.
Generally, washing once in the morning and once at night is perfect. So long as you’re getting one in early and another in late, you’re probably doing fine.
From what we can tell, you have the green light to make one of those washes immediately after a shower — the lukewarm water and a non-abrasive, non-alcoholic cleanser are the gentle combination you’ll need.
Just remember to be a little more gentle than you were with, say, your back, legs or feet.
By the way, this is also the best time for you to apply a moisturizer.
According to the AAD, hot showers (especially those long ones) can dry out your skin, and for people with psoriasis and other skin issues, they can exacerbate existing problems.
After your post-shower face wash is the best time to replenish the lost moisture and protect yourself for the day ahead (which is a great reason to consider a moisturizing serum).
Washing your face in the shower can benefit certain people greatly when done in moderation, and others may see no negative outcomes. Everyone’s skin is different, and hot water and cold water provide different benefits.
The bigger picture is about your own unique situation.
All of the above advice is assuming, of course, that your shower is generally safe, and that your water is free of chemicals that, while not necessarily “dangerous,” can have negative effects on your skin over time. These include chlorine, fluoride, heavy metals, salts, pesticides and other chemicals.
What should your cleansing routine look like? Well, it should look like more than a shower.
Skin experts agree that a gentle cleanser can help give you healthier skin, as can moisturizers and exfoliants. Hyaluronic acid is a product that can help your skin retain moisture well beyond what steam may add to the tune of about 1,000 times its own weight.
If you’re not seeing results from shower water, skin care experts suggest retinoids — including the prescription-strength tretinoin — may help you clear away dead cells and oil while also promoting collagen production.
That’s just a brief overview. While you may be energized to hop in the shower or head to the skincare aisle, the best thing you can do for your skin is discuss your concerns with a healthcare provider.
They’ll be able to shower you in wisdom not just about skincare in general, but about your own unique skin needs.