Shower vs. tub: Which is better for dry skin?

Dr. Janet Zand

February 3, 2023

Some experts say that for dry winter skin, you should shower, not bathe.

After all, a shower exposes your body to less water than a bath. And that’s good, because too much water can strip your skin of its natural oils, leading to irritation and dryness.

However, other experts say a bath is better. In a bath, you can add ingredients or products that replenish your skin’s moisture barrier. Plus, your skin has a chance to really absorb those moisturizing ingredients, since you soak in them for a while.

So which is it — shower or bath?

Well, as it turns out, it all depends on your skin...

When you should shower

If your skin feels fine or maybe just a little drier than usual, a shower is the way to go. However, only if you shower the right way!

For instance, make sure to use lukewarm water, not hot, and keep showers short. That way, you won’t strip your skin’s natural oils.

Also, some people are surprised to learn that you should only use soap where you really need it, not all over your body. Why? Well, soap is designed to remove oils from the skin, so it’s drying. That’s why you should only use it on armpits, feet, and other potentially smelly places — and skip your chest, back, legs, arms.

Finally, once you’re out of the shower, moisturize your skin immediately to lock in the water your skin absorbed in the shower. Look for moisturizers with ceramides and hyaluronic acid. Avoid moisturizers with perfume or added fragrances, which can trigger allergic reactions.

A word of caution: Some people like using a moisturizing body wash in the shower instead of moisturizing afterward. That works great for dry skin, however, be aware that in-shower moisturizers will also make your shower or tub slippery.

Rather than risking a slip or a fall, I suggest sticking to an after-shower moisturizer.

Okay, so if showers are good for normal-to-dry skin, then when is a bath better?

When you should soak

If your skin is feeling itchy and parched, or if you have a skin condition like dermatitis or eczema, consider soaking in a tub.

A soak in a lukewarm bath helps the skin absorb more moisture from the water. However, as with showers, keep your baths short! The National Eczema Association recommends limiting baths to 10 to 15 minutes. They also recommend adding colloidal (finely ground) oatmeal, salt, or vinegar to the bath to ease itching.

Another ingredient I like for baths is chamomile, an anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant. It’s often used in Europe, where women put in a cheesecloth and add it to the tub.

Finally, after your bath, moisturize immediately to lock in the water and beneficial ingredients.

So... as it turns out, there is no one answer to showers versus baths. The best way to decide between the two is to assess your current skin condition. Does it feel fine, or maybe just slightly dry? Take a shower. Is it itchy and irritated? Take a bath.

And of course, with either option, moisturize, moisturize, moisturize! It’s the best way to keep your skin happy and healthy this winter.

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