A General Guide to Cleansing and Caring for Your Body Post-Shower

Over the past few weeks, I have been testing some new ideas when it comes to body skincare. For most of us who love skincare, we invest oodles of money into our faces. From fancy washes to serums to exfoliators to creams, we carefully read every ingredient, study the texture of each serum, and examine our faces way too closely in the mirror each morning, looking for overnight improvements.

But most of us are not nearly as discerning about our body care. Sure, we might purchase the slightly more expensive body wash in cleanser aisle at Target or splurge on a fancy body butter from time to time, but for the most part, when it comes to our bodies, we don’t really care as much. We frequently abuse our body’s skin with hot showers we refuse to give up, soap it down with a fluffy loofah, towel off, and go on about our day.

In short, we don’t invest much time nor effort in the skin of our bodies until it itches, flakes, peels, scars, or bruises. Then we slather on some expensive miracle cream and hope it gets better overnight before we forget about it all over again.

Fortunately, caring for the body to achieve the best skin of your life is pretty easy, but it does require some sacrifices and changes be made, most of which begin right in the shower.


Stop Taking Hot Showers

I can hear the screaming now. I know, hot showers objectively feel great. They’re soothing and for many of us, a time to unwind and relax. Over the past month, I have transitioned the shower handle from as high as it will go, practically cooking me, to a bit more middling. I do not take cool showers or even lukewarm showers by any means, but I don’t take ones that leave me red anymore, either.

The reason for this is that hot showers strip the skin’s natural lipids much easier and quicker than cooler water and they make any cleansers that are used much more stripping by shrinking the size of the micelles produced by your cleanser, which allows for deeper penetration into the skin. This produces inflammation and dryness.

This is probably the toughest transition of them all, and I know, I know – you can pry my hot showers from my cold, dead hands. I get it. Thankfully, when you start to take cooler showers and begin taking care of your skin, hot showers feel hotter and a bit more unpleasant – almost like a burn. I don’t know why this is necessarily (perhaps a thinner layer of protective dead skin cells), but it has made the transition much easier for me.

Bonus: My hair is softer and my rosacea is less angry, too.


Put Down the Soap

The earliest recorded use of soap dates back to 2800 BC, in ancient Babylon. By the late 18th century, European and American companies began to promote the connection between cleanliness and health. As the use of soap became common and hygeine improved, the population of pathogenic microorganisms shrunk.

By 2018, most of us wash our clothes frequently, sleep in (relatively) clean sheets, wash our hands after using the bathroom (I hope), and have access to showering or bathing in clean water. Most people also do not interact with harsh chemicals or use products like bug spray often.

Because of the general cleanliness of most people’s lives and homes, it is unnecessary to use soap on your body with such high frequency. Our bodies have much fewer sebaceous glands (oil glands) than our faces or scalp and sweat is largely water-soluable (washes with water). As such, most of us do not need to use soap on our bodies (sans genital regions) every day.

I first began to explore this when I was watching one of Dr Dray’s vlogs where she admits to not using soap on her body and rants that the use of soap these days is largely beneficial to padding the pockets of companies that manufacture the products, such as Unilever or Bath and Body Works. Intrigued, I decided to nix soap (except for soaping my bottom, of course) and see what would happen.

In fact, I’ve used soap twice over my entire body in one month and both times were to remove sunscreen or other chemicals, like when I sprayed fungicide all over my tomato plants and the wind blew it back onto my body (ew). I do not smell any different (according to myself as well as people who are around me every day) nor do I feel any less clean than I did when I was using soap at each shower.

So the rule of thumb here: Soap is only needed for removing chemicals – such as bug sprays, sunscreens, or chemicals you may interact with at work (if you get them on your body) – or if you have a condition that requires cleansing, such as folliculitis or athlete’s foot.


When You Do Soap…

… use gentler soaps. Sodium lauryl sulfate is the enemy of healthy skin, particularly if you take hot showers, as it is one of the smaller molecular weight surfactants that can produce micelles that can penetrate the stratum corneum of the skin. Bar soaps (except for Dove body bars, which are synthetic soaps and not what is called “true soaps”) should also be ditched due to their high pH values that strip the skin and make it more difficult for the skin to readjust to it’s natural pH after showering.

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Some of the products in my shower

I picked up a bottle of CeraVe Hydrating Body Cleanser to experiment with, and it does indeed feel much less stripping than my usual liquid Dove and Olay. It is also not scented, which… while scented body products are nice, the scents don’t usually linger long after they’ve been washed away and the fragrance only serves to further irritate dried out skin.

If you can find a sulfate-free and fragrance-free body wash, this is ideal for use during the few times you need to use soap. Most health food stores contain such products.


Moisturize Immediately After Showering

You know those clickbait titles like, “The one simple trick that changed my skin forever,” usually followed by, “Doctor’s hate her”? This is my one simple trick that changed my skin forever.

Ever since I was a child, I’ve heard from every dermatologist (and allergist, surprisingly) that I’ve visited that I should be applying moisturizer directly out of the shower, onto wet skin. The reasoning for this is that water removes water, so when you towel off after a shower, that water ontop of your skin takes water in your skin with it. By applying a moisturizer directly onto wet skin, you’re not only sealing in this water that would otherwise be stripped, but you are also providing water for the humectants in the product (such as glycerin) to work best.

If you take nothing else away from this post, take this. It has completely changed my skin for the better. It’s soft, supple, and hydrated. It no longer looks dry or scaly, my KP is nowhere to be found, and even shaving feels less irritating.

Admittedly, moisturizing after a shower feels a bit odd. The first time I stepped out of the shower, armed with CeraVe Moisturizing Cream, I steeled for a strange and chilly experience. And it was, but then I got used to it, and my skin began to improve practically overnight. I started noticing other changes, too – my hyperpigmentation from old scars started to fade and when I shaved my legs for the first time since switching my routine around, not only were they perfectly smooth without that kind of patchy skin roughness that seems to follow even the best leg shaves, but they didn’t even burn.

See, I have very sensitive skin, and for me, shaving is a bit of a ritual since my skin can get very irritated. I would soak in a bath, slather on shaving cream (I use Cremo), wait a few minutes, and then shave with a fresh blade on a razor. Then I’d quickly dump my legs back into the water, where they’d tingle and burn slightly. When exiting the shower, I’d towel off and then race to put on a soothing cream, like Aveeno. Unsure if this was brought on by the addition of moisturizing post shower or the removal of soaping during the shower, I nixed my ritual of lotioning myself down for a week and shaved again. Immediately, my skin felt irritated and I had that weird roughness that is a combination of missed hairs and dry, dead skin. I added moisturizing back in, and sure enough, all was well again.

I have been asked if you can do this with lotions like AmLactin, which contain AHAs, without reducing the efficaciousness of the product, and so I tried it. Turns out that it does not reduce how effective the product is, an in fact, helps it to absorb quite a bit quicker in some instances. So never fear – moisturize away!

I also began to do this for my face and just started to apply actives (BP, AHAs, BHAs, Differin, etc) on top. As usual, I’d leave occlusives for last, but simply applying my HadaLabo Premium with some of my facial lotion (Cheryl Lee MD) really improved my skin’s texture, softness, and ability to heal quicker. I’m also happy to report that not only did it not reduce the effectiveness of my actives, it seemed to reduce how much my skin would get irritated by said actives if I had otherwise dried my face and waited to apply them before applying my moisturizers. This is not entirely surprising, as healthy skin is not only more efficient, but reducing water loss reduces the amount of irritation that can be caused in the skin by otherwise irritating products.

This tip also makes it easier to layer essences or hydrating toners, as in many Asian beauty routines, since the first layer sinks in relatively well due to the amount of water on the skin, allowing for more (and less sticky layers) to be applied on top.

Moisturizing after the shower can feel a bit slimey, so I recommend either dripping dry for a minute while applying your facial products or toweling off specific areas, like your back, the back of the knees, and stomach. From there, apply your cream of choice liberally all over. You may find you want to use less or more, depending on your tolerance for the sensation.

After moisturizing, I wrap myself up in a robe and walk around or read while “soaking in.”


Making it Into a Routine

I’ll admit: none of this feels super easy. Ditching hot showers was hard, nixing soap was strange at first, and moisturizing immediately after felt slimey. However, I am advocating all of these things because they work. There is a reason you hear all of these things again and again, and it isn’t to rob you of the joy of a hot shower or the scent of your body wash. It is because it is absolutely the best way to solve persistent dry skin, irritation, and vastly improve conditions like keratosis pilaris and eczema.

Here’s my routine:

  • Shower
    • Apply Clinique Take the Day Off Balm before jumping into shower. Get in, rinse off.
    • Wash hair, put in conditioner and do the rest of my routine
    • Shave
    • Cleanse my ahem bottom with soap on a sponge
    • Rinse out conditioner
  • Moisturize
    • Wrap hair in towel
    • Towel off eyes, lips, back of knees, and back.
    • Apply HadaLabo Premium Lotion all over face and neck
    • Wait a few seconds and apply a second layer of HadaLabo Premium, mixed with jojoba oil and moisturizer, if feeling extra dry. Apply any extra along neck and chest.
    • Apply AmLactin generously all over. If I’ve shaved my legs that shower, I apply CeraVe Moisturizing Cream to them as AmLactin immediately after shaving can burn my legs. Apply a second layer of AmLactin to my KP-prone arms and legs once I am done with the rest of my body.
    • Wrap up in a robe. Read a book or surf Reddit while moisturizers soak in.

And that is pretty much it. That routine alone has not only cut 5 minutes out of my showering time, but has also softened my skin all over, improved previously unpleasant experiences like shaving, and made my dry skin disappear.

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