Shower Vs. Bath: Does One Actually Get You Cleaner Than The Other?

Routine washing and grooming are indispensable parts of a healthy lifestyle. In addition to preventing the flu and other contagious illnesses, maintaining proper personal cleanliness also keeps your body from emitting unpleasant odors that repel others. When we talk about the action of washing our bodies, the expressions that we commonly use and use interchangeably are "take a shower" and "take a bath." While these expressions both refer to the practice of washing dirt and dead skin cells off our bodies with water, they can't be any more different in terms of terminology and their effects on skin health.

Advertisement defines "take a shower" as "the act of washing our body while standing under the shower" and waiting for water to continually spray down from the pipe and clean one's body. On the other hand, taking a bath entails immersing one's entire body in a tub filled with water. For most of us, a speedy shower or a hot bath is enough to get us clean and refreshed. However, in certain cultures, such as that of the Japanese, it's common to wash your body in the shower before immersing it in a hot bath, per The Healthy Journal. So, between a shower and a bath, which body cleaning method is better for the skin? 

Bathing exposes your body to its microorganisms

Nothing beats relaxing in a bubble-filled warm bath with soothing music playing in the background while nursing a glass of wine on a chilly day. However, if you can look at your bathtub through the lens of a microscope, you'll thank William Feetham for inventing the shower. Here's the reality check: your body, which is made up of about 1.8 m2 of skin, is home to over 1.5 trillion bacteria, Micropia points out. Not to mention, there are 10s of millions of microbes living on every square centimeter of the skin in wetter spots.


On this, professor of microbiology and pathology Philip Tierno tells Self, "When you slough off dead skin in a bath or shower, the cells contain many microorganisms that are on your skin." That means that when you soak yourself in a bathtub, you're literally covering yourself with your skin's microorganisms — like bacteria, viruses, mites, and fungi.

A shower with running water might not completely rid your skin's surface of its vast microbial habitat, but it doesn't allow them to latch back onto your skin surface the same way that sitting in stagnant water does. In a broader sense, bathing is like soaking yourself in your own filth. While you're not likely to catch any infection from bathing and your skin is designed to keep harmful microbes out, Dr. Tierno stresses that bathing when you're having open wounds or skin cracks can cause bugs from outside to creep inside and cause an infection.


Bathing is not a good idea for those with sensitive skin

Bathing is therapeutic and generally safe, but it might spell troubles for those with sensitive skin and inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema, dermatologist Dr. Teo Soleymani tells Self. Unlike showering, bathing doesn't allow sweat and microorganisms on the skin to be rinsed off easily, which can worsen rashes or pimples in some people, Dr. Soleymani explains. 


Another reason a shower might be better for your skin than a bath is that it exposes the body to less water and is less likely to strip your skin of its natural oils in the same way that a bath does, general practice physician Dr. Earim Chaudry tells WalesOnline. Shower or bath, it's never a good idea to shower frequently, as it can cause the skin's surface to break down and result in irritation and inflammation, Dr. Chaudry says.

If you insist on bathing, make sure you give your bathtub a good scrub to remove any potential pathogens before hopping in, "The Germ Files" author Jason Tetro tells Well + Good. Besides, getting a quick rinse in the shower first is a good idea to remove dirt from your skin before stepping into a bath. Prolonged exposure to water can over-saturate and irritate your skin, so keep your bath to less than 20 minutes and apply a moisturizer to lock in the moisture three minutes after washing.