You might think you’ve got a pretty good handle on how to take a shower. You’ve got your 10,000 hours of scrubbing and reading the shampoo bottle. But just like Roger Federer has a coach giving him pointers on his forehand, and everyone could stand to improve their bathing routine. For instance: did you know that long, hot showers are not great for your hair and skin?
Now, we’re not here to tell you that relaxing showers are forbidden. Never. However, we are going to do the responsible thing and tell you that your showers could afford to be less long and less hot, at least in terms of maintaining healthy and hydrated skin and hair. But that’s not all you can do to switch up your shower routine.
For all the best ways to optimize daily rinse-off (and the immediate post-shower regimen), we spoke with board-certified dermatologist Dr. Yoram Harth, the Medical Director of custom hair regrowth brand MDhair. Here are 10 things to know about how to take a shower that you can do to ensure stronger, softer hair, a sturdy scalp, and hydrated and clear skin.
1. Lower the temperature
Let’s start with the obvious. No, you don’t need to take an ice-cold shower, even if it does boost circulation. But you also need not take a boiling-hot shower, either. Instead, aim for something squarely in the middle—you can even err on the warmer side of lukewarm, if you insist. “The warm water will open the cuticles of your hair and the process of your scalp, allowing the active ingredients in your shampoo to clean the scalp and absorb the active ingredients in your products,” says Harth. Most importantly, the toned-down temperature won’t deplete the skin and hair of natural, necessary oils and moisture.
2. Limit your time
Right up there with temperature control is time management. You can take the most self-aware lukewarm shower, but if you linger in there for 20 minutes you’re still asking for dryness. Ideally you’ll keep it closer to five minutes, and certainly under 15.
3. Choose the right shampoo and conditioner for your hair type
What works on thinning, dry, curly hair will differ vastly from what is needed by thick, ample, oily straight hair, and you need to make sure that each shampoo and conditioner delivers on its promise to treat your particular needs. Hunt for products that work with your hair type and goals—we’ve got a guide to the best shampoo for men right here. Brands like MDhair make custom products for hair regrowth, while others like Prose target everything from curls to dry strands to oily scalps. (Also worth considering whether you’re keeping hair short or growing it long.)
One piece of universal advice, according to Harth: “It is also essential that this shampoo be free of sulfates (SLS), parabens, or alcohols. These harsh ingredients can dry the hair and the scalp, slow down hair regrowth, and cause more dryness and breakage. Synthetic fragrances and allergic colors in shampoo can cause an response in the scalp, increased inflammation, and slow hair regrowth. Using fragrance-free and dye-free hair regrowth shampoos can help reduce scalp inflammation and create a better environment for hair follicles.”
“Hard water contains large amounts of calcium and other minerals that can build up on your hair, making it feel extra greasy even after washing,” Harth says. “A water filter for your shower head will remove the minerals from your water and help provide a more effective hair wash and shiner hair.”
5. Ditch the loofah
Two reasons to ditch your synthetic loofah: 1) They’re disgusting bacterial orgies. 2.) They’re terrible for the environment.
One option is to swap in a natural loofah (which is much easier to keep clean—you can even do this in the dishwasher—not to mention, they slowly decompose yet still last a couple months). The other option is to swap in a moisturizing bar soap, or simply use your chest hair as a body wash lather-builder. Whatever works best for you.
6. Shampoo and condition first
Many of us will rinse out hair conditioner mere moments after it’s applied—probably because that’s what we do with shampoo. But not so fast: Let that conditioner set in your hair for a couple minutes, at least, so that it can nourish and soften the strands. (And the scalp, too!) Start your shower regimen with your hair care, so that you can tend to your body cleansing while the conditioner goes to work.
7. Wash your face last
Don’t overthink this: Simply wash your face last, after rinsing out the conditioner. This ensures that no pore-clogging ingredients have taken residence in your pores after you rinse them out of your hair.
8. Remember: Hair care is scalp care
“The optimal shampoo should do more than just clean the hair,” says Harth. “Healthy, thick hair needs a healthy scalp. Shampoo that can help balance the microflora, reduce inflammation, and stimulate the hair follicle will help provide a thicker and better-looking hair.” Think of your scalp as the soil from which the hair grows. You need soil to be fortified and nourished in order for it to fuel the plants, just as you need to nurture your scalp for those hair sprouts.