Should you use a loofah?

Taking a shower rids the body of surface level germs and bacteria. The squeaky clean feeling, however, isn’t thanks to harsh loofahs. In fact, most dermatologists don’t recommend them – and would definitely not use them on their face.

A true all-natural loofah is a bath product made out of a dried tropical gourd that sort of looks like a bright green cucumber. It’s a little unclear when people began using the loofah as a bathing tool—but according to New York Times Magazine, using a loofah as a way to scrub off dead skin ballooned in popularity in the early 20th Century as women’s hemlines got higher and higher.

If you’re making the mistake of washing your face in the shower, you might not know that loofahs aren’t the best option for clean skin. “You should avoid rubbing with a loofah or washcloth as these are too irritating and will damage the skin,” says dermatologist Dr Benjamin Garden. “Gently use your fingers to rub the face wash on and gently wash off.”

Over-washing depletes the skin of the natural lipids that are an important part of its protective barrier.

On a germier note, dermatologist Dr Joel Schlessinger says it’s one of the things dermatologists never put on their faces because of bacteria. “Loofah sponges are intimate with many unclean areas of the body and then sit around allowing bacteria to multiply within the nooks and crannies of the sponge,” Dr Schlessinger says. Organisms colonise in these spaces, particularly in the warm, moist environment of a shower. This creates the potential for serious infections, particularly in patients with weak immune systems.

There are some cases where it could make sense to use a loofah on your body. Dermatologist Dr Peter O’Neill occasionally recommends loofahs to patients with skin conditions that lead to a build-up of cells, such as psoriasis. 

If you are attached to your loofah, there are steps you can take to lower the risk of it turning into a bacteria party.

  • Let it dry. Take the loofah out of that moist environment. It’s ideal to allow the shower area to have enough airflow to completely dry out between uses. “Leave a window open, shower doors cracked open and consider keeping the wet loofah outside of the shower for more airflow. If you want to be extra cautious, soap up the loofah and rinse it out on its own after washing yourself and before letting it hang to dry,” the good doctor says.
  • Replace it. If it changes color or smells, it’s time to get a new one.
    Microwave it. Proper cleaning is key. Regularly hang the loofah outside the hot moist shower itself, on a daily basis and then occasionally microwave it for 20 seconds while damp, as they recommend for synthetic sponges. (Avoid zapping your loofah with anything that has the potential to melt or catch fire and make sure it’s fully damp throughout. Do not microwave plastic loofahs.)
  • Bleach it. You might also use bleach to rid the sponge of bacteria. You could soak it in a solution of 5 percent bleach. This would kill the bacteria, but the process is a tedious one.

However, it really may be time to abandon the loofah once and for all. Skincare should be gentle rather than harsh, and people spend a lot of time over-cleaning and stripping the skin of natural and healthy moisturizing oils that keep us from being itchy, dry and flaky. Using disposable sponge pads or some ordinary over-the-counter body wash and your hand is enough to keep you clean according to the doctors. Yes, you hand!

Check out my related post: How to make your own hand sanitizer?

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