Who showers the most in Europe? Myths and truths about the daily cleaning ritual

While a debate about the personal hygiene habits of Europeans rages on Twitter, experts recommend taking showers every day, insisting that the argument that doing it damages the skin has no foundation

A tweet about the percentage of people who shower or bathe daily in Europe has sparked controversy on social media.
A tweet about the percentage of people who shower or bathe daily in Europe has sparked controversy on social media.

More than 14,500 likes, thousands of replies and a heated debate between those who confirm the data, those who are determined to refute it and those who were only passing by and felt like sharing a few personal anecdotes — maybe a meme — just to participate in the controversy. The fact that a tweet like the one where @xruiztru shared the percentage of people who shower or bathe daily throughout Europe could go viral is a sign of just how much interest a trivial issue like personal hygiene can arouse.

According to the data, part of a study published 2021 by @TheGlobal_Index, an account specialized in statistics, Italians are the cleanest in all of Europe (more than 95% of the population showers every day), followed by the Portuguese (between 85 and 94% do it) and the Spanish and Greeks (75-84%). Summarizing the rest of the countries, a map tinted mostly orange — a color that represents a daily shower frequency of less than 65% — shows that the majority of Europeans do not go through this cleaning ritual on a daily basis.

Just one glance at the endless replies that the tweet has spawned is enough to realize that the citizens of all those countries are quite divided when it comes to certifying the data. While some deny that their country is averse to soap and water, others take pride in only using them occasionally, arguing a need to protect their natural skin barrier or the importance of saving water as the main reasons behind their intermittent visits to the shower. Many also allude to the high temperatures of countries like Italy, Portugal or Spain (compared to the rest of Europe) as one of the determining factors in their inhabitants’ need for cleanliness, while others resort to cultural factors to explain the differences.

“I shower every day, sometimes more than once. If, say, I go to the bathroom, I immediately go through the shower. I don’t get why people wipe themselves with toilet paper or a wipe… It seems unhygienic to me,” confirms Gianmario, a 37-year-old Italian who wants to ratify with his testimony the data that ranks his country as the cleanest in Europe. “I never talked with anyone about whether or not they showered every day, but I did notice that, when it got hot, people had a strong odor. I remember a colleague who smelled of sweat and, in general, women — who normally sweat less — already gave off a bad smell early in the morning, on their way to work,” explains Marta, 34, who spent some time studying in Paris a decade ago. “I don’t know if it was due to their showering frequency or because it was fashionable to use alum stones instead of deodorant,” she adds. For Noelia, a 32-year-old nurse who worked in Belgium for five years, the data may be right: “I can’t generalize, but at least my roommates used to shower every other day.”

The viral map of European hygiene published by The Global Index.
The viral map of European hygiene published by The Global Index.

The rest of the world is also interested in the frequency with which people go into the shower. According to a survey published a few years ago by the trend analysis agency Euromonitor, Brazilians are the cleanest on the planet, showering an average of up to 12 times a week. Colombians and Australians follow closely behind with 10 and eight showers per person per week, while the Chinese trail behind in the survey, according to which they only do it once every two days. The French, Americans and Spaniards remain in the average of the daily shower, contradicting — in the case of the former — the data from the viral map of European hygiene. The study and the map do coincide in singling out the Germans and English as nationalities that are not quite keen on the daily cleaning ritual — a reality that, in the case of the latter, the tabloids are happy to report from time to time, devoting headlines to inform their readers that one third of all the British shy away from the daily shower.

No, it will not damage your skin

Recently, the debate about whether washing every day was necessary or not made headlines thanks to some of the most influential voices in Hollywood. After Jake Gyllenhaal told Vanity Fair magazine that more and more he finds bathing “to be less necessary,” many other celebrities came out in defense of intermittent personal hygiene. Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher have stated that they only clean their children when they “can see the dirt on them,” and in 2008 Charlize Theron confessed that she can go a week without doing it. Brad Pitt, meanwhile, revealed during the filming of Inglourious Basterds that he uses baby wipes as a substitute for showers, and Cameron Diaz, Matthew McConaughey, Julia Roberts and Leonardo DiCaprio have publicly opposed the use of deodorant.

“Showering daily is not only not bad; it is recommended,” say the experts.
“Showering daily is not only not bad; it is recommended,” say the experts.George Rinhart (Corbis via Getty Images)

While those in favor of sporadic cleanliness justify their preference with the argument of not damaging the skin, the experts insist that there is really no reason to avoid the shower. “Showering daily is not only not bad; it is recommended,” explains dermatologist Mayte Truchuelo. “It is especially important in the case of people who have physical jobs or who exercise regularly, or to remove traces of sweat, chlorine, sand, salty residues or sunscreen in the summer.” According to the expert, a daily shower keeps the skin clean, removes dead cells and prevents the accumulation of bacteria and agents that are potentially harmful to health. Not doing it regularly, on the other hand, “causes the accumulation of dirt, sweat and dead cells on the skin, which favors bad body odor, the alteration of the microbiome of the epidermis and the proliferation of fungi and bacteria that may trigger infections.” However, if the shower is not done correctly, the right products are not applied and the skin is not well hydrated afterward, the skin barrier can be damaged.

To ensure that the shower fulfills its purpose and avoid the dehydration of the skin, Truchuelo explains that it should be done with lukewarm water and take less than seven or eight minutes (the World Health Organization sets the limit at five minutes). In addition, she recommends using mild soaps and body washes. “In this sense, syndets [synthetic detergents], also called soapless soap, are very interesting. They are specifically formulated for sensitive skin or for those with certain pathologies, but they are suitable for everyone.” After the shower, the dermatologist recommends patting dry with a soft towel, focusing on areas that are difficult to access or with folds. “To finish, you have to hydrate your skin with emollient products that repair the skin barrier and keep the skin healthy, soft and elastic.” All these tips are easy to follow, regardless of weather, personal preferences or cultural customs.

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