Ellie Goulding starts each morning with a boxing session—and a bottle of water. But she doesn’t always hit the shower after her hardcore workout. “Sometimes I don’t shower at all before going to the studio—even after I train,” the 30-year-old singer told People in a recent interview. “I feel like I never smell. I know some people wouldn’t want to do that, but I do, and I do fine. I think you can over-shower, you can over-wash your hair, and you can over-wash your face. No one ever said you have to shower that much!”
Goulding’s comments might sound blasphemous to anyone who has body odor, showers after workouts, or bathes on the reg. So we caught up with Steve Xu, M.D., a resident physician in dermatology at the McGaw Medical Center of Northwestern University, to find out if there was any truth to what Goulding was saying. The truth is: Goulding is right—well, sort of.
If you have body odor (really, everyone does), you can thank your apocrine glands.
Before we get into Goulding’s comments, let’s get some body odor basics down.
In the medical world, body odor is called “bromhidrosis” or “osmidrosis.” Body odor comes from sweat—more specifically, sweat produced by your apocrine glands. These glands can be found in your armpits or groin area (among a few other places), and they produce sweat rich in proteins and lipids. Though the sweat itself doesn’t smell, when it mixes with the bacteria on our skin, it produces an odor, according to Xu.
Ever wondered why your armpit sweat smells bad when your arm sweat doesn’t really smell at all? It’s because the sweat glands in your arms (eccrine glands) are different from the sweat glands in your armpits (apocrine glands). Eccrine glands exist to cool the skin. Apocrine glands don’t play as big of a role in temperature regulation. The glands become activated around the time of puberty and secrete a thicker substance than eccrine glands do. Xu says you have your apocrine glands to thank for whatever body odor you’re experiencing—whether it’s severe or mild.
Some people just have less pungent body odor than others.
Xu views the smell and severity of body odor on a spectrum: Some people may have a more mild body odor, while others have a more pungent body odor. According to Xu, things like your genetic makeup and your environment can impact your body odor. So don’t worry if you have more or less of a smell than some of your friends. It’s just one of those things that varies by individual. (Though if your body odor is severe enough that it’s affecting your quality of life, you may want to talk to a doctor.)
If you don’t feel like showering after a workout, you really don’t have to.
Sweat is sterile, so it’s actually OK to skip a post-workout shower, Xu says. “The sweat you produce isn’t filled with bacteria or anything that’s going to be dangerous,” Xu tells SELF. “It’s a personal choice whether or not you want to shower after you work out.”
Xu says that showering after hitting the gym is usually more about body odor than it is about hygiene. “The question is really about smell,” he says. So if you don’t smell and don’t feel like showering? “There’s no medical reason you should,” Xu says.
But that doesn’t mean you should cut back on showering just because Ellie Goulding does.
“Over-showering” exists, but Goulding isn’t giving a clear picture of it, according to Xu. “Over-showering” has less to do with how many times you’re hopping in the shower in a given week and more to do with what products you’re using. Many shampoos, soaps, conditioners, and body washes contain chemicals that can dry out or irritate your skin—which can be particularly bad for people who are prone to eczema or sensitive skin. “So it’s not just the washing itself,” Xu says. “It’s also the products that you use.”
There’s no rule of thumb for how many showers a person should take in a week. It’s up to you to decide how many you want and need to take—just like it’s up to you to decide whether you want to shower after every workout. Xu says that as long as you’re not experiencing skin problems—itchiness, dryness, flakiness, or some other kind of irritation—you’re probably fine. You don’t need to upend your bathing schedule just because Ellie Goulding showers less than you.
“What works for Ms. Goulding won’t necessarily work for other people,” Xu says. “If you’re not having any kind of skin or scalp symptoms or hair breakage issues, keep doing what you’re doing.”
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