Loofahs Are Grosser Than You Think—Here's What to Use Instead
There's nothing quite as sweet as hopping into a warm bath or shower after a long day. As part of a simple self-care routine, you probably have a few favorite products to take care of your skin and calm your mind. But there's one product you may be using that could be causing more harm than good—your loofah.
We now know that a loofah isn't only bad for your skin, but it could cause some rather scary-sounding infections as well. To find out why it's not a good idea to shower with a loofah—and what you should be using instead—we talked to Gretchen W. Frieling, MD, a board-certified dermatopathologist in Boston.
What Is a Loofah?
A true all-natural loofah is a bath product made out of a dried tropical gourd. Other bath loofahs are made of synthetic materials like plastic. It's a little unclear when people began using the loofah as a bathing tool—but the practice seems to have ballooned in popularity in the early 20th Century.
The main reason why you shouldn't use a loofah has to do with cleanliness. An organic loofah is made of a complex intertwining natural material. Dr. Frieling notes that while this makes it a great scrubbing tool, that very same fibrous material is a perfect haven for bacteria to thrive. The same holds true for synthetic loofahs, though it may take a little longer for bacteria to take hold.
"Mold can harbor in loofahs and sponges alike, as well as germs, dead skin cells, and remnants of dirt, oil, and grime that we scrub off our bodies," says Dr. Frieling. "This can cause infection if washing an open cut, trap bacteria inside your pores, and prevent you from really cleansing yourself from germs."
Loofahs also aren't very sustainable, and if cared for correctly, they can be costly. If you decide to keep one as part of your bathing routine, you'll have to change it out often, which will only add to your local landfill.
How to Care for a Loofah
Some people might be reluctant to toss their beloved loofah in the trash, but there are options to keep the tool relatively germ-free. "You can use a loofah and boil it after every use," Dr. Frieling says. "But even then, bacteria might jump on it while it dries from boiling. This option probably isn't sustainable."
Dr. Frieling also suggests buying loofahs in bulk and changing them as frequently as possible (at a minimum, every couple of weeks for a natural loofah and every couple of months for a synthetic loofah).
If you are open to getting rid of your loofah, try to wash your body using an exfoliating cleanser with alternative tools. Here's the best part of the loofah debate: You don't actually need to replace the tool at all. Try your hands first or opt for a tool that's easier to keep clean.
Dr. Frieling says you can save your cash and your skin by using your hands instead of a loofah. "Our hands are the most accessible tools," she says. "They're easy to clean and, if washed properly before lathering your body with your preferred bath product, you're at less risk than if you were using sponges or loofahs."
Soft Bristle Brushes and Washcloths
But, if you absolutely need to scrub with a tool, Dr. Frieling suggests finding a medium-soft bristle shower brush. "They're a better option as they can be cleaned more easily with hydrogen peroxide and alcohol," she says. "Just make sure to avoid leaving it in a moist and unventilated shower." Washcloths are another doctor-approved favorite—but they're only sanitary if you wash them after every use (which is understandably inconvenient).
"Loofahs aren't your only option for exfoliating the skin," Dr. Frieling says, noting you could throw a stone in any direction in a beauty supply store and hit several diverse exfoliating options. The best ones to seek out are natural scrub soaps and body washes that do not contain microbeads.
"Microbeads cause harm to the environment," says Dr. Frieling. "There are a ton of great recipes online for making your own [exfoliating scrub] with salt, essential oils, and your favorite anti-bacterial body wash."