Loofahs Are Way Grosser Than You Think—Here's What to Use in the Shower Instead
Time to ditch the loofah and use one of these derm-approved body wash techniques instead.
There’s nothing quite as sweet as hopping into a warm bath or shower after a long day. As part of a self-care routine, you probably have a few favorite products you love 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.
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.
But that was then, and this is now. We now know that the loofah isn’t only bad for your skin, but 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 went to Gretchen W. Frieling, MD, a board-certified dermatopathologist in Boston.
Your Loofah Is a Breeding Ground for Bacteria
As Dr. Frieling notes, the loofah is made of a complex intertwining natural material. While this makes it a great scrubbing tool, that very same fibrous material is a perfect haven for bacteria to thrive.
“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,” Dr. Frieling explains. “This can cause infection if washing an open cut, trap bacteria inside your pores, and prevent you from really cleansing yourself from germs.”
Find Another (Better) Exfoliator
“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 a number of diverse exfoliating options. The best ones to seek out, she says, are natural scrub soaps and body washes that do not contain microbeads.
“Microbeads cause harm to the environment,” Dr. Frieling notes. “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.”
What to Use to Wash Your Body Instead
Here’s the best part of the loofah debate: You don’t actually need to replace it at all. Instead, Dr. Frieling says you can save your cash and your skin by using your hands instead. “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.”
But, if you absolutely need to scrub, 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.”
Wash cloths are another doctor-approved favorite—but they're only sanitary if you wash them after every use (which is understandably inconvenient).
If You Really Can't Bear to Part With Your Loofah...
It’s all about sustainability when it comes to using a loofah in your bathing routine.
"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.” She also suggests buying loofahs in bulk and changing them as frequently as possible. But first, it's worth trying to wash your body with your own two hands to save time, protect your skin, and save a few items from the landfill as well.