Cynthia Bailey, MD|December 20, 2016

As a dermatologist, I never recommend a natural loofah for showering. They aren’t great for exfoliating and they don’t dry well. That perpetually damp loofah sitting in the shower is home to microbes that can cause infection on your skin. Some of the happy pathogens (germs) that call your loofah “home” include pseudomonas aeruginosa (a sweet-ish smelling bacteria that loves damp places), staph aureus (a sour smelling bacteria that causes impetigo and other serious skin infections) and candida yeast. 

The perfect world that loofah provides for germs – The loofah sits in a damp and humid shower where there is minimal air circulation for drying. The natural and porous cucumber fibers of your loofah look pretty because they are a matrix of nooks and crannies. Your loofah becomes even more porous as you squeeze and press the fibers against your skin, bending and breaking them into even more nooks and crannies. Add soap scum, dead skin cells and skin oils into the damp and dark nooks and crannies and that loofah is a banquet of nourishment for the microbial populous, which eat down the fibers to make – more nooks and crannies – it’s microbial heaven. 

Even worse than rubbing that on your healthy and intact skin is using it before or after shaving! This is double trouble, because shaving causes micro-abrasions in your skin that are perfect new homes for microbes to move into and cause skin infection. Shaving can also mechanically irritate hair follicles and those microbes may just take up residence in the nice warm indentation of a pore to cause shaving folliculitis. 

I’m not a loofah fan, but if you love your loofah so much that I have not persuaded you with that description of loofah microbial adventure, then at least lower the odds of getting a skin infection by discouraging microbes from taking up residence in your loofah:

  • Be sure your loofah dries entirely between uses – put it in the breeze, set it in the sun, or hang it up so the water dries entirely.
  • Replace it when it looks anything but perky and firm. Soft, smelly, scummy loofahs need to be retired at the earliest signs of break down.

Other ideas like microwaving and bleaching (you need a 10% bleach solution according to the article below) may work, but as there are no concrete studies with a guarantee, I won’t share any advice on these methods.

What is the best and safest way to exfoliate in the shower?

Exfolation makes skin look young and bright. It softens skin and helps control age related growths called seborrheic keratosis. Body scrubs are nice, but I don’t find them very effective. Most are either too fine or too sharp. In my opinion and experience, a non-porous, synthetic plastic sponge or cloth is the most effective way to exfoliate and a safer option than a loofah. It exfoliates and dries better. My favorite is the Salux Wash Cloth. As with a loofah, you need to totally dry and replace any shower accessory – plastic shower cloth, razor etc. to be safe. I also recommend that exfoliating shower cloths not be shared, not even among spouses. Get even better results by adding AHA products to your skin care with the Salux Cloth. For your face, use a scrub such as Replenix Exfoliating Scrub.

Be intentional about the accessories you use while showering and bathing. Careful thought and the right cloth can be the difference between health and illness. 

To learn more, you can find these related posts:

 

Reference:
Loofah Sponges as Reservoirs and Vehicles in the Transmission of Potentially Pathogenic Bacterial Species to Human Skin, EDWARD J. BOTTONE, ANTHONY A. PEREZ II, and JAMEL L. OESER,  JOURNAL OF CLINICAL MICROBIOLOGY, Feb. 1994, p. 469-472