You probably already know that your kitchen sponge is a nasty, smelly, breeding ground for any number of disgusting bacteria.
You toss them out regularly for this very reason. But what about that pretty nylon loofah, hanging in your shower?
Well, for starters, despite its brilliant shade of pastel pink or whatever color you chose to accessorize your bathroom—A.K.A., your personal home spa—it’s really not that pretty!
According to experts, despite the endless array of colors and sizes, these convenient loofahs come in, the many layers of the cheap nylon mesh that create its puffy shape, are the perfect ground zero for growing bacteria, mold, and germs.
And if you share between family members, your loofah can be downright disgusting! So much for the spa effect!
Bacteria, Mold and Germs, Oh My!
Just because you can’t see the tiny critters, doesn’t mean they aren’t there, which makes them even more dangerous.
According to Dr. Stafford Broumand, a renowned plastic surgeon and associate clinical professor of plastic surgery at the Mount Sinai Medical Center, “Bacterium is attracted to moisture and loves to grow in the nook and crannies of a loofah. Some of the bacteria might be something like P. aeruginosa.” (1)
This foul bacteria is especially dangerous because it is resistant to our go-to defense, antibiotics (2)!
Studies concur with the good doctor, showing that our seemingly innocuous shower loofahs contain at least two different kinds of bacteria—acinetobacter, which causes wound infections, boils and conjunctivitis; and Candida, a hard to treat yeast that leads to rashes around your mouth known as perleche, and a whole slew of other not-so-nice rashes and infections (3).
Another study published in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology, mirrors Dr. Broumand’s sentiments, stating that your loofah is the perfect home for P. aeruginosa, which people typically get from using whirlpools, swimming pools or hot tubs. This prolific bacteria causes an infection known as P. aeruginosa folliculitis or folliculitis for short, which shows up as red bumps and pustules, typically at the hair follicle site (4).
The gram-positive bacteria enter your body through your hair follicles or any cuts or breaks in your skin (5). And according to doctors, the vigorous rubbing with your loofah actually helps the micro-organism to enter your skin. And the wonderfully relaxing hot water you use to ease tired and sore muscles during your shower or bath is just what these bacteria love.
Shower Loofah Bacteria Are More Resistant Than You Think
If you use a shower filter to remove chlorine (like many health-conscious people do), you are actually making the situation even worse, according to the experts, since chlorine can kill, or at the very least, slow the development of this bacteria (6).
Beyond folliculitis, your loofah may also be a hotbed for a highly contagious bacteria that causes a skin infection known as impetigo. This admittedly disgusting infection, caused by staphylococcus (staph) or streptococcus (strep) bacteria, starts out with small, itchy, pimple-like sores that are surrounded by red skin.
At first, you may even think they are just pimples, especially since they are not typically painful, although they are itchy. You can get impetigo anywhere on your body, but it usually manifests on your face, arms, or legs. As the sores progress, they eventually fill with pus and then break to form a disgusting, thick deep yellow crust. At this point, they are highly contagious and can spread to other parts of your body or to other people who touch anything you have used—like a loofah (7)!
This is why 90 percent of dermatologists hate loofahs, according to Dr. J. Matthew Knight, a dermatologist with Knight Dermatology Institute (8). But loofahs were invented for a reason, and a few very good ones according to other experts.
The Benefits Of A Shower Loofah
There is no doubt that loofahs serve a purpose.
First, they help to remove dead skin cells and soften your skin. As you age, cell regeneration slows, so your body not only sheds fewer skin cells, but it also generates fewer new cells. This can lead to a “buildup” of dead skin on the surface of your body that can result in a dull, rough, and dry appearance.
Secondly, vigorous, but gentle scrubbing, is also a great way to bring circulation to the dermis (the outermost layer of your skin). This action stimulates the capillaries (the tiny blood vessels closest to your skin), which naturally expand and thus not only bring more nutrients and oxygen to the area but as well, allow for removal of toxins as your skin is able to breathe properly (10).
So, what’s a spa-loving, loofah-crazy person to do? Well, according to some experts, all is not lost and you can still use a loofah if you must, but there are some precautions you need to follow to keep you and your family safe.
Shower Loofah Protocols
While many dermatologists and doctors contend you should simply toss your shower loofah and opt for something else like dry brushing, there are 10 dermatologist-approved tips you can use to keep your trusty loofah safe.
- Only use loofahs made from natural substances—no more cheap, dollar store synthetic loofahs! Good loofahs start out hygienic according to Dr. Esther Angert, an associate microbiology professor at Cornell University. How you maintain them determines their effectiveness and safety (11). Natural sea sponges are one good alternative (12).
- Always shake your loofah off after every use to remove any excess water and moisture. Let it dry completely between uses.
- Never hang your loofah in your shower where it is surrounded by warm, moist air. Instead, after drying, store it in a cool, dry place like a cupboard, where there is minimal moisture.
- Clean your loofah weekly using in 1/4 cup hydrogen peroxide and 1 cup water. You can also use 1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar (ACV) or white vinegar in 1 cup warm water.
- Alternatively, you can use a mixture of essential oils and water. A simple recipe is: 1 tsp (5 ml) castile soap, 10 drops peppermint essential oil (Mentha x piperita), 5 drops eucalyptus essential oil (Eucalyptus globulus), and 5 drops lemon essential oil (Citrus limon) in a sink or bucket of water. You can also use tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) or orange (Citrus sinensis) oils. All of the above are proven antibacterial and anti-fungal oils (13).
- Soak a cleaning or bathing sea sponge for 15 minutes every few weeks in 1 cup of warm water and 1 Tbsp. of baking soda. This process revitalizes the sponge’s cellular structure for increased durability (14).
- You can even zap your natural loofah in the microwave for about 20 seconds, however, never put plastic loofahs in the microwave or anything that is flammable for obvious reasons.
- Always replace your loofah every three to four weeks even if you regularly clean it. If you are using a real sea sponge, however, and following the steps to keep it clean, they can last a long time—even up to 8 years (15)!
While shower loofahs are great for exfoliating, but they’re not your only option. A simple washcloth you change out daily can help to exfoliate your skin. You can also buy bar soap that has natural exfoliates inside like apricot seeds or make your own scrub by combining sugar or coffee grounds with coconut oil.
Whatever you choose, the bottom line is you need to be more aware of how and why bacteria develop and stay one step ahead.