MIchael Hunter, MD, Column

Do Shower Oils Help With Dry Skin?

DO YOU USE BATH OR SHOWER OILS? What is the evidence that this indulgence helps improve dry skin? Today, we explore whether bath oils are an effective moisturizer.

We are in winter here in the Northern hemisphere. Despite our often rainy days in Seattle, dry skin is still a problem for me. I have heard that shower or bath oils can be beneficial. If oils help, what is the optimal way to apply them?

Writing in Real Simple, dermatologist Marisa Garshick MD explains that

“The benefits of applying a shower oil is that it prevents moisture loss.” She continues, offering that oils serve as an occlusive — they create a barrier on the skin to keep moisture and water in and the bad stuff out.”

Writing in the same magazine issue, a second dermatologist concurs. Cosmetic dermatologist Robert Finney MD believes that shower oils are excellent for sensitive and dry skin.

The soaps most of us use have surfactants that strip our skin of natural oils. This removal can make you more likely to suffer from dry and flaky skin, especially if you have sensitive skin. Shower oils can help replace these oils and protect the skin from losing moisture, particularly if you use hot water.

Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

Bath oils — Good for dry skin (xerosis cutis)

Researchers in Berlin (Germany) investigated the effectiveness of using bath oil to improve skin barrier function and alleviate dry skin compared to non-oil-containing skin cleansers for showering or bathing.

Researchers randomized 60 healthy adults and children to use either a commercially available bath oil versus using their regular non-oil-containing skin cleansers every other day for 28 days. The scientists assessed dry skin severity at baseline and two follow-up visits, hoping to get a sense of water loss across the skin.

Here are the findings:

Regular use of bath oil effectively improves the skin barrier in children and adults with mildly dry skin, supporting its use as a fundamental element for managing a broad spectrum of dry skin conditions.

Bath oils — for all skin types?

While bath or shower oils may be helpful for those of us with dry or sensitive skin, those with acne-prone skin (for instance, on the back) may want to be cautious.

Those with acne-prone or oily skin may be better served with cleansers with acne-fighters such as benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid. If you decide to use an oil, try a non-comedogenic (one that doesn’t clog skin pores) option.

For many of us with dry skin, shower oils can be helpful. Now you know — I moisturize! Thank you for joining me today.

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Michael Hunter, MD
I received an undergraduate degree from Harvard, a medical degree from Yale, and trained in radiation oncology at the University of Pennsylvania. I practice radiation oncology in the Seattle area.

Michael Hunter, MD

I received an undergraduate degree from Harvard, a medical degree from Yale, and trained in radiation oncology at the University of Pennsylvania. I practice radiation oncology in the Seattle area.

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