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Just How Gross Are Baths?

Only as gross as you let them be

Yeah, baths are gross. That’s okay, though. Any of our usual daily activities have the potential to be absolutely disgusting. Cooking can become a bacteria-fest, you’re basically placing a sheet of fecal matter on your face every time you talk on the phone and you sleep upon a pile of your own dead skin cells each night. So yes, baths are gross, but how much should you really care?

Those who argue that taking a bath essentially involves sitting in your own filth aren’t totally wrong. When you enter the water, whatever bacteria is on your skin — or, more specifically, your butt — will indeed just remain in the water. Even if you’re taking a bubble bath, soap only works by physically removing germs from your skin. Without an open drain, those germs will still stick around. 

But believe it or not, that’s actually fine. Unless you’re drinking your bath water or have an open wound, there’s not much risk involved in luxuriating in your nasty-broth. As Debra Jaliman, assistant professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai told VICE in 2017, the “e. coli, streptococcus, as well as staphylococcus aureus” that might be lurking are only really an issue if you also have a weakened immune system, making you more susceptible to infections.

You also have the option of making your baths not gross, too. If you shower beforehand, you’ll remove most of the germs and bacteria that would otherwise float in the tub with you. That part is optional, but showering after the bath is definitely recommended, especially if you have a vagina and are using any sort of bubble bath or bath bombs. The soap and other chemicals can throw off your pH and lead to vaginal infections if not properly rinsed. Even just on the surface of the skin, not washing off soap can lead to dryness and irritation. 

Showering after is also the appropriate thing to do if your goal is to become clean. Ultimately, though, bathing won’t make you any more gross than you were before. This is one of the issues with the logic of the anti-bath camp: If bathing is ultimately neutrally gross, then all activities that aren’t showering would be considered the same. Is watching TV grosser than showering? Is reading a book grosser than showering? Technically, yes! 

Life is gross, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Enjoy all the baths you’d like, but consider showering afterward. Without that post-bath shower, you might get an infection that pushes you beyond the neutrally-gross territory.