Here’s A Pop Quiz For You: Do You Know How Many Bacteria Are Present In A Shower Loofah After Two Weeks Of Daily Use? If You Guessed 7.2 Billion Bacteria, you win! Err…Congrats? But if you thought that was enough to make bath time fun, wait, there's more living in your shower than bacteria and your rubber ducky! What, you ask? Well, In Addition To A Variety Of Bacteria, there are also fungal invaders like mold trying to Contaminate Your Shower Ball.
We’ve all heard or read about the horrors that live and lurk on and deep inside our bath and shower tools. Whether they are of the natural type or synthetic, it is true that our bath and shower sponges, poufs, loofahs or exfoliating scrubbers, whatever you call them, can provide the perfect environment for exploding populations of microbes, both harmful and benign. With regard to bacteria, natural loofahs wear the dubious crown as most prolific nurturer of these tiny microorganisms. Research dating as far back as 1994 has found that loofahs, those natural scrubbers made from a tropical species of cucumber fiber, make the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology found that loofahs can transmit potentially harmful species of bacteria to the skin that under the right circumstances may even cause an infection.
Bacteria aren’t the only things you need to worry about – mold also thrives in the moist environment of your bathroom. Some kinds of mold have been shown to harm human health – certain individuals can become seriously and chronically ill due to exposure to household mold. Symptoms stemming from mold spore exposure may include:
- Nasal and sinus congestion
- Eye irritation
- Blurred vision
- Sore throat
- Chronic cough
- Skin rash
Most of us use some kind of tool to assist us in getting an exfoliating, satisfying clean when we bathe and shower. For the purposes of this article, however, let’s put them all into two groups: natural and synthetic. There may be some pros and cons to consider before deciding which one should we be including in our bath and shower protocol. So let’s take a look!
Sea Sponges are a popular choice for the bath and shower for two main reasons. The first is that they are, well, natural, and to some people, this means more healthy. Sea sponges are in fact said to contain enzymes that inhibit the growth of some kinds of bacteria.(1) However, it is unclear if this actually benefits you in the shower to any significant degree. Some people also complain that the texture of sea sponges, amazing as they are at absorbing high volumes of water, are too soft and mushy to provide satisfactory exfoliation. Furthermore, there is some concern with sea sponges about sustainability and harvesting practices; if they are cut too close to the “foot” of the animal, they may die, though if properly done they will grow again normally. Some sponges are even farmed, ostensibly reducing the environmental impact.
Loofahs are another natural option for you bath and shower ritual. Unlike the sea sponges, loofahs are made from plants, not animals. They are large gourds that grow on vines, and are commonly eaten in Asian countries, chiefly as an ingredient in soups. They are dried out in the sun, and the fibrous “skeleton” of the gourd. Using loofahs instead of sea sponges seems like a perfect option for those seeking natural products without harming animals, but with loofahs there is one big catch, unfortunately – bacteria! We’ve all heard or read about the horrors that live and lurk on and deep inside our bath and shower tools, and it seems loofahs are the worst offenders in this regard. Yes, wouldn’t you know it, these things are just the perfect environment for breeding vast populations of various types of bacteria, some of which, like staphylococcus, can be very harmful to your health.
The most common synthetic bath and shower accessory we use is the …err, mesh ball thingy. We have many names for them (what do YOU call it – a ball, sponge, loofah/luffa, pouf, puff, poof, scrubber, scrubbie, scrunchie? Tell us in the comments!) I personally have always called it a shower ball, but recently I’ve become a bit more descriptive and usually refer to it as a mesh bath and shower sponge. Is it a sponge technically? No, and it doesn’t absorb water the way a real, natural sea sponge does, but this seems to be the most popular term out there from what I can see, along with loofah, which it also is technically NOT.
The advantages of synthetic sponges, loofahs and exfoliating poufs are several. First, they give your skin a better scrub than the natural sea sponges, and many bathers insist on getting some exfoliation going on in the shower. Now natural loofahs are also known for their exfoliating ability, but the synthetic mesh bath sponges tend to harbor fewer bacteria than their gourdy cousins, which is the second advantage they bring. Many shower sponges are treated with some form of antimicrobial agent to keep them bacteria free, but some of the chemical additives, like triclosan, are suspected to be harmful human health. Look for products infused with activated charcoal (sometimes called activated carbon) instead, as this is a natural antimicrobial and detoxifying agent that helps instead of hurts your health. You can read more about it here.These mesh shower sponges are my personal choice, mainly because I like the texture of them on my skin, exfoliating, but not too abrasive (as I find some natural loofahs to be). Also, they can be cleaned more easily and thus used longer than loofahs, they hold shower gel well to give me a good lather
Finally, you should replace your bath or shower time buddies once a month. In the meantime, there are some easy steps to take care of your mesh bath and shower sponge that will keep bacteria at bay and extend the lifespan and effectiveness of your sponge.
I hope you’ve found this rundown useful. Leave some feedback about your favorite bath and shower tools, as well as any tips you want to pass along!