Dryers: To clean or itch, that's the question

"How dry I am..."

Is that song about alcohol, hair, or skin? When I was a medical resident, a fun dermatologist (who cussed like a sailor) gave us a lecture. He said that in the winter time, dry skin is very common. He called it "winter's rash." His solution to the problem of dry skin was to not bathe.

Not bathe? Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady said she would catch her death of cold if she took a bath. She insisted she was clean because she washed her face and hands. As the maids took off her dirty clothes and hat in front of a steaming hot tub, Eliza screamed, "A good girl I am!"

Well, what about it? Is taking a bath or shower that bad for your skin?

I knew a guy at the gym, and one day as he was leaving I said I had noticed he didn't shower and asked why. I pointed out that showering at the gym saves on hot water at home.

He laughed and said, "I shower only three times a week." I swear I didn't sniff him like a hound dog, but he frowned and said, "You think I smell, don't you?"

The truth is I had never noticed a bad odor from him. My college roommate used to run every day, and he didn't shower after his runs because he said "good sweat doesn't stink." But I never got near his armpits.

Back to the dermatologist who said not to bathe. "Soap and water will dry your body out too much," he said. "So just use a wash towel and clean your face, armpits, groin, and feet."

The audience of doctors simultaneously said, "Oooh!" (In LA, the idea of Julia Roberts and Tom Cruise not taking a shower before the Oscars was too much for us to handle.)

A dry martini suits some people. A dry sense of humor irritates most people. And dry skin can lead to medical problems, such as itchy rashes, bleeding, and infections.

I ask my patients what kind of soap they use. Ivory and Irish Spring are frequent answers, and they're are fine if you're a toilet bowl. However, their bold basic pH levels can result in a condition some dermatologists dub "Ivory Soap Dermatitis."

Dove Unscented and Tone are much nicer. Hot water also dries out skin, but I love hot showers. If you're like me, you stand in the shower like an extended video version of Flash Dance.

But the truth is, for most people, a shower a day is not needed. With clean clothes, deodorants, and good hygiene, most people will not smell bad on days they don't shower or bathe.

I tell my patients when they do bathe, spray some safflower or grape seed oil on the body immediately afterwards. The oil traps the water in the skin, and the results are Nicole-Kidman-eat-your-heart-out quality. The danger, though, is slipping from the oil.

I love to go to Origins or Bath & Body Works and get a bottle of ginger bath oil or eucalyptus-spearmint oil, pour it into a tub of warm water, and soak. I don't have any Shirley MacLaine out-of-body adventures in the tub, but it's very relaxing. When I get out of the tub, I'm buttery soft like a Georgetown Leather jacket.

Over-the-counter lotions like Vaseline Intensive Care are fine, but they also work best after getting out of the shower so you can trap the moisture in. Eucerin cream is great for dry skin, as well, but it's pretty greasy. If you're a thief, Eucerin will leave a trial of grease marks leading back to your home. But at least you won't have dry skin for your mugshot.

Got a question? Dr. Hook wants to hear from you!