Here's why you should stop using a loofah

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Words: Alyssa Tria

Did you know you are supposed to replace your loofah a couple times a year?

If I’m being completely honest here, I always knew that. But because I rarely touch the three that I’ve had sitting in my shower for the past year, I never cared to throw them out. But what I once thought was my pretty, colourful collection of loofahs is actually a wet environment harbouring harmful bacteria. And after chatting with a dermatologist, I’ve been re-evaluating the way I lather.

According to Dr. Sonya Abdulla of Dermatology on Bloor in Toronto, Canada, loofahs naturally promote negative bacterial growth like pseudomonas (known to cause folliculitis).

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Once a loofah is used, moisture and epithelial cells serve as fuel to expand the bacterial colonies like Pseudomonas and other gram-negative species like Enterobacter and Citrobacter, This bacterial expansion occurs since epithelial cells trapped within the loofah matrix essentially serve as a food source for bacterial colonies to multiply.

“Loofahs are porous by nature – they absorb anything they come into contact with, including moisture, bacteria, dirt and dead skin cells,” says Abdulla. “Loofahs are in contact with some of the dirtiest areas of the skin. Once in contact with the loofah, bacteria become trapped within it and multiply. Every time you use the loofah, bacteria are essentially being re-introduced or re-applied to the skin.”

Abdulla also warns that loofahs should not be used in areas like the face or genitals.

We asked the dermatologist to break down some other details about loofah protocol.

How often should you replace your loofah?

“Natural loofahs should be replaced every 3-4 weeks, while synthetic ones may be good for up to two months,” the dermatologist explains. “If your loofah begins to change colour or develops a particular odour, it’s time to replace it.”

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How should you care for it?

Abdulla says if you cannot give up your loofah, be sure to remove it from the moist environment with each use and allow it to dry completely.

“Regularly cleansing of your loofah with a weekly diluted bleach soak for five minutes has been shown to adequately disinfect it,” she says.

What happens to the skin when in contact with a dirty loofah?

“If the bacterial load is high enough, the skin can become infected triggering skin conditions such as bacterial folliculitis,” Abdulla warns. “Especially if a dirty loofah is used on freshly shaved skin.”

Is using a loofah even necessary?

Not really.

“The skin is constant renewal – we accumulate a surface layer of skin known as the stratum corneum which can appear dry or dull if it fails to shed when the natural renewal cycle is disrupted. This occurs if the skin is not regularly hydrated or when dealing with environmental stressors such as cold, dry weather,” she says.

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“Loofahs were typically used to cleanse and exfoliate the skin to prevent this build-up. But we now have a number of safer and possibly more effective options to achieve clean, smooth skin with less risk of irritation and infection.”

What are the best alternatives?

“Avoidance of wash loofahs and clothes is generally recommended for anyone with sensitive skin due to their abrasive nature,” the dermatologist says. “The best vehicle to apply a cleanser is your hand. If you are looking to smooth the skin, consider using a gentle AHA cleanser once to twice weekly to avoid irritation. Cleanse with a gentle circular motion and follow-up with a coat of moisturizer.”

To shop the most most gentle cleanser, scroll through our picks below.

Aha Botanical Body Soap by Mario Badescu | £8 | Shop it here

Cleanse & Polish Body Gentle Mitt Cleanser by Liz Earle | £19 | Shop it here

Bath and Shower Liquid Body Cleanser by Kiehls | £18.50 | Shop it here

Body Hero Daily Oil Wash by Glossier | £15 | Shop it here