Now that we’ve explored the bar soap vs. liquid soap debate, it’s time to look into the loofah. I’ve always had my suspicions about this mysterious shower accessory—"is it sanitary or not?” seems to be the question I tend to often ask myself. To learn more about the pros and cons of the loofah, how to properly take care of one, as well as body-washing alternatives, I sought our Jessica Weiser, M.D.

Believe it or not, a loofah is an ideal exfoliating tool and is a great option when taken care of properly. However, there are cons to consider before choosing to use one. "Many small holes and creases retain water and moisture, which encourages growth of bacteria and fungi,” Weiser tells InStyle. "Loofahs decay if left wet, and excessive or aggressive exfoliation can disturb the skin barrier and trigger inflammation and irritation.” To minimize the risk of infection, opt for a natural loofah opposed to a synthetic or plastic one. According to Weiser, washing with a washcloth in-between uses can be beneficial as well. To my surprise, Weiser points out that the safest and best choice is to wash the body with your hands to avoid any rough scrubbing on the skin.

If you choose to stick with your loofah, proper maintenance is key. That said, it’s critical to immediately take it out post-shower so it can effectively dry between uses opposed to sitting in the warm, moist environment a hot shower leaves behind. In addition, swapping out your loofah frequently is crucial—check for discoloration or odor as a clear sign that it’s time to swap it out. "Intermittently, it is helpful to microwave or heat a damp loofah to increase the temperature and destroy bacteria or fungi that may be living in the holes and creases,” Weiser says. "This can also be accomplished by soaking in a dilute bleach solution, which is similarly antimicrobial.”

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