Do You Really Need to Wash Your Legs?

woman in bathtub washing her legs


Dermatologists weigh in.

There are a lot of fierce divisions in America right now — and one unexpected controversy has been about personal hygiene. 

Questions about washing various parts of your body resurfaced during the pandemic when everyone was taking extra precautions to prevent the spread of Covid-19. But the debate can be traced back to 2019, when a Twitter user asked a seemingly innocent question, “Do you wash your legs when you take a shower?” The inquiry subsequently gained over 2,100 retweets and 3,100 likes in just four days. At one point, a poll was generated and nearly 20 percent of people expressed that they don’t wash their legs in the shower, much to the horror of others. These debates over proper hygiene resurfaced again on TikTok last year, sparking some division across the platform. 

But what do the experts actually think about it? Dermatologists Angela Lamb, M.D., and Joshua Zeichner, M.D., admit that while hygiene is important, most people don’t need to wash their legs separately from the rest of the body if there’s no actual dirt, grim, or sweat. But they find the debates around such practices entertaining, if not entirely helpful. 

“Sadly, there has not been a lot of research performed on personal hygiene, so many of the recommendations are anecdotal,” says Dr. Lamb, who’s the director of the Westside Mount Sinai Dermatology Faculty Practice.

Together, they offer some pro tips to help settle the debate.

Do you need to wash your legs? 

Both dermatologists agree that you don’t need to wash your legs regularly unless you’re getting dirty or overly sweaty, such as after an intense run or cycling class. On most days, they say you can wash your body and let the soapy water drip down your legs and rinse without actually washing them. The rationale behind this is your legs have a protective layer of natural oil so they don’t need to be cleaned every day.

“Areas like your legs don’t necessarily require daily washing, but you always should cleanse the skin if there is any visible soiling,” says Dr. Ziechner, who’s director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. 

Does shaving count?

Some — including none other than Taylor Swift — count regularly shaving their legs as washing. Dr. Lamb agrees but only if you use shaving cream beforehand — so lather up well.  

What if you have sensitive skin?

If you have sensitive skin or struggle with skin conditions like eczema, it’s best to stick with gentle, fragrance-free body washes. Dr. Lamb recommends applying a thick moisturizer as soon as you step out of the bath or shower.

But you don’t need anything fancy to get the job done — Dr. Ziechner recommends products like Dove sensitive skin body wash, saying it has “been shown to respect the skin barrier and offer hydration benefits while cleansing.”

Is there such a thing as over or under-washing your legs? 

While underwashing can lead up to the build up or dirt and grim, washing your legs too much can do more harm than good, according to Dr. Ziechner. 

“Generally speaking, I would say we live in a society of over washers. We certainly don’t need to shower every day, but a general level of hygiene is important to prevent the spread of infections,” he says.

Washing isn’t the only thing you shouldn’t go overboard on: Dr. Lamb also warns against over-exfoliating any part of your body, especially your legs. While removing dead skin cells is important, doing it too frequently — such as more than once or twice a week — can irritate the skin. 

“Sometimes people do it too much which can actually make things worse,” she says. “I prefer products or kits that use chemical exfoliators like salicylic acid, glycolic acid, or urea.” 

The bottom line

Your legs don’t need the same daily washing that other parts of your body do, such as your armpits, but it’s important to make sure they’re clean if they’ve gotten really dirty or sweaty. For the average person, the drip-down method (letting soapy water drip down your leg) is enough but we don’t expect this debate over hygiene to go away anytime soon.