I remember talking to skin-care guru Caroline Hirons a few years ago about her aversion toward face wipes and her personal routine of using a freshly washed wash cloth every day to cleanse her skin—not using one a few times and then tossing it in the hamper. Her logic made sense: You can’t really tell which area of your face touched the towel the night before and wet towels are basically breeding grounds for bacteria (hello germs!). Additionally, wash cloths are pretty affordable for a big bunch, so why not use a new one each day of the week, then launder and repeat?
“Using a dirty towel on your face will spread bacteria and can lead to breakouts and irritation,” says New York dermatologist Julie Russak, MD. “The same goes for your body, and even your hair, causing breakouts around the hairline and on the neck. For normal towels, washing them once a week is usually fine, but if you’re using a gym towel after a sweaty gym session and you’re collecting sweat, dirt and toxins, then you should wash these towels after every use.”
However, there will always be those people who don’t want another reason to do laundry or don’t feel the need to use a fresh cloth every day, but still don’t want to sacrifice clear, healthy skin. For this group, the new trend of antimicrobial towels is a perfect option, and they’re not only functional, but also high-end luxury.
One brand that’s caught the attention of many A-listers, including its brand ambassador Rosie Huntington-Whitely and her facialist Melanie Grant, is Australian-based Resorè, which offers face and body towels ($35–$99) made with antimicrobial fibers. “They’re made from active ingredients such as Silverbac and Lyocell, which work together to break down germs and stop the spread of bacteria,” says Grant, noting that they stay clean for several uses. “Regular towels harbor skin-irritating bacteria and pathogens, which can all lead to further skin congestion, inflammation and sensitivity.”
Melville, NY dermatologist Kally Papantoniou, MD says antimicrobial towels may be especially helpful for those who are more prone to breakouts, which is the reason Huntington-Whiteley got involved with the brand, and claims they’ve really helped keep her skin clear. “They may help reduce the amount of bacteria present on towels and wash cloths and lead to fewer flare-ups,” Dr. Papantoniou explains. “However, the average person who is not prone to acne or breakouts would not necessarily need to have them in their routine.”
Grant agrees, saying the antibacterial properties are ideal for those concerned with blemishes and sensitivity. “The P. acnes bacteria is one of the primary factors in acne and triggers the inflammation that creates the telltale swelling and redness. If you’re pressing a towel to your breakout, letting it sit for 24 hours, and then pressing it to your face yet again, you’re essentially incubating this bacteria—not to mention potentially introducing new strains to already compromised skin.”
Another towel in this category that’s set to hit the market later this month, OURA’s Alta Towel ($155) is designed with ultra-plush, copper-infused cotton that self-sterilizes the towel. Plus, the copper is permanently embedded into the cotton fibers using ultrasonic waves, so it never washes off, even after 100 washes. “Bath towels are a lot dirtier than people think,” says Shaun Veran, microbiologist and cofounder of OURA. “They are incubators for germs, which results in that typical musty smell and means you are drying off with bacteria and mold. Copper has been used for centuries to kill germs with its antimicrobial properties. Now, by sonically infusing it into 100-percent cotton, it results in a towel that kills 99 percent of germs. This means Alta towels stay cleaner longer and they never get musty. This EPA-approved technology now results in one of the most technologically advanced towels.”
And for the hair, cult-favorite brand AQUIS just debuted a new antimicrobial version of its beloved hair towel, which also uses copper. The AQUIS Copper Sure Rapid Dry Hair Wrap in Terracotta ($35) uses woven Copper Sure technology (no chemical coating) that allows the hair wrap to stay cleaner longer and cuts air-dry time in half.
One thing all of these products have in common, aside from their antibacterial properties, is their ability to wick water and dry faster than the average towel, which is another effort to combat bacteria growth. Resorè and Oura’s towels also possess deodorizing features, so your towels don’t take on that day-old, musty water smell.
Though Drs. Russak and Papantoniou suggest there are benefits to using these towels, there is also a balance to the microbiome of our skin, which is why they advise they’re not necessary for everyone. “The risk of using antimicrobial towels is that you’re not only removing the pathogenic bacteria (the bad bacteria), but you’re also killing the good, commensal bacteria, and disturbing the skin microbiome, which is extremely important,” says Dr. Russak. “A healthy, normal microbiome maintains the health of the skin to prevent acne breakouts and skin diseases. Antimicrobial towels may offset that healthy balance.”
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