There isn’t much I won’t do for my readers. I’ll be putting my body (and reputation!) on the line to experiment with showering without traditional soap. It turns out that that Johnson and Johnson, among other soap producing companies, have been selling us a form of perfume masquerading as detergent for our skin. As a general side note, I’m becoming my father.
I admit that my spectacular ex-wife, Lisa, used to do the shopping for soap, shampoo, lotion, etc., for our home’s bathrooms. Since that responsibility dropped into my bathtub with a thunderous splash, I’ve been, well…meh…at remembering to restock. The result of my less than stellar recollecting prowess has been predictable; my sons and I occasionally run out of the aforementioned items.
Yesterday, I hopped into the shower, which I share with those 14 and 12-year-old men. I reached for their liquid soap (AXE; I’m sheepishly laughing) because my bars were gone, gave the bottle a squeeze, and my dice came up snake eyes. Not a drop. In fact, those boys had already performed the fill-the-bottle-with water trick.
So I did what all of y’all have done before, don’t deny it. I reached for the shampoo, carelessly drenched my loofa (yes, I comfortably used that word in print), and got to scrubbin’.
I stepped onto the chilly tile floor feeling every bit as clean as usual and smelling like a random combination of vanilla and sunflowers.
This experience led to me to ponder a few items. Do we really need soap at all? What if we just took showers with water and scrubbed with washcloths? Have we been sold a mountain of scented garbage for all these years?
Among the anecdotes was this (far from scientific) experiment from Reddit:
Two adult men switch to daily showering using no soap. Water baths only. The experiment was done to explore the necessity of covering our bodies with complex detergents, moisturizers, fragrances, etc.
Okay, so that’s a tiny sample size. But maybe they’re on to something. Here are some reasons this experiment may be worth a try.
First, Americans spend boatloads (approximately $35 billion) on toiletries and personal care products per year. Trimming the fat of soap and shampoo purchases can add up over time. Not to worry though, I’m still going to be using deodorant during my test.
Second, all these soaps negatively impact the environment. Your average commercial soap is filled with unrecognizable ingredients to give you a nice bubbly lather. That flowery aroma I was sporting post shower came from any number of chemicals to provide the artificial fragrance. These additives can cause allergic reactions, skin irritations and respiratory problems. The lovely bar shape of your soap or easy squeezing consistency of your bottle comes mostly from crude oil derivatives. All of these chemicals are first covering your body, then washing down into the drain and getting into our waterways.
So you may be thinking to yourself that those are fine points, but you’re willing to pay the price (financially and environmentally) to be clean and not stink. For some cases, I agree. In this case, we may not have to pony up the ridiculous toll.
As I said above, there haven’t been any solid studies on showering without soap. Most studies discuss hand washing, but have discovered that scrubbing with water alone is responsible for removing most of the germs on your hands. Additionally, your soap can become contaminated and theoretically spread more germs. That bar you have sitting in the warm, wet puddle in the shower becomes the perfect bacterial breeding ground. Antibacterial soaps may actually be contributing to more bacteria proliferating in your body, according to a study published in mBio.
The biocide triclosan is used in many personal care products, including toothpastes, soaps, clothing, and medical equipment. Consequently, it is present as a contaminant in the environment and has been detected in some human fluids, including serum, urine, and milk… We demonstrate that triclosan is present in nasal secretions of a large portion of a test population and its presence correlates with Staphylococcus aureus nasal colonization. Triclosan also promotes the binding of S. aureus to human proteins and increases the susceptibility of rats to nasal colonization by S. aureus. These findings are significant because S. aureus colonization is a known risk factor for the development of several types of infections.
Body odor is a complicated social issue. Most animals have a natural scent, and humans are no different. The way you smell is strongly influenced by genes, diet and general health, so no single prescription will work for every individual. Our scent is also strongly influenced by the presence of bacteria, however. In this area, you may be doing more harm than good in reducing body odor by using all of these soaps and products. The chemicals in soaps remove your skin’s natural oils. This causes your skin to first dry out, providing an ideal environment for bacteria growth. Your body then increases oil production to compensate, trapping the bacteria against your skin.
So how did our anecdotal story of showering without soap turn out?
Initial results from absolutely zero soap use…the results were nothing short of miraculous. The dry skin of one adult was significantly improved. Body smell was near nonexistent.
I’m not suggesting that you stop washing your hands before cooking, or anything else when you know you’ll be coming into contact with lots of potentially harmful germs. On a day to day basis, however, maybe we’ve been buying into a myth that a morning isn’t complete without a thorough application of soaps and other cosmetics.
I’m going to play around with this and get back to you. I might just end up using products that are more natural and that have less negative environmental impact. But first, I’m going no soap. If I suddenly post that I’m looking for a job, you know why.
Update: I came up with what may be the answer while doing my last bit of research. There is a product on the market out there called coconut oil soap. The ingredients are organic coconut oil, citric acid (a weak organic acid found in citrus fruits) and water. So, my cleansing product for the days ahead will be a random combination of organic lemon juice, coconut oil and water. I’ll toy with the recipe and have it out to you in a few days.