Towards the end of December I came across an article written by a guy who had given up on using soap and was now washing himself with water alone. My immediate thought was this must be some dirty hippy and I felt sorry for anyone who lived or worked in close proximity to him – however I was interested in why someone would make a choice like this so I sat down and read both the article and the extremely long comment thread which made much more sense than I expected it to. If you have some time I recommend reading it though the author, Richard Nikoley, is active in the paleo-scene so a lot of the comments reference those ideas. But this post isn’t about that article, it’s about my own experiences.
The thing that stuck out to me the most, and resonated with my own philosophy was that it seemed silly that we would have evolved into creatures that needed a bunch of corporately produced and marketed chemicals smeared all over our bodies everyday just to get by. For the most part I’m kind of a “this happens for a reason” person and I don’t think every single things needs to be messed with. I very rarely take any kind of pain killers for headaches or cold medicine for sicknesses. Of course I very rarely get headaches or sick which helps. Maybe those two are related, the people I know who are always sick and always having headaches and always taking things to suppress those symptoms.
Long time readers know I also have a oft cited personal manta about regularly examining my actions and making sure I am doing things for the right reasons, and I decided, rather publicly a few years back, that just because I did something yesterday is not a good enough reason to do it today. As I was reading this article I started thinking that the only reason I was using soap was because I’d always done it and had always been told I needed to. I’d never questioned it, but now that I was questioning it I wasn’t coming up with very convincing answers. Maybe these chemicals were messing whith my body’s own chemistry and creating the need for themselves?
I was reminded of my experiment with some of those acne face pads in high school. I didn’t really have zits, but I saw the commercials for the pads and how they made sure you didn’t get zits and like any other kid in high school I didn’t want zits so I bought some an put them to use. within a few days I had more zits than ever. If I’d believed the hype I would have doubled up on them to get rid of this nasty zit problem but instead my first thought was that the pads had fucked up some kind balance on my face and caused the zits they were supposed to be preventing. So I stopped using them and the zits went away and I never had the problem again.
I wondered why I never used that rationale with soap. The same math was there. I have dry skin on my arms that gets flaky and itchy and dandruff. I’ve spent likely thousands of dollars over my lifespan on special soaps and shampoo to solve those problems, which they do for a day or two, but if I don’t keep up with them things go crazy. But I’d never considered that these things might be just as much at fault.
The article said that it took the author about 2 weeks for things to stabilize, and that before that things were nuts, so if you were going to try this you should give it a month just to be safe. I figured, what the hell, I’ve done weirder things for a month at a time, so this was worth a shot just to see. So for the entire month of January I haven’t used any soap or shampoo while showering. The results are freaking me out on a daily basis, and I’m actually a bit annoyed I didn’t think to try this sometime in the last 35 years.
If you are anything like me this is probably bringing up a ton of questions so let me try to answer some of the ones I’d have myself.
Do I stink? No. I didn’t say I stopped bathing you dillweed! I just stopped using soap and shampoo when I do. I still shower daily but now a long shower lasts about 5 minutes tops. I also still use deodorant but on a whole I actually smell better. Some people can not smell their own BO, I’ve always been hyper sensitive of mine and I smell better after a month of not using soap then I would missing one day of showering with soap. Tara also keeps pointing out how good I smell, even before I tipped her off to the experiment. Which by the way was almost 3 weeks into it.
Dandruff? Pretty much gone. Seriously. I’m shocked but it’s true. This was definitely something that went crazy during the adjustment time though, I’d say about 2 weeks into it I had bigger flakes than I’d ever seen in my life. That shit was like an avalanche. But they went away, and my head has been less dandruffy than it’s been my whole life. I do find if I rinse my hair with water every day I see a few little flakes, where as if I rinse it every other day or so I don’t see anything.
But that isn’t the only hair-benefit I’ve seen. I have pretty thick semi-curly hair which has always been a nightmare to maintain. Since starting this it’s become softer and more controllable than ever. I actually find myself touching it a lot without realizing it because it feels so different.
Dry skin? Gone. In fact not only is my dry skin gone, my skin as a whole feels softer and healthier than I can ever remember it feeling. Again this is something Tara keeps noticing totally unprovoked.
Adjustment time. The first two weeks were definitely weird. My skin was super dry, super oily, then dry again. As I mentioned I had super dandruff and in general it was a little nuts. But I chalked that up to my body trying to correct itself and get back in to balance since it weren’t involved in daily chemical warfare anymore. Today is the month marking point and I’d say I think things are pretty much in order. If you are going to try this yourself definitely give yourself a month. If you try it for a week things will be super wacky and you’ll think it isn’t working, but trust me – stick it out for the month.
Hands – I still wash my hands, especially before cooking and after using the bathroom. And I use soap for that. For some reason that actually makes a lot of sense.
Personally I’m just blown away by this and like I said I can’t believe it’s something I didn’t question earlier. I’m psyched on how it’s played out and can’t imagine using soap or shampoo again. Extra benefit I just realized: less crap to worry about when traveling!
(Photo by Somewhat Frank used under CC. I tried to find a better image for this post, but doing a google image search for “soapy” with safe search off didn’t really produce the results I was expecting. Try it yourself. Just not at work.)
UPDATE: ONE YEAR LATER I just wrote a year later update for BoingBoing – check it out if you are curious how this has played out so far.