I believe in a world without soap

On the gadget blog Boing Boing the other day I read the strangest post, about living a lifestyle free of soap. The author claimed that he had gone on a year without using any soap or shampoo while bathing, although he still washes his hands and uses deodorant. He claims that going without soap has left him smelling better, with clearer skin and softer hair, than ever before.

The argument basically goes that our bodies have evolved naturally to keep themselves clean, with various excreted oils and such, and washing with hot water only and perhaps some scrubbing is sufficient for cleanliness.

I tried it for a few days. Meghan didn’t notice anything was amiss (or at least didn’t say anything to me), so I guess it was going okay, but I just didn’t feel clean, especially my hair, which was getting sort of greasy. Furthermore, it just doesn’t seem sustainable after activities like skiing, sports, and hiking that can leave one covered with dust, grime, and occasionally blood.

That said, it wasn’t until day 3 (when I gave up on the whole endeavor) that something completely obvious and self-evident occured to me that I had completely forgotten — I haven’t used soap for over a decade, and I’m doing fine.

Wait, don’t run away, let me finish.

I used to have very dry, irritable skin. I always felt like there was a film all over my body. Whenever I got sweaty I got itchy and uncomfortable. I couldn’t stand salt water or chlorinated water. I tried various products and lotions recommended by friends and doctors, until I went to a dermatologist who gave me the advice to just stop using soap. Use shampoo, he said, for areas that are hairy, and just use water and a scrubbing towel on the rest of your body.

That’s what I’ve been doing since high school. I may use a bit more shampoo, a bit more widely spread, when I am feeling particularily dirty, but I don’t really use soap, except of course for hand washing, where I use the foamy stuff. As as result I feel much more comfortable in my skin and while I still don’t love salty or chlorinated water, I have been able to enjoy swimming and the beach, as well as other outdoor sweaty activities that used to make me squirm.

We live in a society that is half over-sharing and half squeamish, and I’m sure my cleanliness habits may make others a bit uncomfortable, but I just think it is interesting. Not using soap has become so basic to me, and so ingrained, that I had completely forgotten I was even doing it. And so far no one has told me I smell too bad.