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The Dirty on Soap

Is it as healthy and necessary as most assume to lather up every day in the shower? Or, have we gone overboard trying to maintain health, promote hygiene, and limit body odor? I would argue we don't need nearly as much soap and shampoo and it is not nearly as beneficial as most believe. Of course, we need to wash hands after using the bathroom, clean off any grease or dirt that accumulates on our bodies from work or play, and generally keep ourselves publicly presentable. However, we only need a fraction of the amount of soap that most use, and we do not need to apply soap to "non-dirty" areas of our body (ex. arms, back, legs). In fact, overuse of soap can cause dry skin, kill beneficial bacteria that reside on our bodies, and irritate our eyes, nose, and even our gut. When we overwash our bodies, we can also strip our skin of a protective sebum (an oily substance secreted from the sebaceous glands), which can cause unhealthy bacteria to grow and cause acne and other issues.

Soap works at getting oil and dirt off our bodies because of it's useful molecular structure. One end of a soap molecule is hydrophilic which is attracted to water, and the other end of the molecule is lipophilic which attracts and attaches to oil. By applying soap and water to our bodies, the dirt and oil gets suspended, or emulsified, in the water molecules, and then gets washed away. If there is no oil or dirt on your arm or your chest, what are you trying to wash away? Additionally, simple water and a wash cloth will wash off any light to moderate dirt and oil on the surface of the skin. Soap is really only needed for the more deeply entrenched oils.

Most of us do not work as auto mechanics, landscapers, coal miners, or any other job where we are getting seriously dirty every day. Most of us work in offices or at home. We may sweat a bit due to the heat or the clothing we are wearing, and we might get our hands and/or our feet dirty by touching dirty surfaces. For us office and home dwellers, showering with water and a wash cloth over most of our bodies is more than adequate to clean ourselves in a healthy (and odor free) manner. Areas of the body more prone to body odor and sweating can be cleaned with a small amount of soap.

Hopefully, I won't scare away any friends and family, but although I shower most days, I use little to no soap unless I have been doing yardwork or some other dirty activity. Additionally, I do not use shampoo more a few times per year, and only if I have to wash something out of my hair (ex. salt and sand from swimming in the ocean). Otherwise its just water and a wash cloth. The results? I have no body odor to speak of (at least not that my wife has mentioned). My skin and hair are clean and healthy. I do not get sick much at all. I save a lot of money on useless and possibly harmful cleaning and beauty products. As an added bonus, I am sending a lot less chemicals down the drain every day, so I am actually helping the environment a little.

Somehow, the use of massive amounts of soap and other personal cleaning products has become part of the cosmic firmament, at least here in the U.S. I would encourage you question that practice and try this: drastically reduce the amount of soap you use on your body - let's say 20% of what you currently use. You will save money, probably improve the health of your skin, reduce your shower time and use less water, and I promise you will not look or smell terrible. On the contrary, you may just become more appealing to your significant other!

Posted July 13, 2018 by Tim Rankin