I’m trying this as an experiment. I am on day 5 of using no soap or shampoo, just water, to wash and shave with. This may come as a surprise to anyone who knows how fond I am of natural plant-based and homemade soaps.
Why give up soap?
From the top of my head, I think people might want to give up soap for two reasons, which they might place in a different order of importance. For me, it is primarily the first reason and the second reason is like the icing on the cake.
Firstly, people give up soap because it might not be necessary and, therefore it is one less thing to consume. It is like another area of my life that I can take back from the powers of consumerism that want to convince me that “you have to buy this” otherwise you are going to stink and have no friends. It never occurred to me that soap might not be absolutely necessary, although I discarded shaving foam and shampoo a couple of years ago when I figured out that they are basically soap that is given a fancy name so you think you need to buy it to do a job that soap does very well. But does it really …
The second reason is that it is probably much better for your skin. The bare naked truth is that soap dries out your skin. We all know this. This gives the cosmetics companies the chance to sell us moisturisers to undo the damage that their soap did. Some soap bars and products now have moisturiser added in to counteract the effect. But what if our skin is never getting the chance to establish its own balance and all the time we are rushing to buy another product to try and replace the natural functions and qualities of our skin that took millions of years to evolve. Cosmetic products create a need for themselves when they interfere with the body’s normal way of providing for itself.
But don’t you stink and have no friends?
No … and nor do the numerous other people who have also gone soap-free, including:
Paleoblogger, Richard Nikoley of Free theAnimal, all-round-lifehacker, Sean Bonner from BoingBoing, and the two vegan tweeple who woke me up to this in the first place, Ronda Vanderzanden (@funerealwaif) and Kristiina Stromness (@MsKristiina).
How do you get clean?
With water, the most glorious element on the planet, also known by chemists as “The Universal Solvent”. I get clean using water and scrubbing.
Scrubbing brush and flannel have made a triumphant return to my cleansing arsenal. Finally, the annual flannel, that appears halfway down the Christmas stocking, is getting a regular outing.
One of the ways soap functions is by leaving a dirt-repellent layer on the skin that supposedly means you stay cleaner for longer. This may mean that being soap-free requires that washing/bathing is more frequent. I can easily get away with missing a wash for a day or two when I have a layer of soap on my skin and I can use various other products to smell sweet – but being soap-free does give an excuse to indulge in getting wet more often (that being once a day).
Basically, to get clean, I have found I have developed a ritual that makes sure all of me is scrubbed in a certain order, starting with a flannel on the face.
Actually, I was shocked, when I took my first “soap-free” bath, how much gunk was left in the water. It was as if I had had a proper wash for the first time although this may have been more to do with the very thorough scrubbing that the lack of soap.
What about hair?
Yep, hair can do fine without keratin enhancing super shining shampoos with “advanced molecular science” (oh, may we be delivered from shampoos with “science” in them). I guess I can’t speak for people with long hair but I have it on good authority that it is a bit odd to start with until everything settles down.
Received wisdom from those who have gone before also advises that it may take a couple of weeks for the body to balance out generally. So a little perseverance is required.
Complimentary practices for soap-free hygiene.
I think that going soap-free is not just a case of giving up soap. There is a more conscious approach to hygiene that can be explored here as to give up soap is to give up one of the crutches that has helped us to “feel” clean for years.
Firstly, diet plays a massive part in what is secreted on the surface of our skin and how we smell. I am not a physiologist but anyone can wake up to how true this is with the help of their own nose. We all know garlic comes out in the sweat but since giving up dairy products I have become sensitised to the fact that everyone else smells of cheese – literally – because of the dairy they consume. However, raw vegans (people who only eat uncooked plant matter) consistently report that they can discard with deodorants because their sweat is virtually odourless. I am monitoring this at the moment, subsisting on a plant diet as I do, I have almost entirely discarded deodorant products although I do occasionally use essential oils (tea tree, sandalwood, lavender).
Drinking lots of water also becomes much more important, the idea being that a well-hydrated body will be better at eliminating toxins and sweat will be less concentrated.
Secondly … re-think clothing. Feet are not smelly; it’s socks and shoes that are the problem. Some of the clothing we wear, shoes being the best example, provide a close moist environment for bacteria to grow so it is little wonder that feet smell. Going barefoot as much as possible will actually lead to hygienically cleaner feet. Wearing looser clothing made from natural, breathable fabric also makes hygienic sense.
Other plus points to giving up soap
Apart from sticking up two fingers to The Man and making a bid for healthier skin and hair, there are a few other advantages to giving up soap:
- No more “soap scum” on the side of the bath or shower
- Saves a few quid a year
- Contributes to a reduced demand for weird toxic chemicals and the industrial processes that make them
- Burn more calories by washing/scrubbing
- Declutter your bathroom from a whole lot of junk
- Is soap free the new clean? (from Mother Nature Network)
- Modern Day Soap – The Continuous Manufacturing Process (manufacturing.hubspot.com)
- An Adventure in No-Poo (thisdailyjoy.wordpress.com)