You May Want to Hold Your Nose While You Read This Post

David Whitlock has not showered or bathed for 15 years, yet he does not have body odor. “If I get a specific part of my body dirty, then I’ll wash that specific part” – but never with soap.

Sarah Ballantyne uses only water to wash, even though she is “at the gym sweating buckets six hours a week. Over time, my skin has adjusted. I don’t smell.

Jackie Hong has not used soap in the shower for nine years. She was curious to go without soap after an artist told her that he hadn’t lathered up in 20 years. (those artists…)

These three people are part of a small, but seemingly growing number of people who believe that soap and other such detergents have harmed our skin microbiome, possibly leading to an increase in inflammatory skin diseases such as eczema and acne.

Sandy Skotnicki, a Toronto-based dermatologist and the author of the 2018 book Beyond Soap, says that “there’s nothing wrong with just rinsing. I’ve talked to people who haven’t used any kind of detergent in years and they’re perfectly fine.” She notes that, since 1950, we have gone from bathing once a week to every day (guilty as charged, but I think my family, friends, and co-workers are grateful that I do).

Whitlock, a former chemical engineer based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, originally thought he could naturally acquire the necessary ammonia-metabolizing bacteria, making the skin less susceptible to infection, simply by stopping washing, but he didn’t.

The result was a less than pleasant body odor.

He finally hit on the right product and has since become a leader in a skincare revolution in soap-free, microbiome-friendly and probiotic products. He co-founded AOBiome in 2013, and launched his new product as a spray: Mother Dirt AO+ Mist, billed as containing “ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB), a peacekeeper that once existed on our skin, but was cleaned away with modern hygiene and lifestyles”.

At this stage, there are no studies demonstrating the negative effects of soap or overwashing, it is simply anecdotal.

However, AOBiome, is running clinical trials on a surprising array of treatments: not only acne, eczema and rosacea, but also allergic rhinitis, hypertension and migraine. Whitlock says that, after using AOB, he was able to stop taking a drug for his high blood pressure, a result that was replicated in AOBiome’s acne study. It was also observed that no one trialing AOB treatment had had a headache, which led to studying the impact on migraines.

Besides using such products, forest bathing can also be beneficial to the skin.

Despite this backlash against the use of soap, there is one area where many experts feel it is still critical to wash – your hands.

As Skotnicki puts it: “Washing your hair and your body has very little to do with hygiene. But washing your hands is essential.”

I don’t know if I could go without soap. Like Ballantyne, I sweat buckets as well when I exercise, and I’m not sure a shower without soap would bring me back to a state where I can go out in public without driving people away.

I also wonder how long it takes for something like the AOB bacteria to feast on the ammonia from one’s sweat and be rewarded with low-maintenance, balanced skin and odor-free. Does it take a week for the body to transition to this new skincare approach? And who would put up with you during this transition?

I think I might try this during my Fall break.

To my family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers – you’ve been warned. It may be best to stay away for a few days…

*thanks to the EnlightenedMind622 for making me aware of this story.

**image from MentalFloss

22 thoughts on “You May Want to Hold Your Nose While You Read This Post

  1. The answer may not to be going without soap products but it is true that we are pouring millions of gallons of chemically polluted water into the soil, rivers and streams with all the products we use to bathe and shampoo and etc.


  2. Well, this is interesting… Fortunately, smell does not transmit well in the internet. I think we’re safe.

    You’re friends and neighbors may not be… hahahaha…


    1. thankfully, at least at this point, smell is one of the senses that once cannot experience on the Internet! Who knows what researchers are working on these days…


  3. I’m inclined to agree. I was once told that washing my dog too often would strip the essential oils that clean his fur naturally and I’m convinced the same goes for our shampoo, having read many articles (even some decades ago) from people whose hair gets washed maybe once a month and needs no conditioner. I tried it myself, but in those days had fairly greasy hair so I couldn’t stick out the adjustment period. (As I’ve aged the natural oils have dried out and I need that conditioner more than the shampoo,)
    It did us no harm as kids to bath once a week (in a tin bath in front of the fire) and I’m pleased my kids don’t bath the grandchildren every night (mostly if they need wearing out a bit more before bed).
    I’m convinced that daily showering is bad for the skin, but everyone is different (i’ve read that the Chinese and Japanese don’t suffer from body odour at all).
    I’m one of the lucky ones. I rarely use deodorant, although I take a mineral deodorant stick on motorhome trips, in case we don’t stop at a camp site and I need to make do with a bowl in the absence of running water….
    My youngest son eats strange foods and you can smell his presence if his bedroom door’s open, so perhaps the food we eat has a bearing on our body odour.
    As a former commuter on the London Underground I certainly wouldn’t encourage everyone to give up showering, but it isn’t a religion to be observed unthinkingly.


    1. Cathy, I like the sensible approach you have taken. It would be hard for me to break my daily showering routine, but it might be interesting to give it a try. Interesting point about the foods we eat having an effect, I think that has some truth to it as well. I’m sure all the soap and other stuff we use on our skin can’t be good for us.


  4. 🤔 Hmm. I really do not know what to think about this one.

    Regular showers are such a routine for me.

    If commercial soap harms the skin, the safer alternative would be to make your own soap or purchase soap that is being sold in those health-conscious shops.


    1. same here, Renard. Showers are part of my daily routine. Maybe I’ll look into the products mentioned in the article I referenced to see if I can buy them at a local store. Good suggestion!


  5. We probably need to take fewer and shorter showers to save water too. Interesting. I think people bathed far less often in the olden days, and we’ve ended up here, so it can’t have been too bad.


  6. Very interesting read. I wouldn’t try it. I can’t sleep without a shower. Let’s us know after you try it for a few days


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