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