Back in September, I wrote a post about a small but seemingly growing number of people who have stopped using soap and other such detergents, believing that such products have harmed our skin microbiome. Such harm could lead 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, noted 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.”
Skotnicki also points out that since 1950 we have gone from bathing once a week to every day. That behavior is the topic of today’s post.
According to an article in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, more isn’t better when it comes to washing your skin. Showering more frequently may leave you smelling fresh but it doesn’t help prevent infection and it can actually be bad for your skin, say medical doctors. In fact, older people with drier skin may benefit from showering less frequently. Proponents of showering less say there is reason to limit your bathing and that some soaps can strip your skin of beneficial bacteria.
Showering less can be a good idea because it helps keep beneficial microbes on your skin, says Elaine Larson, professor emerita at Columbia University School of Nursing in New York, who recommends that adults shower every three to seven days depending on their age and activity. Since showering further dries out skin, adults over 60 who already have less moisture in their skin may be more vulnerable to germs if washing more frequently, she says. “If you feel dirty, shower or take a bath, but don’t think you have to every day.”
For many people in North America, a daily shower has more to do with learned habits than health, says Katherine Ashenburg, the Toronto-based author of books including “The Dirt on Clean: An Unsanitized History.” In Europe and elsewhere, the cultural norm is to shower less frequently. In North America, “people still really shudder at the idea of not washing or using deodorant every day,” she says. “It just seems to be in our DNA.”
Since I exercise most days of the week, I can’t imagine not taking a shower after my workout, and I am sure neither could anyone who would be within six feet of me that day.
But I am over 60 and have quite dry skin, so maybe the showers and the soap are partially to blame. I did try cutting back on soap after I wrote the post soap referenced above, but it did not seem to make much of a difference. (although I do have fewer friends since I cut back on using soap, but I don’t think there’s a correlation…)
So it looks like the next thing I need to try is to cut back on the frequency of showering.
I just don’t know if I’ll have any friends (in real life) left after the experiment…
Fortunately, the internet has not yet figured out how to replicate our sense of smell…