I am experimenting with using no soap. No shampoo (or conditioner), nurse no face cleanser, no body wash, bar soap, not even deodorant or moisturizer, nothing. I bet you’re thinking “She just went of the deep end of the hippie pool.”
I don’t want to be a smelly hippie. I read this blog post on BoingBoing, about one of the contributors trying out the no soap thing for 18 months (and counting). What drew me to the idea was the personal experiment angle, and the logic seemed like it could be sound. I think my body knows what it’s doing, and am willing to find out. Also, I’m lazy.
This no soap thing is part of the paleolithic lifestyle idea — basically that our bodies haven’t evolved that much since caveman times, and we didn’t have soap then. The New York Times article I linked to is more about the paleo diet, which I have no interest in following, since I’m fairly certain my body’s adapted to eating cheese (seriously1).
Right, back to not using soap. I feel I need to mention, and in fact pull out the bold type, I’m still showering. I’m showering every day, thanks. It’s not that I’m not bathing, it’s that I’m not using soap to do so. (I am using soap to wash my hands after changing diapers, before preparing food, and the like.)
I wasn’t so much concerned about the cleanliness of rest of my body as I was my hair. Having done a fair share of camping and living at a camp, I’m familiar with my hair’s ability to get stringy and gross after 2 days of inactivity, or 1 day of moderate activity. I’ve gone 3-4 days without showering before, and so I was prepared for my hair to be pretty gross.
The last time I used soap was on January 4th. I read the afore-mentioned BoingBoing post, and decided it would be a fun experiment to try immediately. Here’s what happened:
January 5th: I normally shower every other day, so this day was my usual not-shower day.
January 6: I showered, but instead of shampooing, conditioning, soaping various nether regions, then using face cleanser, I spent time massaging my scalp with my fingers, and using a washcloth and hot water all over my body. I noticed that I lost a lot less hair (I usually lose a lot of hair each time I shower), and my hair felt greasy as I stepped out of the shower. Other than my hair, I felt clean. Once my hair dried (I don’t use a hair dryer) it was kind of greasy. Had I needed to go to a professional job, I would have been embarrassed, but not so greasy that it bothered me at home. I didn’t notice any bad smell (and I’m very aware of my BO, as is my partner — he promised to let me know if I got stinky.)
January 7-8th: I couldn’t get my hair super clean, but it was cleaner than not showering at all. The greasy level was only increasing a little. My hair was super soft.
January 9th: This was the apex of the greasy hair. This whole time, my body didn’t get smelly, my skin didn’t get overly dry or oily. It was only my hair that was a problem. Admittedly, I’d also spend most of my showering time on my hair, shampooing and conditioning it. This was the 5th day, and my hair felt heavy and matted (not in a tangled sense, but clumped together). I wore a bandanna, and went to the computer for some more research. From what I read, you can go cold turkey — the benefit of this is your body adjusts quickly to the change in oil production. You can also wean yourself off soap, which is probably what I’d have done if I needed to be in public more. Another option was a baking soda scrub of the hair, followed by a vinegar rinse. Awesome. That’s what I was looking for — something to help wash out the oil buildup without going back to shampoo. I did use a small amount of conditioner to shave my armpits.
January 10th: I poured about a quarter cup of baking soda into my hand, added some shower sprinkles of water, and rubbed it into my hair. I added another tablespoon or so, just to make sure I was getting it in everywhere. I rinsed it out, then poured vinegar into my hair and massaged that around. I could tell it made a difference, but it wasn’t until my hair dried that I realized just how much. I was through the gauntlet! My hair looked like I had shampooed it, and was softer than ever.
January 11th: Same baking soda/vinegar treatment. Worked the same as January 10th.
January 12th: Decided to try just water, no baking soda or vinegar. Hair was a little greasy, but definitely within normal limits. Told my upstairs neighbor about my experiment, and she couldn’t believe it, especially after touching my hair.
January 13th (today): Used baking soda and vinegar again, in hopes of having completely clean hair. I do, and it’s very soft.I keep petting it. I’m losing WAY less hair during each shower. I’m not sure how to explain this without making you feel a little ill, but let’s say I used to lose approximately a cat-fight fistful of hair every shower. Now I lose a meager 3-4 strands.
I’m not sure if I can get away from the baking soda and vinegar treatment, to water only. I think I need to give my body more time to acclimate. I’m also not sure what will happen when I try going two days without showering. I’ll update when I have more data points.
My favorite thing about this is the experimentation. I’ve been taking notes, so I could write this post. I also like that I can stop angsting about whether to buy cheap crappy shampoo, or expensive shampoo that maybe doesn’t have parabens and maybe works better, but maybe not, but does cost 10x more than Suave.
From blog post & comments I’ve read of others trying it, it seems like the no-soap thing works well for some, and can be modified to work for others. As with many fads, there are those who are getting fanatical. I think it’s worth trying, especially if you feel that a change might help a hair/skin problem (even if it’s counterintuitive that less soap would help oily skin or hair), especially if you can get days 4-5 of your acclimation period to land on a weekend. Or if you’re lazy.
I’m sorry I didn’t take pictures of my gross hair days. Now my hair is the same as before, with fewer products and less fuss, so I’m not going to bother adding one. Plus, 80 just woke up. Time to go clean her critical areas.
1 I read that my ancestry has provided me with the ability to eat cheese, and eat cheese I will.