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Do We Really Need to Bathe With Soap and Shampoo? Experiments Suggest We Don't / Shouldn't

GrumpyGuyGrumpyGuy Member
edited March 2017 in Learning
Note:  this is not an article, but rather my own findings after independent research and experimentation.  It's also rather long but, I hope, interesting and important enough to be worth some time.  - Sean

About a week ago I came across an interesting discussion about research conducted not by scientists, but by average people at home.  The research was to determine what happens if you stop washing your entire body with soap and using shampoo on your hair.  I checked out some additional discussions, as well as blog posts and articles and thought I'd report here.

The reasons cited for the experimenting were:

1)  Concerns over harsh chemicals in the products.  Daily use of soap apparently kills off the beneficial bacteria that is supposed to be all over our skin while also stripping away our body's natural oils which are produced for skin's auto-cleaning properties.  Shampoo apparently strips our hair of sebum (the natural oil produced by our scalps for similar cleaning purposes) which in turn can make our hair more brittle, more prone to damage and less easy to manage.  Conditioners were marketed along with shampoos to restore moisture to the newly-shampooed hair.  Only expensive products available from organic and similar natural-oriented manufacturers avoid the use of harsh chemicals like sodium lauryl sulfate and the cocktails that produce the "fragrance" added to the shampoo.

2)  Suspicion that the practice is unnatural for humans.  Shampoo wasn't introduced until the 1930s.  Although various soaps have existed for thousands of years (the lye-based stuff we use today can apparently be credited to the Celts), they were never necessary for basic daily body cleansing.  They certainly improved the success rate of surgeries once surgeons were finally convinced that simply "being gentlemen" didn't mean they had no funky stuff on their hands from handling cadavers and the like.  That said, those older soaps certainly weren't packed full of the numerous industrial chemicals most modern products contain. 

3)  Soaps and shampoos are made by corporations that, of course, want our money.  It makes sense that they would create products that on one hand clean, but on the other do damage that can be conveniently managed by other products they also happen to make.  It also makes sense that they would have researchers and scientists working for them who would promote the necessity of their products' use.

I'll add my own thought that the act of ablution, which the Quran commands to clean oneself before prayer, only mentions clean water or, failing that, clean sand/soil.  If water is good enough for God then it must surely be good enough for humans.

And so, emboldened by concerns over artificial products, corporate greed and faulty modern assumptions that recently-introduced practices are natural human activites, some people tried modifying their bathing habits.  The "Nopoo" movement appeared, although many of its members are big fans of alternative natural products like shampoo bars and the like (which are probably expensive, but possibly worth the expense).  Some people took it to an extreme and use water only, perhaps with a weekly application of conditioner.  During showers the body is scrubbed thoroughly with the hands, and the hair and scalp rigorously rinsed with water and massaged to get rid of dandruff and dirt.  Some people avoided the use of hot water while washing hair, as it has been reported to make hair more susceptible to damage.  Hands are still washed throughout the day, and dental hygiene observed. 

People seem to have found the following:

1)  Their hair, after a brief one or two-week period of feeling a bit more oily, settles back into its natural state and both looks and feels healthier.  Rather than be dirty, it tends to resist dirt better - looking fine at the end of even a busy day and even the following morning.  Smell is not an issue either, since the natural sebum on the hair allows just water to rinse off the day's grime.  Hair held its form and shape with less need for styling products, as well.  In some cases people reported their hair looking so much better that people would inquire about what products they use to get such awesome hair.  Answers of "nothing" resulted in astonishment.

2)  Skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis and acne improved or even went away completely, eliminating the need for expensive skin-care products.  Skin dryness and general irritation was also reported to have reduced significantly for many people.  Theories were that the elimination of daily chemical scrubs allowed the skin to coat itself properly with body oils and beneficial bacteria, thereby combating the problems (that were probably caused by soaps to begin with).

3)  Body odour did not worsen, so long as the person thoroughly washed their body and hair daily with water.  Application of underarm deodorant was still recommended and observed by most.  Some people chose to continue soaping their posterior region and groin, but others reported the areas self-maintained sufficiently that only water was capable of getting them completely clean.  I was surprised to see one report by a couple who announced that body odours actually *decreased* in both of them after several months of water-only bathing.  Particular reductions in odour from the male groin region were mentioned.  It was supposed that restoring the skin's natural coating of oils and bacteria got rid of most of whatever causes funky smells down there. 

Anecdotes about loved ones and friends being unable to notice a difference and reacting with surprise when told about the experiments were plentiful, and I saw no evidence of anyone being accused of being stinkier or dirtier-looking.

Not one to trust what other people say at face value, I decided to try it out for myself.  I'm now at the end of my first week of experimenting and have the following to report:

1)  My hair does indeed look a bit more full, and feels a little smoother to my fingers.  It's also easier for me to keep it combed in place.  It doesn't look oily, even though I expected that to be the case based on what other people cautioned.  I also haven't noticed an increase in dandruff in spite of no longer using the anti-dandruff shampoo I used regularly before.  I actually don't appear to have any dandruff at all at the moment, and my scalp becomes itchy less-frequently than it did before.

2)  My skin doesn't look or feel dirtier and aside from my face, which feels like it has become a little oilier, is not oily or grungy anywhere.  I am currently experimenting with more frequent face-washes with water but am also waiting to see if things "equalize" over the next week or so, which was suggested as being something that happens.  I will take note if my face breaks out in pimples or becomes less pleasant in some other way.  Speaking of pimples, the ten or so pimples I almost always have spread across both of my thighs seem to be going away.  Could just be happening for unrelated reasons, so I'll keep an eye on it.

3)  I've noticed a slight reduction in body odours.  Being an overweight man who sweats alot, this has frankly surprised me the most.  I'll see if it persists over the course of my second week of experimentation.  Also worth noting is that it is currently the winter and both cold and dry here.  I'm not sure what would happen in the heat and humidity of summer.  I saw one person's claim that they use soap sometimes in the summer, especially after a particularly sweaty day.

So far, I see no reason to stop my experiment.  I have no complaints and my wife, who has a nose like a bloodhound and historically enjoys complaining about my various odours, has not voiced a single comment about increased smell.

Could it be that we have all fallen victim to an expert scam?  Could "big soap" be tricking us into using products we don't need and that damage our skin and hair sufficiently that we need even *more* products?

Worth considering:  Shampoo was introduced in the 1930s, as I mentioned above.  Hair conditioners, which had only been invented a few decades earlier for the softening of men's hair and beards (not for women to use interestingly) were then introduced as a necessary partner for shampoo.  Prior to around 1900, hair was typically conditioned with natural oils, if at all.

Although bathing oneself is natural, normal and historically backed-up, the daily use of soap is a very, very recent social invention.  Although essential for situations like surgery or to clean up after handling filth, soap does not seem essential for basic body cleanliness.  Furthermore, the vast majority of skin products, of which there are MANY, seem to exist only to repair the damage caused to skin by our soaps.

Hand-washing with soap several times daily still seems like a good idea, although I'm now wondering even about that.  Personally, I want to keep hand-washing with soap because I'm a bit obsessive about doing so.

One final observation:  allergies and various skin conditions have been on the rise over the past century, especially recently.  People have weaker immune systems and seem to be allergic to just about everything now.  Surely the increased use of antibiotics and medicines plays a role, but might not also the use of soaps and shampoos?  Ridding our bodies of their natural defense mechanisms (oils and bacteria) might actually be self-destructive behaviour.



  • GrumpyGuyGrumpyGuy Member
    edited March 2017
    I now challenge each of you to try the same thing as me:

    Go a week or two (or even a month or two if you really want to) without using soap on your body (hands excepted, as well as nether regions based on personal preference) or shampoo on your hair.  Also stop using any regular skin-maintenance products if you wish (I'm still using some skin conditioner on my neck after I shave).  If you have a day where you get filthy feel free to use soap then.  I tried using just conditioner tonight after reading how some people do that.  I'm curious if it will make much difference - seems not to have from what I can see.

    Report back at the end of your trial on the following things:

    1)  The status of your hair, including its feeling, appearance and manageability

    2)  The status of your skin, including its feeling, appearance and health

    3)  The status of your body odour - has it increased or decreased?  Stayed the same?

    4)  Has anyone noticed or said anything?  (Hopefully you keep it a secret to make it more interesting)

    5)  Miscellaneous thoughts and observations you feel worthy of noting

    If you wish to read more before trying it, do Google searches for "nopoo" and "water-only bathing" and read whatever grabs your eye. 

    I'll bookmark this thread to come up again in two or three weeks to, at the very least, report on any more of my own findings.

    I think if we can pool our own independent research here we will have more useful and trustworthy information than the piecing together of various blogs and Reddit threads from across the Internet.
  • mrpops09_CMOD_mrpops09_CMOD_ Chief Moderator
    edited March 2017
    As a single male in my late 20's, this is not something I am willing to try lol 
    Ephesians 6:12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
  • mrpops09_CMOD_mrpops09_CMOD_ Chief Moderator
    Also, pretty interesting. I have heard from many people that washing your hair with shampoo daily is not good for your hair. 

    I actually am not very skeptical of your results. The only thing I like my soap for is the "perfume" effect...stuff gives me the attractive aroma of sweet yet manly scent 
    Ephesians 6:12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
  • Matt_ADMIN_Matt_ADMIN_ Administrator
    While I was researching a hypothesis I had about the Quran, that nothing within the Quran is ceremonial and everything has a practical purpose, I investigated ablution and came across a scientific study (whose precise details I've since forgotten but whose gist I remember) about farmers in Sri Lanka or Bangladesh, and the relationship between how they washed their hands and the prevalence of diarrhea.

    Those who didn't wash their hands at all after using the washroom had a relevantly large prevalence of diarrhea.

    Those who used water only to wash their hands had a significant reduction in the prevalence of diarrhea.

    And here's where it became interesting: those who used both soap and water to wash their hands did have a further reduction if the prevalence of diarrhea, but only a minor one, and the leap between no water to water was a number of times greater than the leap between water and soap. In the grand scheme of things, soap made almost no difference.
    "...Say, 'GOD is sufficient for me.' In Him the trusters shall trust." (Quran 39:38)
  • GrumpyGuyGrumpyGuy Member
    edited March 2017
    Very interesting.  Using soap to wash our hands after handling things like animal waste (in the case of farming) doesn't seem to be harmful, although perhaps its necessity is overblown.  Unfortunately, due to the low freshness of animal products across much of the developed world, it seems wise to wash hands with soap after handling raw meats as well. 

    Interestingly nobody seems to get sick from eating raw fish in Japan (besides rare accidents) because people demand fresh ingredients.  Raw meats like chicken and horse are also eaten in some places here and, in spite of my horror, I have heard no examples of people getting sick from doing that.  Cracking a raw egg onto food is a (disgusting) common culinary practice here as well.  My wife assures me that it's safe because Japanese eggs are fresher, with far shorter use-by dates.  If people are able to put these things in their mouths, chew them and then digest them without getting sick, then the state of one's hands after handling them seems like it should be unimportant.

    Our bodies are fantastic machines no matter whether you look at them from a religious or a secular point of view.  We wouldn't have evolved to reach the top of the global food chain if we were constantly getting sick and dying because we touched other natural things.  Proof - animals don't use soap, yet thrive in their respective habitats.  From a creation point of view, our bodies wouldn't be the perfect creations that they are if we had a requirement to invent, distribute and heavily use soaps and other cleaning products that aren't mentioned in the instruction books to life.

    I think what happened was this;  soaps were observed to reduce infection and the spread of disease when used in certain circumstances (most notably surgery).  The use of soap, along with the increasing trend to bathe more and access to clean water, seemed to be improving everyone's health.  Since soap had proven benefits for surgeons and doctors, there was no reason for the average person not to assume that soaps were good for them as well.

    Another pleasant effect of soap was that the fragrances easily added to it could make people smell nicer.  Who doesn't want to smell nicer?

    Almost immediately the people who made soap saw the potential profits to be had and collaborated with physicians and other learned people to make sure that their products came to be viewed as household necessities.  Other people who had ideas and wanted money started coming up with their own inventions, which they successfully marketed.

    Once it got to the point where the average person lived in at least a basic apartment and had some spending money, soaps and shampoos and other products had become widespread and people just accepted the wisdom that they were all necessary.  After all, few people would be willing to risk becoming smelly Pig Pen characters during a time when socializing was still a huge part of life.

    What made it worse was the rise of celebrity culture as well as the acceptance of questionable personality traits like vanity.  Now there are a zillion soap products, skin-care products, makeup products and so on.

    Do we need all of them?  Perhaps yes, if our soaps are removing the systems of natural self-cleansing from our hair and skin.  We clearly need hair and skin conditioners to restore our natural state.  And perhaps those conditioners cause some irritation, so we need further creams and ointments.  Note that even cheap soap and shampoo is pretty expensive, and that trendy popular stuff with good marketing is very expensive.

    I suppose also worth noting is that the alternative natural soaps people are starting to like are very, *very* expensive.  Although part of this could be due to their novelty and the difficulty of manufacturing them, we shouldn't forget that the people making these products are in some capacity interested in making a profit.  Even the noblest intentions can change when bills and payments start rolling in.

    You know what's free?  (Well technically, since no one owns the rain or the content of rivers and lakes).  It's water, of course.  Perhaps it's worth thinking about that the substance used by other living creatures to become clean and to maintain basic bodily functions is plain old water, which falls from the sky and sits around in bodies larger than some nations.

  • Rosie_MOD_Rosie_MOD_ Moderator
    edited March 2017
    Have always avoided soap on my face the results of stringent testing are as follows:
    Instead of looking like this
    Image result for mrs mcgillicuddy

    I look more like this - but with a few less feathers.
    Image result for mrs doubtfire

    "We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves."

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