Sunday, October 14, 2012


Years ago, in Mexico, a couple I knew told me that they had given up using soap and were showering only with water. Not only were they soap-free at that time, during a rather arduous 4-day aikido camp, but had been doing it for almost a year. They said that, for them, washing with soap - hands included - caused the skin to lose its natural resistance to germs – and, what’s more, that body odor resulted from frequent use of soap and water.  My husband (wasn't then, is now) and I laughed at that possibility. But we were forced to admit that this couple didn't stink any more than the rest of us – what was more than a bit, I must say, with all due respect to our training group, after  back-to-back two-hour training sessions. Nevertheless, our immediate thought was that the no-soap thing must be some leftover custom from the 60’s, even though the hippie era was over by at least a generation at that time. On the other hand, I have to admit that ditching the soaping-up routine was intriguing to me.

At the time, my husband and I couldn't imagine taking a no-soap shower - something we thought was highly imaginative and possibly unhygienic. But a number of years have gone by and now,  speaking for myself and not necessarily for my husband,  and I have had to question many things that we used to do in an almost robotic way just because somebody told us we should be doing it. Also, I read that a large number of regular people now live soap-free. Deciding to go without commercial soap for bathing and, possibly, for shampooing has finally ended up on my list of things to try. So far, I'm in my second week of no-soap showering, and it's all good, thus far. No shampoo hair care - without passing through a really itchy scalp phase - may still prove to be tricky. Time will tell.

It seemed to me that the most common reason people were using so much soap was because they'd been told – by constant commercial reminding - that they needed it. And, maybe all those harsh chemicals really messed up our bodies' skin oils balance. That might be the reason for so many skin problems that we are seeing at this time. Could it be that our supposed “need” for antibacterial solutions was somehow related? I wasn’t sure but decided that I would continue to hand wash with soap at most of the recommended – before food prep, after toilet - times of the day. (I never carry or use antibacterial products, except when traveling, when I can’t be sure to have sufficient water for hand washing for hours at a time.)

We’ve been programmed as super-consumers to wash our body every day with soap, wash our hair with shampoo most every day, and buy expensive products for all of this. Maybe it’s our over-use of hygiene products that caused us to smell bad in the first place? We've probably hyper-sensitized ourselves to body odor because of all the perfumed stuff that we’ve been using. When you “overkill” on ridding yourself of smells from natural oil, the body compensates by producing more oil, and you often end up with a bigger problem in the long run. Then, we find ourselves needing more specialized products to correct the problems we, ourselves, produced. All this, and not to say anything about the “need” for dermatologists to “fix” whatever skin problems we haven’t been able to solve.

Trying out the no-soap routine
Anyway, as to my initial self-convincing arguments, I’ve always had the idea that we, as sensible people, wanting to live healthy and sustainably, don't need a bunch of commercially marketed products rubbed on our bodies every day of the week. Anyway, two years ago, I stopped shampooing my hair every other day, something that I did faithfully for decades, in favor of once every 10 to 14 days. It seems that shampoo cleanses your hair but, at the same time, strips out all the natural oils. That causes the scalp to produce more oil to replace the natural oils. You end up washing your hair often because it gets greasy right away.

My results with less frequent shampooing have been acceptable, but I’ve also found out that, to cure occasional scalp itchiness, I need to do 100 brush strokes of my shoulder-length hair several times a week. I never could get the habit of brushing 100 strokes every day, as was recommended in the hygiene books in the middle of the 20th century. Later, that kind of rigorous brushing routine was totally lost - disclaimed - as an unnecessary custom when people started washing hair weekly or more often.

By the way, I haven't done any kind of hair dye for almost a decade. And I have gray hair that I’m proud of. My underarm care - without soap - remains the same. I use nothing at all or a bit of talcum powder when it’s really hot outside or when I’m going to be under some kind of foreseeable physical or emotional stress. From my experience, smelly feet, caused by wearing boots and closed tennis shoes, are best overcome by using clean, dry cotton socks and a bit of talcum powder inside the shoes.
Added to all this, I'll share with you some personal history that provides more arguments in favor of the no-soap experiment.
You may have heard or remember that regular people didn't bathe every day until the middle 1950's. Did they stink? Well, some did but not as many as might suppose. In our family, back then, young girls were taught to bathe – no showers at the time – 2 or 3 times a week, when possible, and to wash the hair once every 2 weeks. Liquid castille soap was a usual shampooing item. Women and girls used a rinse of eight-to-one, water to vinegar, solution after washing.  This kept the hair healthy and relatively oil free. Vinegar contains acids and enzymes that kill the bacteria that lead to dry crust conditions causing dandruff and other scalp conditions. The DIY vinegar hair rinse, used at that time, seemed to be an adequate treatment for the usual 2 weeks between shampoos. At least, no one I knew had any major scalp issues.

Anyway, since the first days of this month of October, I’ve not used any soap while showering. Do I stink? No, I definitely don’t. I still shower daily for about 5 minutes, the same time I did when I used soap. Amazingly enough there was no adjustment time. From the first day, I felt squeaky clean. My dry skin is gone, and the hard to exfoliate rough skin on my legs is disappearing. As to the no-shampoo experiment, it’s only now time to wash my hair, and I’ll let you know later about this, later.  
Now, before you think that you can just enter the shower, rinse off and jump out clean, think again! You can’t be lazy and just stand there under the shower. I believe that it's important to rub a soft washcloth with  some kind of DIY non-soap scrub, all over your body, the same as if you were using soap.
Make your own DIY showering scrub

You'll need

Sea salt

Apple cider vinegar (ACV is best but you can use the vinegar that you have on hand to get started)

Olive oil

Instructions (You can vary the proportions of  the 3 ingredients however you like.))

-          Take a large mixing bowl and pour in 3 tablespoons of 100% sea salt.

-          Mix in 4 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar.
-          Stir the paste together until the salt is blended in a consistent texture.
 -          Pour in 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  

-          Stir the mixture until uniform. 

-          Pour the scrub mixture into a bottle – plastic is always safer to use in the tub. Fasten the lid tightly. 

-          To use the scrub, stand in the shower stall and shake up the mixture. 

-          Turn on the shower and put a dab of the scrub solution on your washrag. 

-          Use just as you would soap. (I usually end up diluting this mixture, somewhat, with a combination of shower and washrag water.)

-          Rinse yourself thoroughly afterwards to remove any leftover salt and oil.

It’s possible that the same scrub mixture will work OK for hair washing, too. Try it and see how it works for you. That's what I plan to do. Just like shampoo, it’s important to shut or just barely open your eyes to avoid eye irritation. No bubbles are produced but scalp cleansing occurs, nonetheless, according to reports. See notes below.

If you tend to have oily hair, you can prepare a baking soda paste for the scalp instead of using your DIY scrub. (I’ve read this, but not had to resort to it - yet. It certainly seems worth trying.) The somewhat thick scalp-scrub paste is made with baking soda and water, along with a couple of drops of olive oil mixed up in a small bowl just before hari washing. You use this paste just like shampoo.   Rinse hair and scalp twice - once with the vinegar solution, mentioned above, and again, with just water.

Note (added later the same day)
After shampooing with the DIY scrub, my scalp seems to be good and clean. Hair smells good and is soft with the oil acting as a conditioner. I did have to add water to the mix in order to get the "shampoo" feel as I massaged the mixture on my scalp. I rinsed my hair thoroughly under the shower and didn't use a vinegar rinse.

2nd note (added three days after the DIY scrub head wash)
Sadly, it turns out that the DIY scrub, while doing fine as a body wash, hasn't been as successful as a shampooing method. My hair is greasy - back to the drawing board on that question. I think it would be better to use only a couple of drops of olive oil with those proportions of vinegar and sea salt. I'll be trying that out soon...

3rd note (2 and a half months later). Still showering & shampooing with my concoction. Has varied just a bit. I use less olive oil. All that wasn't necessary for my skin type & definitely oiled up my hair too much.

4th note (2014) Now lathering up hair with a healthy (I hope) regular soap bar - the kind that, according to its label, doesn't have sodium laurel sulfate or parabens in it - and thoroughly rinsing with my DIY without any olive oil.

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