Lose the Soap: Take a Soap-Free Shower (and Still Smell Sweet)
A couple years ago, I embarked on an all-natural skin- and hair-care odyssey. The no 'poo (i.e. shampoo-free) experiment did not work out (but oh! how I wanted it to). But two others did stick -- the oil-cleansing method and the soap-free shower.
Now, I know some of you might be horrified by the idea of showering without soap. But I'm here to say, it can be done. And it can be done without smelliness of any kind. It even has some pretty great benefits.
Why go no-soap?
Once I get an idea in my head, I tend to go slightly overboard. Which is how I happened to remove all soaps and shampoos from my skin- and hair-care routine--in the same week. But even if you're not quite so gung-ho about all this, there are some really good reasons why you might want to give it a try.
- Soap is really drying for your skin. The way soap works, in fact, is that it dissolves oil. But your skin needs oil -- oil protects it and makes it soft and supple. If you strip all the oil off your skin, one of two things will happen: your skin will get all dry and scaly (in which case, you're probably moisturizing up a storm) or it will ramp up its oil production, in order to compensate, and you'll end up with extra-oily skin and/or break-outs. Or, there's the middle ground: scaly dry skin with a shiny layer of oil on top. Blech.
If you're using soap and other cleansers, on your face or your body, chances are you're also using a lot moisturizer--especially in winter. You need to, right? Because otherwise your skin is the total opposite of soft and supple.
- Soaps (and moisturizers) tend to be full of chemicals--most of which haven't been adequately studied for safety. Cosmetics of every kind are full of chemicals -- just read the label on your body wash -- that are potentially toxic, either to humans or to the environment. And the bar for demonstrating product safety in the cosmetics industry is very low. (To look up the data on your own skin-care products, check out the Environmental Working Group's cosmetics database.) Even if you're not in any danger from your soap, keep in mind that it's all washing down the drain and back into the water supply and the environment. Why add any more stress than necessary to either your body or your ecological niche?
- Body wash, fancy soaps, and moisturizers are expensive. Not all soaps are pricey, of course, but in my experience, the cheaper the soap, the more moisturizer I need afterwards. So any cost-savings get balanced right out. But you know what really is cheap? No soap at all. Saves the cost of the soap...plus you'll need w-a-y less moisturizer. I promise.
So how does this all work?
It's so easy. The key is exfoliation. You can't just stand under the water and hope for the best. No, no -- you still need to scrub. You'll just scrub without soap.
Use whatever you want -- a nice washcloth, a loofah, a body brush, a mesh scrubber-thingy, whatever works. But scrub down. Remove that top layer of dead and dying skin cells. Unless you've been rolling in axle grease or something, whatever incidental dirt you have on your body will slough right off.
If you're anything like me, the first few times you do this, you might not feel clean while you're actually in the shower. I associated "clean" with that tight-skin feeling that soap gives you, and of course, no soap, no tightness. You'll have to trust that you are clean. Hop out, dry yourself off, and wait 15 minutes. I guarantee you'll feel as squeaky clean as usual.
I expect there are some folks out there pursuing professions that will require soap. If your job (or hobby) involves grease or paint or other things that aren't water soluble, you might legitimately need soap to get clean.
But me, personally, I almost never get so dirty that I need soap. Even when I come home sweaty and muddy and disgusting from a cross-country run, it's nothing a little extra scrubbing can't take care. When you're sweaty and stinky, you might feel like you need soap -- but you probably don't.
Frequently asked questions about specific body parts
- What about my armpits?
Nope, no soap necessary. Seems crazy, I know -- but hot water and a good washcloth should be just fine.
- What about my...private parts?
Same answer -- just give everything a good, soap-free scrub. You should have no problems.
- What about my feet?
If you're prone to smelly feet, it's very possible that no good will come from denying you your daily dose of antibacterial soap. That said, my feet sweat like nobody's business anytime they're in or on shoes (i.e. they'll sweat even in flip-flops, but as long as I'm barefoot, they're totally dry). I don't use soap on them and I haven't noticed that they're any smellier. (Sadly, they still sweat.) If your feet aren't generally smelly, I doubt you'll have any trouble. And even if you are prone to foot odor, you might not have any problems. Try it and see.
Here's what I do for my feet: I use a super-awesome foot stone--the Tweezerman Pedro Callus Stone--which runs about $20 and is worth every penny. I use it on my feet almost every day and my feet (which are prone to some pretty hard-core callusing) are smoother than they've ever been. The Tweezerman does a fabulous job exfoliating, so I'm pretty confident that it's also getting my feet nice and clean. And like I said, no increase in smelliness.
- What about shaving my legs?
If you're already using some kind of shave cream on your legs, you can just keep doing what you're doing. If you're lubricating with lathered soap, you'll need to make some changes.
I recommend Alba Botanica Very Emollient Cream Shave. It works well, it's fairly moisturizing, and it's effective in fabulously small amounts. In fact, the more you use, the less well it works. So a bottle lasts a long time.
I've also used Dr. Bronner's Organic Shave Gel, which has its perks. It lathers, so it feels more like shaving with soap, which is what I used to do. (The Alba cream is really just a cream, so it doesn't seem like it would work well. It does, but it surprises me that it does.) The Dr. Bronner's works just as well, but it's a bit more drying for my skin -- plus it's easier to use too much of it, so it goes a bit faster. And, the print on the container flakes off when it gets wet, so you'll end up with bits of colored plasticky stuff all over.
What to expect during your transition?
Unlike changing over to the oil-cleansing method or trying to ween yourself off shampoo, the switch to no-soap showers is pretty painless. You'll have to get used a new sense of what clean skin feels like -- the "clean" feeling of just-washed skin isn't really the feeling of cleanliness; it's the feeling of soap. Once you start to associate soap-free exfoliation with a clean feeling, you'll be good to go.
The other big change you might notice, if you currently use scented soaps and body washes, is that your skin will smell like skin--not like night-blooming jasmine or cucumber coconut. I don't personally consider that to be a bad thing -- I think my skin smells nice even without perfumes, and I used to wonder about exactly what the combination of my shampoo, conditioner, soap, and moisturizer scents was adding up to. This way, I know that my hair pretty much smells like my shampoo (yummy!) and the rest of me smells like...me. And if I use any kind of perfume, I don't need to worry about how it combines with my body wash.
So give the no-soap shower a try. You just might be surprised at how much you like it! And you can put your body wash savings to good use somewhere else.