The Personal Hygiene Experiment

by Christopher Paul on February 11, 2010

First, let me address the lack of writing as promised in my New Years Resolution post from December. My wife and I welcomed a baby boy into this world on January 27 and the days leading up to – and certainly following – his birth have preoccupied my mind. So hopefully that explains why I haven’t written anything. But now to make up for it…

A while back, I read an article on Boing Boing that covered one man’s experiment of showering without the use of soap or shampoo. Lured by the idea of naturally soft but not greasy skin & hair, I thought about performing a similar experiment one day. But because I didn’t want to go to work during the two week “normalization” period, I never fully embraced the idea. I did manage to go soap free for nearly all of January but still used shampoo as I didn’t want to show up at the office with natural dreads.

But with the paternity leave I get from work and the added vacation I attached to the back of it, I had time to let my body adjust to a soap free lifestyle. Its been two weeks since I last used soap to wash (other than my hands when handling the baby or food) and I have to say I’m pretty impressed with the results. I don’t know if I’ll stay soap free when I go back to work, though.

First, the two weeks to adjust is probably a variable – my skin didn’t take that long to get used to being soap free but my hair still feels greasy at times. And for the most part, I feel clean all day. Only very late at night do I feel like I could use another shower. I still use deodorant – the natural kind from Tom’s of Maine – so I’m using some kind of odor protection. And I feel I get the best results when I use a washcloth – something I’m not sure if Richard Nikoley used for his experiment. And while my skin feels soft, it still feels a little dry – using hot water doesn’t help in that area, though.

As I mentioned, my hair still feels greasy at times. In January, when I first tried being sans soap, I still used shampoo because I knew I’d never be able to go to work while my scalp adjusted. With my time off, I went all in and didn’t use shampoo. And, at first, my hair was really greasy. But after a week, I noticed only the areas closest to my scalp were greasy. If I keep it up, I might be able to go without shampoo. But I’m not sure I want to.

My wife says she never noticed I stopped using soap in January. She could tell I stopped using shampoo and I think for that reason, I’ll go back to using it after this weekend. I might also go back to using soap as I noticed the time it took me to shower increased – probably because I wanted to make sure I got every area with the wash cloth. There is also a certain amount of paranoia I have about the experiment. I didn’t detect any foul body odor and neither did my wife. But I know I stopped using soap and, for some reason, I’m conditioned to think that soap equals clean and if others knew I hadn’t used soap, they’d think badly of me. Worse yet, they’d actually be able to smell me when I couldn’t detect my own scent.

If anyone else has tried showering without soap or shampoo, what were your results? How long did it take you to normalize and did you ever go back to using cleansers? Despite the comments saying their experiments have been a great success, I still remain a little skeptical – even after performing my own personal hygiene experiment.

Pam March 5, 2010 at 3:23 PM

I went soap and shampoo free in the first few days January this year. The first week of no shampoo was kind of icky, my scalp felt really greasy and itchy. I did a baking soda wash with vinegar rinse but found the baking soda to be really harsh on my hair, and seemed to defeat the purpose of stripping oil from my scalp. I had my hair cut a few days after that and let the stylist shampoo it. After that I never had the itches or greasiness.

I still use soap on my hands after using the toilet, playing with the dog, and before handling food. I live in a very dry winter climate and haven't needed moisturizer anywhere other than my hands in two months (the soap dries them out). I bathe every couple of days and just use water. A friend asked (very delicately) about odor "down there" and I was happy to report that it wasn't a problem. My skin feels very soft and I like that I don't have perfumy soapy residue on my skin anymore. I use a facecloth and give myself a good scrub, including my hair.

My hair is short, which may make a difference to some people who experiment with no shampoo, but it's very soft, clean, shiny, and manageable. I've asked friends (including my hair stylist) to feel my hair and tell me what they think. No one could detect any greasy feeling or odor from my hair or body. I had my hair cut a couple of weeks ago and told my stylist that I hadn't shampooed in 6 weeks. She humored me and just rinsed my hair instead of shampooing it. I have used a dab of conditioner once or twice because it seemed my hair was starting to feel a little coarse after washing it. It's been a couple of weeks and I haven't had to use conditioner since.

I bought a deodorant but developed a bit of a rash from it, so instead I just wash my armpits every morning with a facecloth. I don't sweat much so I can get through the day with no odor.

I can definitely get by without soap and shampoo. I may still dab a bit of anti-perspirant on if I'm going to have a long day surrounded by people (most days I'm out in public for just a few hours – I'm a student) but basically I've gone "au naturel" and it's working really well for me. As one friend said, "Well, it sounds weird, but I'll give you this – you don't stink." 😀

SoItsComeToThis March 10, 2010 at 2:53 AM

Pam,

I went back to using soap and shampoo for work and I have to say I think I made the wrong choice. My skin itches all the time and I don't know if I feel any cleaner. I think I'll try and find another opportunity to go sans soap soon.

Thanks for sharing your story!

Pam September 16, 2011 at 10:02 PM

So it turns out I bookmarked this page and accidentally clicked on it today.  Are you continuing your experiment?  It’s been almost 2 years for me now – wow, that went by fast.  I’m still not using soap or shampoo, although my stylist feels the universe may implode if she doesn’t shampoo my hair every time I see her (every 6 weeks), so I let her do it.  So I go six weeks between shampoos and my hair is perfectly clean and presentable in the weeks in between. 

The deodorant I mentioned before had tea tree oil in it, which is what I think started the rash, so I switched to a crystal deodorant which works perfectly.  This spring I started working out regularly so I do get sweaty but there’s no odor.  I also stopped eating meat and dairy at the beginning of the year due to a health scare, and I’ve noticed my skin feels and smells better, although it’s now slightly “roomier” after losing 50 pounds, haha!.  I’ve really made an effort to keep man-made chemicals off my skin and out of my diet.  I feel the best I’ve felt in about 20 years right now and I’m certain that all the credit doesn’t go to diet and exercise alone.  A few friends have also decided to try the no soap or shampoo thing for a while after seeing how well it’s worked for me.

If you have continued with this, I look forward to an update!  Take care! 🙂

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