Our skin is rife with oil and bacteria, much of which is temporarily stripped away when we use soap. Sounds like a good thing, but disrupting this fragile ecosystem creates an oil imbalance, causing our exterior to feel tight and dry after bathing.
Scientists have long studied how our epidermis adapts to changes in its environment and what that means when it comes to our self-care. I wanted to see for myself how my skin would adjust when I switched up my routine and stopped using soap.
When I proposed the idea to my friends, they cringed. I live in the US, where it’s currently summer so perhaps it isn’t the best time to go soapless. The oppressive heat and humidity make a perfect breeding ground for filth.
Cleansers are supposed to rinse away these impurities, but would plain old water work just as well? New York City dermatologist Dr Dina Anderson, explained that unlike soap, water itself won’t bind to the oils and impurities and remove them from the skin.
Willing to put water to the test, I showered for two weeks without soap to see if I could remain unsullied. Here’s what happened.
I took hotter showers
During the first few days, I constantly had to remind myself not to reach for the suds. This was particularly challenging when I came home from a long run, drenched in a sticky mass of sweat and sunscreen. I craved a cold shower, but instead I cranked up the heat, since the hot water was my only option to combat the dirt.
After a few days of following this routine I began looking forward to my steam-filled showers. I soon relished in the sauna-like atmosphere that my bathroom had developed.
My skin felt healthier
A week later I noticed a significant difference in my skin from not using soap. It transformed from a patchy dry scurf to a creamy soft glow. Stepping out of the shower once entailed a ceremonious ritual of slabbing on moisturisers to relieve my dry, constricted skin. The chemicals in soap are known to be dehydrating.
Dr Anderson says, “Your skin feels tight and dry from the surfactants, which make the lather, or the alkaline base, which helps remove the oils from the skin.”
Bathing with only water balanced out my skin’s essential oils. It felt healthier and smoother without the use of harsh chemicals typically found in cleansers.
I saved time and money
I stopped using additional grooming products like lotions and exfoliants. Because I wasn’t stripping away my natural oils with irritating solvents, my skin didn’t require as much attention. Primping took half the time and cost as it did when soap was in the mix.
I didn’t stink
Most of my experiment went off without a hitch, but insecurity set in as I made my way to a job interview after a weekend hiking trip. Would I stink? It turns out bathing with water is sufficient in removing topical odours. Although I didn’t smell like a bouquet of roses, I also didn’t reek like a pile of sweaty socks.
With all the scents and perfumes pumped into cleansers, I discovered that soap doesn’t actually deodorise. It simply adds a mild top layer of fragrance, which evaporates within a few hours anyway.
I was taken aback at how little maintenance and stench my new soapless life presented. I know that lathering up every day isn’t vital to being squeaky clean. I wasn’t expecting any change in my usual preening or skin quality when removing soap from my life, but I was pleasantly surprised at how many benefits I garnered. It might do you some good to give your skin a soap vacation now and then.