“Five years ago, I stopped showering.” This was the bold confession that James Hamblin, physician and staff writer at The Atlantic, wrote in his book titled Clean: The New Science of Skin.
“At least, by most modern definitions of the word,” he clarifies.
“I still get my hair wet occasionally, but I quit shampooing or conditioning, or using soap, except on my hands,” Hamblin continues. He has also stopped using products that he had always associated with “being clean”, such as exfoliants, moisturizers and deodorants. This just might be one of the most shocking revelations a person can tell you. But he doesn’t recommend this practice to everyone.
In polite company, Hamblin’s confession tends to land like the Hindenburg, which reveals just how obsessed we’ve become with surface notions of cleanliness — and how reluctant we are to disavow them. But Hamblin thinks the sensible-sounding idea that we should scrub up regularly is both simplistic and wrongheaded. When you take a soap-slathered loofah to your greasy pelt, he says, you’re actually destroying an interdependent microbial universe, or microbiome, on the surface of your skin.
“When we clean ourselves,” Hamblin writes, “we at least temporarily alter the microscopic populations — either by removing them or by altering the resources available to them.” By chasing that born-again post-shower rush, in other words, we stymie one of evolution’s best strategies to shield us from disease and keep out invaders.
Hamblin may have stopped showering, and he may have stopped using beauty products, but it doesn’t mean that his skin and hygiene has gotten worse. In fact, it has become better. He states that his skin has become less oily, and he has got fewer patches of eczema.
That’s why Hamblin plans to continue his shower-free routine for now— as long as his odor doesn’t send others fleeing from the room. It hasn’t so far, he reports: “I didn’t smell like pine trees or lavender, but I also didn’t smell like the oniony body odor that I used to get when my armpits, used to being plastered with deodorant, suddenly went a day without it.”
Know more details about Hamblin’s revelation over at Undark.
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