Truth comes out in the wash

By Craig Mcintosh ( China Daily ) Updated: 2016-07-30 07:02:16

Truth comes out in the wash

[Picture by Li Min/ China Daily]

Giving up soap is good for the skin, expert says, but what about the natural environment?

I don't do fads. I refused to take part in the Ice Bucket Challenge, despite much browbeating from friends, and I'm probably the last person you will hear talking about some new diet advocated by an airhead in Hollywood.

Which is why even I'm surprised I decided to follow advice I found online to stop washing.

Well, sort of.

In his video series, If Our Bodies Could Talk, James Hamblin, senior editor for The Atlantic magazine, meets with microbiologists and dermatologists who say that constantly scrubbing with soap, shampoo and other products is actually bad for our skin.

Apparently, the human body produces a microbe organism network - a bit like the good bacteria in our stomachs - that acts like a natural moisturizer and protects the skin.

"There is a fundamental principle, that there are good bugs and bad bugs. Good bugs that help us to live our lives," explains Martin Blaser, director of the human microbiome project at New York University. "So, if you're removing your good bugs, through soap or cosmetics or antibiotics or hand cleansers, etc, you may not be doing yourself any favors. Even though you might think you're cleaner, you may not be."

On top of the video, what also interested me was the reaction, with some people using it as evidence that washing products, or even just showering, is bad for the environment.

I wasn't entirely convinced by any of it, but I decided to give it ago and see for myself. So, other than soap for washing my hands, which is still highly recommended, for the past four weeks I've cut out soap, shower gel and shampoo, and now wash only with hot water.

Naturally, I had my reservations. By attempting such an experiment with Beijing summer in full swing, I had visions of my immediate colleagues hanging air-fresheners off their computers and of large "exclusion zones" opening up around me on public transportation.

However, four weeks in, my skin has actually started to look and feel healthier. And when it comes to smell, I've noticed no discernable worsening in my odor - nor has my wife or work colleagues, as far as I know (they haven't cared about hurting my feelings in the past, so I have no reason to believe they're keeping schtum now). Even after playing an hour of badminton in 30 C heat, the real test for the odor factor, a quick shower in hot water did the trick.

So far, the experiment also seems to have helped curb the rash I get on my hands, arms and legs in high temperatures.

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