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. 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.
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.
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.”