Anyone with an internet connection has probably heard by now that there are some celebrities who are very against bathing. It all started when Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher proclaimed that they don’t wash their kids unless there’s visible dirt on them. Kutcher further explained that he soaps “my armpits and my crotch daily and nothing else ever.” (Is that giving anyone else chills down the spine? Just me?) His partner more subtly revealed that she doesn’t wash her body with soap every day. Then, like all things trendy in LA, more and more famous faces took up arms against bathing: Kristen Bell and husband Dax Shepard, and even Jake Gyllenhaal.
“More and more I find bathing to be less necessary,” Gyllenhaal told Vanity Fair, “I do also think that there’s a whole world of not bathing that is also really helpful for skin maintenance, and we naturally clean ourselves.” (Disclaimer: said interview was tied to his becoming the face of the new Prada Luna Rossa Ocean perfume. Is this just a ploy to sell more fragrances?!) At the same time though, Gyllenhaal expressed wonderment about loofahs (“I always am baffled that loofahs come from nature. They feel like they’ve been made in a factory but, in fact, it’s just not true. Since I was young, it’s amazed me.”) and revealed a love of a luxury spa called Aire, so it seems that he has a truly complicated relationship with bathing. Like, he thinks about it way more than normal people!
A lot of people became very upset about the celebrities’ no-washing stance. But daily showering is not a health necessity, according to medical experts. Robert H. Shmerling MD writes for Harvard Medical School that “the daily shower is more about habit and societal norms than health… But what is considered acceptable in this regard varies from culture to culture. And some (perhaps a lot) of what we do when it comes to cleaning habits is influenced by marketing.”
In America, where shower gel, shaving cream, and deodorant commercials jam the airwaves, 2/3 of the population shower daily. But in China, about half the population bathe only twice a week. I remember that when I first moved to the U.S. in the late 90s, one of the negative stereotypes of Europeans was that they “don’t shower every day and don’t shave their armpits.” (The truth is a lot less shocking—Spaniards and the French shower at approximately the same rate as Americans, albeit with less shampooing; Germans and the Brits take fewer showers and do less shampoos.) Now that we’re challenging antiquated notions of body hair grooming, why don’t we also get rid of the cultural hegemony of American-style bathing routine?
The proponents of infrequent bathing (and no-poo) say that our bodies need their natural oils and microbiome to keep our skin healthy and our immune system strong. Dry, cracked skin from overwashing can allow more bacteria and allergens to breach your skin, leading to more infections and allergic reactions. (Duly noted, as a former eczema sufferer!) People who rarely or never shampoo swear that this leads to healthier, shinier, fuller hair with no grease.
Last but certainly not least, according to EPA, an average shower uses 16 gallons of water. During this time of historic drought in the American West, and wildfires around the world, breaking our outdated notions of daily showers isn’t a bad idea for the health of the planet.
Here are some tips if you are willing to give less showering a go:
- Focus on armpits, groin, and feet: many experts say that these are the areas that need soaping, because they are the main concerns for bacterial overgrowth (yum!). The rest of your body is okay with water (or not). This is when I realized I already shower this way!
- Less shampooing: in most cultures around the world, people don’t shampoo their hair every time they shower. Many people swear that washing only with water makes their hair the best it’s ever been. So put your hair up in a high bun and feel so justified in not getting your hair wet! Personally, I swear by the tried-and-true, shampoo every other day method.
- Turn off the tap while soaping and shampooing: Also in other cultures around the world, saving water this way is a normal part of life. In America, we take it as a birthright that we can shave, lather, and do all manner of things with the water running.
- Prioritize washing on the days when you sweat or workout: Otherwise, you might be fine with just washing your face and genitals. And speaking of genitals—it’s a good idea to wash your vulva with soap only as necessary. Honestly, most days I rinse with water only, and I haven’t gotten any type of yeast or bacterial infection in years, probably because I let my natural flora do its thing.
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Photo: Emily Iris Degn