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DIY Bath Hygiene

18 June 2013

To follow the previous post on homemade deodorant, and to precede the next post on this year’s Firefly Gathering, this post is about abandoning the use of soap.  Not entirely, mind you, just for bathing.  It’s still important to use soap for sanitation to prevent the spread of disease.  Wash your hands with soap regularly, y’all.

This post is more wordy and has no pictures, because you don’t want pictures of what I talk about in the next paragraph.

So, just like with deodorant, the main reason I decided to examine soapless bathing options is allergies.  I’ve battled irritating skin allergies most of my life, and I get at least one bad rash a year, usually more.  I switched to hypoallergenic laundry detergent almost a decade ago after frequently developing oozing welts all across my body (and yes, the first thing I did was get tested for syphilis).  When I’m sharing a washing machine, I even have to get whoever else is using it to switch to hypoallergenic detergent, because I will sometimes get welts if the previous cycle contained perfumed detergent.  Even after securing all of this, I still occasionally have rashes.  My scalp has always been the most irritated skin on my body.  I went to the doctor several times throughout my childhood for painful sores on my head.  I tried numerous prescription shampoos; all of them made it worse.  Flaky scalp has just been a fact of life for me, and no dandruff shampoo ever did anything but make it worse.  Eventually I resigned myself to never being rid of it, so I learned the usual cycle of when the flakes were at their worst and best and timed my showers a precise number of hours before important events so that I had the lowest chance of snowhead.  I also have debilitating pollen allergies in the late spring and summer, so I’ve been on antihistamines during those seasons for most of my life.  When I started a new, far more effective antihistamine for my pollen allergies a couple years ago, I noticed my skin allergies significantly improved and my scalp became less flaky.  When I stopped taking the antihistamines at the end of each summer, my skin allergies would return.  So, this year, at the same time I started using my sister’s homemade deodorant, I decided I was going to look for solutions to my skin allergies that I had not yet considered.  As I searched the internet for this, I came across the no soap trend in the usual intentional living blogs.

I’m not going to link to any blogs in particular because there are so many that all say just about exactly the same thing, but the idea is simple: stop bathing with soap because it’s unnecessary and bad for your skin.  Instead, scrub your skin thoroughly with a cloth or some other scrubbing device under running water.  It’s almost as effective as soap at removing germs, it’s just as effective as soap at removing normal dirt accumulation, and the scrubbing removes dead skin and excess oil.  Soap dries out the skin and strips the outer layer (which is mostly dead) completely of oil, leaving it more vulnerable to irritation.

For me, there was an adjustment period of about 5 weeks.  I’ve heard average is about 4 weeks.  Since soap strips the skin of oil, the skin produces even more oil to compensate, because skin is supposed to have a coating of the body’s oil to protect it.  That’s why if you shower with soap regularly, then miss a day or two because the water’s out or you’re camping or whatever, you feel really gross by the end of it, because your skin is producing a ton of oil to try to rebuild that coating.  About two weeks after stopping soap, I felt pretty gross, and I broke out in a few zits even at my age.  But from there on, it got better.  Now, my skin feels better than it ever has.  It’s softer, it never feels too oily or too dry, I get far fewer clogged pores, and I actually smell better after a soapless shower than when I used soap.

The biggest change for me was my skin allergies.  They almost disappeared for the first time in my life without taking antihistamines.  I still get the occasional rash or small welt, but it’s really rare and it goes away much faster.  Even some things that used to irritate my skin like grass or dog dander no longer do, though most of the normal irritants are still irritating.  However, my hair was an entirely different matter.

I stopped using shampoo and conditioner at the same time I stopped using soap, and even well after the adjustment period, my hair was oily, felt dirty, and was difficult to manage.  Rinsing it and massaging my scalp didn’t seem to get the dirt out (and I’m pretty active and spend several hours every day outside working or gardening).  The skin under my beard actually flaked worse than it did when I was washing it with shampoo, though the skin on the top of my head was about the same.  My sister revealed to me that she’d been going soapless, too, though neither of us knew the other was doing it.  She introduced me to the shampoo alternative trend on the same intentional living blogs that somehow I’d missed.  Again, I won’t link any particular blog because a quick search for “No ‘Poo” will get a couple dozen nearly identical hits.

Instead of washing hair with shampoo, which is even more harsh than soap and usually contains toxic chemicals, then applying conditioner to counteract the damage soap does, just use a very mild alkaline solution followed by a very mild acid solution to remove dirt, sweat, and skin from hair.  Most “No ‘Poo” articles recommend a baking soda solution and a vinegar solution.  I tried vinegar for a few months, but the smell of vinegar makes me gag and my skin didn’t seem to like it very much, though it definitely wasn’t as harsh as shampoo.  At my sister’s recommendation, I switched to lemon juice instead, which works great.

My process is very simple.  I have quite a lot of hair and a big beard, so I use about four ounces of each solution at each wash, which I do about twice a week.  I have two four once bottles.  In one, I put one and a half teaspoons of baking soda.  In the other, I fill it about 1/6th full of lemon juice.  Then I fill both bottles with water and shake the one with baking soda to be sure it all dissolves.  This can easily be scaled up for larger bottles (which I should really do).  I pour the baking soda solution on my hair and beard first, then I massage my scalp and face for a couple minutes.  It won’t lather, but it’s still working.  After that, I rinse with the lemon juice solution, then rinse with water.  The amount used would be less for people with shorter hair, and the exact ratios take a little tweaking because everyone’s skin reacts differently.  It’s important to wait until after the transition period to do the tweaking.  For hair that feels oily after washing, reduce the amount of vinegar.  For hair that feels dry after washing, reduce the amount of baking soda.  I was using two teaspoons of baking soda at first and my scalp was still flaking, but I haven’t seen a flake since I switched to one and a half.

That’s right, for the first time in my life, my scalp isn’t flaky, after it stumped a couple doctors and persisted through multiple medicated shampoos.  I haven’t had any sores or irritations since I started doing this a few months ago.  My hair is softer, easier to manage, gets damaged less easily, and looks better.  I wish I’d discovered this 20 years ago, and you’d better believe that I’m never putting shampoo in my hair ever again.  I can come in from the garden covered in dirt or come home from work covered in sweat, and this technique gets it all out of my hair.  Between soapless bathing and homemade deodorant, I actually smell better a full 24 hours after showering (barring heavy labor in that time) than I did when I was using soap and commercial deodorant.  I feel like soap corporations have been lying to me all this time.

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