A doctor has taken the unusual step of not washing his body with soap for a full five years, in an attempt to save money and time, and allow his skin's microbiome to thrive.
Dr James Hamblin began the project when he first moved to a small apartment in Brooklyn to pursue journalism over his previous medical career. In his book Clean, he explains that part of it was to do with cutting down expenses, realizing if you wash for around 30 minutes a day, over a lifetime that's about two years of your life.
However, the main thrust of the project is much more biological.
"I was doing a lot of minimizing in my life, and at the same time, I started learning about the skin microbiome," Hamblin said in an interview with Today.
"So just like the gut microbiome – we have trillions of microbes that are living inside us – we also have them living all over our skin, and that led to some experimentation with trying to see exactly what was the point of a lot of the hygiene and skincare and cleanliness regimens that we're doing if in fact we are always covered in microbes all the time, most of which are perfectly healthy, and even beneficial to us."
You have probably heard of the wonders of the gut microbiome, and how it is linked to everything from gut health to your mood. Fairly recently, scientists have become more interested in the biome of your skin, and how it affects your health. There are schools of thought that people are showering too often, damaging their own microbiomes, including potentially helpful bacteria that play a role in skin health. There's even evidence that conditions like acne could be in part caused by disruption to the skin's usual microbiome.
There are, of course, downsides to not showering – not least of which is other people telling you that the idea is disgusting, which has happened to James. He also had to continue to wash his hands, for hygiene and because of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, he found that the body odor he had back when he was showering was not as pronounced during his years of not showering at all.
“My skin slowly became less oily, and I got fewer patches of eczema," he told the Guardian. "I didn’t smell like pine trees or lavender, but I also didn’t smell like the oniony body odour that I used to get when my armpits, used to being plastered with deodorant, suddenly went a day without it.”
Hamblin is also critical of the cosmetic industry itself, noting that in the EU over 1,500 chemicals contained in personal care products have been banned or restricted, while in the US that number is 11. To demonstrate this, he even launched his own skincare company with the motto “Menscare for Fucking Perfect Skin", selling products containing ingredients picked pretty much at random. It was all fine and legal.
Nevertheless, would he recommend others to take the plunge and follow the no-shower lifestyle?
“I’m not here to recommend this approach to everyone. In a lot of ways it was terrible," he said. "But it also changed my life.”