The New York Times carried an article recently about a new habit known as soap-dodging. A while back, there was a discussion about stopping washing hair so often and how beneficial this was for the scalp as well as the environment, but now it is being taken even further. Commentator Matthew Parris admitted he hadn’t shampooed his hair for a decade and Broadcaster Andrew Marr said he was perfectly happy with the results when he stopped shampooing for a short while. Many people clearly agree that a regular shampoo can be an expensive and water wasting exercise. In 2008, Boots the UK chemist shop reported a 45% rise in sales of dry shampoo ( a product that can be sprayed on hair between showers), while the Batiste brand has recently seen its sales double.
But cut out the bathroom altogether? One woman used a sliced lemon under her armpits instead of deodorant, another used baby wipes to freshen up after her lunchtime jog, and one man shampooed only once a month and cut out using anti-perspirant for more than three years.
The phenom has spread from the USA to the UK but I am thinking that the UK was never really into regular ablutions.
In 2009 a poll for tissue manufacturer SCA found that 41% of British men and 33% of women don’t shower every day, with 12% of people only having a proper wash once or twice a week. (These figures place Poms unsurprisingly behind Australia, Mexico and France in the personal hygiene stakes.) Mexicans will often shower three times a day and rarely will you get hit in the face with B.O.. More than half of British teenagers don’t wash every day – with many opting for a quick spray of deodorant to mask any odour. And tooth cleaning? Forget about that in the UK.
Over the last few years there have been regular suggestions that daily hair-washing, or even any hair-washing at all, is quite unnecessary, There are, of course, environmental benefits. In a bid to reduce his carbon footprint to the absolute minimum, environmentalist Donnachadh McCarthy, 51, limits his showers to about twice a week. “The rest of the time I have a sink wash,” he says. “I believe that I’m as clean as everyone else.” It has helped him to get his water consumption down to around 20 litres a day – well below the 100 to 150 average in the UK.
As McCarthy points out, it’s only recently that we have expected people to bathe or shower every day. “When I was a kid,” he says, “the normal thing was to bathe once a week.” Oh dear, I remember being shocked to the core when I went to the UK to live in 1970. People just didn’t mind being somewhat encrusted with grease and grime. Head much further back into history, and we find Elizabeth I bathing once a month, and James I apparently only ever washing his fingers. In 1951, almost two-fifths of UK homes were without a bath, and in 1965, only half of British women wore deodorant.
It is not unusual for people staying in hotels to use 1,000 litres of water a day – showering in the morning, after a sauna, after the swimming pool, before dinner, before bed and filling the tub to the brim just because they are paying a tariff. The international market for soaps of all kinds is now $24bn a year. And some dermatologists fear that this intense, regular washing is stripping our skin of germs that could actually be beneficial to us, that help our skin stay healthy, balanced and fresh. We could be robbing ourselves of an immune system. However, going back to 1970, I was also struck in the UK with how many people had runny noses and other minor infections compared with sunny Australia. So I wonder whether the latter is true.
It might be all right to occasionally miss a shower or two, but while being environmentally friendly is good, smelling like a peasant woman’s armpit is not.
Footnote: Sugar, honey, salt, eggs, vinegar, coconut and flower essences make very adequate substitutes for soap and shampoo. So check some of our old stories as there are recipes galore. Lather up and THEN turn on the water and if you MUST have a deep bath, recycle it to the garden afterwards.