Science | August 9, 2020 6:30 am

Does Regular Showering Really Keep You Cleaner?

Prepare to rethink everything you know about soap

Shower head
Is it possible that showering too much might be bad for your health?
turydddu & JovanCormac/Creative Commons

When you feel the need to feel freshened up, what’s your logical next step? For most people, it involves taking a shower. There’s something innately satisfying about taking a shower and washing your hair — both from the process itself and from the way it leaves you feeling afterwards. But what if the best way to stay clean involved steering clear of the shower entirely? Is this the contrarian take to end all contrarian takes, or something rooted in science?

Writer and MD James Hamblin has a new book out that’s causing quite a stir. Clean: The New Science of Skin offers readers an unexpected glimpse into the current state of scientific thought regarding our skin and how it works. Writing at Undark, Elizabeth Svoboda explains why Hamblin’s book — and the arguments he makes within it — are so jarring for many readers. At the center of his argument are microbes — which don’t react well to showers:

When you take a soap-slathered loofah to your greasy pelt, [Hamblin] says, you’re actually destroying an interdependent microbial universe, or microbiome, on the surface of your skin.

That, in turn, can cause health problems; for certain conditions, a healthy microbiome paves the way for a rapid healing process. Lose the microbiome, however, and that process can be dramatically slowed.

Brooke Jarvis also explored Hamblin’s book and its themes at The New Yorker. Jarvis notes that Hamblin’s book comes at a time when many people are acutely aware of their own cleaning habits and routines. “Like many people,” Jarvis writes, “I developed a new appreciation for soap, imagining with grim satisfaction a scene of microscopic destruction each time I scrubbed my hands.”

Could the sturdiest way to a cleaner you be to avoid showering entirely? It’s not the most obvious route, but Hamblin’s argument is more convincing than you might think. And if you look at the author bio on Bookshop’s page for Clean, you’ll note that Hamblin also walks the walk, as the saying goes. The final sentence of the “About the Author” section? “He only uses soap on his hands.”

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