At the end of the day, people’s personal hygiene processes are their own business.
Adult humans need to use soap (or other lathering agent) on all of their body parts every day. Let’s take a walk down the avenue of why.
First, I don’t buy the “science” that washing one’s skin every day is harmful. Kunis and Kutcher, and the rest of you non-bathers on the internet, insist that “doctors” say that we don’t need to bathe every day in order to protect the moisture barrier on our skin. They also say that soap destroys the moisture barrier, so we shouldn’t use it that often either. Those things may be true, but dry skin isn’t really harmful to most of the population. If you have a skin disease like eczema or psoriasis, I can understand the necessity to prevent dryness. For the rest of us, there’s lotion and body balm and all manner of unguents designed to make your skin soft and supple AFTER you cleanse it. Dry skin is not the biggest problem that one can have, so I think it’s kind of silly to use it as a platform for funk.
(So be like me and wash all that theoretical moisture off and then immediately put it all back on, but make it smell great.)
Debunking the “soap isn’t good for your skin” platform requires a little exposition about what soap actually is, and how soap works. Soap is fat, hydrolyzed (through decomposition) into a salt so that it mixes with water. You can make soap with animal fat, like beef tallow. You can make soap with lanolin, like the fat that comes from sheep’s wool. You can make it from vegetable sources, like coconut or olive oil. If soap is fat, it’s naturally moisturizing and protective to your skin, and it’s actually manufactured for that purpose. Naturally derived soaps are readily commercially available for those who are super concerned about their skin’s moisture barrier. The “soap” that destroys that barrier is really “detergent,” made from salts from sources other than fat. Here, think of dish detergent or laundry detergent. If Dawn dish detergent — or anything like it — dissolves crusted food and grease from oil spills, it’s probably not what you should be using in the shower. This science lesson is necessary for understanding why “soap” is not bad for your skin, and why we need it to dissolve dirt.
Which brings me to my second point. Some people insist that skin doesn’t really get dirty, and water is enough to cleanse yourself on a daily basis. I declare shenanigans. Humans sweat. Sweat gets mixed with bacteria in the air (maybe from other folks who don’t bathe regularly), and that bacteria makes you stink. I know that they have a vested interest here, but body deodorant company Lume insists that the bacteria promulgates anywhere on your body that touches itself, like thighs and the backs of knees and necks, and that body odor comes from the bacteria that digest your sweat. If you don’t properly remove that bacteria every day with some type of lathering agent, you will start to reek to high heavens. Body odor from the day’s dirt and activities is fine, or the clean sweat you have when you’ve just taken a shower. But multiple days’ worth of funk is unacceptably pungent. Who wants to be around people when they smell like a middle school locker room?
Maybe, you insist, that even though bacteria lurk everywhere, you’re still clean if you have no visible dirt on your body. Not even remotely true.
I’m the kind of person who washes my face with a product and a physical exfoliant every day. My skin is actually pretty dry, so I also use a light moisturizer when I have my full regimen. On occasion, I’ve spent the night with my boyfriend, or at a friend’s house, and my products weren’t available, so I just washed with water. Even after one day without the usual washing, scraping my skin with my fingernail showed just how much dirt (and bacteria) accumulated on my skin. My face isn’t going to start smelling like B.O., but the dirt and bacteria could cause skin eruptions and other unsightly things. If that unwashed skin is on another part of your body, and you get a cut, you could end up with an infection. All of that could be avoided with a little invention called soap and water.
But my biggest problem with the no bath/no soap contingent is the incredible privilege it requires. There are many people in this world who want to bathe every day, but can’t. People with disabilities. The elderly. People who live without running or hot water. It’s a privilege to be able to get into a shower or tub every day. It’s a privilege to wash your body in hot water with sweet-smelling cleansing products. And it’s also a privilege to stink to high heavens and still be able to keep your job. If you’re rich and famous, people probably aren’t going to tell you that you reek. If you’re waiting tables, you’ll have to clean up or ship out. If you’re a minority or live below the poverty line, people will accuse you of being unclean, even when you’re more likely than the average person to overcorrect your cleanliness for that exact reason. Sending your kids to school with body odor will get a call home, if not a visit from social services. Anyone walking around with money, a house, a job, and their kids living at home is showing their privilege by not staying clean and keeping everything they have. Odd flex.
Now, we’re having a bit of fun at Mila and Ashton’s expense and certainly, this offhand remark on a podcast has probably netted them more notoriety than they had imagined, but cleanliness is important, especially in the middle of a pandemic. Hand-washing is one of the first defenses we have against COVID and plenty of other communicable diseases. If you’re not washing your ass, I have a hard time believing that you do a good job washing your hands. And if you’re not washing your hands, I’m suspicious about how you wash dishes, or food, or your home. And if I can’t shake your hand or come to your home, I’m not going to be your buddy. Now, pardon me while I gift all of my friends an assortment of olive oil soaps, and take my second shower of the day.