The benefits of all natural soap.
Why do we wash, and why is it important to use natural soap when we do? Conventional wisdom holds that washing our bodies often, and vigorously, is good for us. In his book Clean: The New Science of Skin, James Hamblin challenges us to rethink the way we wash our bodies. His book opens with a startling admission that five years previously, he had stopped showering altogether.
Hamblin says that skin, long seen as a barrier that should be sterile and pristine, is increasingly seen as a ‘complex, diverse ecosystem’ and scientists are only now learning the importance of the microbes that live on our skin and influence processes through our body. The vast majority of our skin microbes seem to be not simply harmless but important to the skin’s function and so, too the functioning of our immune systems.
Experts agree with Hamblin. There are definitely bacteria that cause unpleasant or even deadly diseases, but lots of them are extremely useful and beneficial to our health. They make vitamins in our gut, coat our skin to protect us from harmful microbes, and help us digest food. Today, many scientists argue that people have become ‘too clean’ for their own good.
One obvious and timely example where washing often is critical is during a coronavirus pandemic. Soap works, especially in a pandemic because it is the best thing for destroying coronavirus. The hydrophobic tails of soap molecules bond with the lipid membrane that protects the virus, literally ripping it apart, while their hydrophilic heads bond with the water that washes the dead virus away. Even today with all our hand sanitisers and gels, washing your hands with soap is one of the key public health practices that can significantly slow the rate of a pandemic and limit the number of infections.
Soap is a really simple product – the result of a reaction of an alkali with a fatty acid - and most are almost chemically identical so there isn’t much room to change the product, otherwise it’s not soap. here are just two basic steps in making soap - saponification and salting-out of soap. Apart from fragrances and colours, the main difference is what type of fat is used. Why did we get so complicated with our washing by adding fancy ingredients including fragrances and colours and sound great in marketing spin but don’t really have any impact? The beauty of soap is its simplicity in doing its job.
While Hamblin’s non-showering is an interesting anecdote in the book, he doesn’t recommend his shower-avoidance to everyone, and he writes that ‘in a lot of ways it was terrible’. But in challenging us to think about what we put on our bodies and the cost of this is an important topic – is something that we all need to think about.
The benefits of all natural soap that has the basic ingredients required to clean our bodies and only washing when we have to means that we can stay healthier, build up our good bacteria and microbes and stay well with a minimum of fuss.