Debate: Can being dirty be good for your health?

It started last year, when a visiting dermatologist brought to the office by Vaseline suggested using soap in the shower


It started last year, when a visiting dermatologist brought to the office by Vaseline suggested using soap in the shower only when actually dirty, to avoid drying out the skin. Then, dry shampoos started appearing in the office, a wider range than ever before. And now, the New York Times is reporting that many Americans are cutting back on the frequency of washing and shampooing, even giving up deodorant.

We’re a culture obsessed with being clean. But is the backlash finally here?

I’ll be the first to admit it ‘ I no longer wash my hair every day. In fact, I’ve gotten down to only once or twice a week. My straight hair does tend toward oiliness, but on wash-free days, I use a dry shampoo (currently one from Ojon that doesn’t appear to be on their website, although they have this alternative) to cut the grease and add texture. It saves me time in the morning, it’s better for my hair (both because I’m not stripping oils from the hair and scalp and because I’m using the blow-dryer less frequently) and honestly, it looks better, too’I’ve gotten compliments on my hair lately that surprised me because they were on dirty-hair, quick-dry-shampoo-and-brush days. Plus, my slippery hair stays in updos better when it’s dirty.

As for showering, I generally still shower every day (sometimes twice a day, if I’ve been at a hot yoga class), but I’ve cut way back on my soap usage‘often a rinse is plenty, and it really is easier on dry skin. I still like a morning shower to help wake me up and loosen stiff muscles on workdays. But on weekends, I’ll often skip my a.m. shower, especially if I know I’ll be exercising (and then showering) later in the day.

The people profiled in the New York Times article, however, are taking things a bit further than me. One 55-year-old executive, for instance, “showers ‘no more than three times a week,’ … and less if she hasn’t been ‘working out vigorously’"’and never wears deodorant. A 25-year-old law-school applicant claims that he never wears deodorant, showers only every other day and lets his hair get oily so it’s easier to style. A 30-year-old eyeglass salesman washes his hair only once a month "to reduce frizz.”

Gross, you might say. These are the people you don’t want to stand next to on the bus. But according to the article, there’s actually a health basis for bathing less frequently than society currently demands:

“Of late, researchers have discovered that just as the gut contains good bacteria that help it run more efficiently, so does our skin brim with beneficial germs that we might not want to wash down the drain. ‘Good bacteria are educating your own skin cells to make your own antibiotics,’ said Dr. Richard Gallo, chief of the dermatology division at the University of California, San Diego, and ‘they produce their own antibiotics that kills off bad bacteria.’

“Some people have long complained that showering too much makes their skin drier or more prone to flare-ups of, say, eczema, and Dr. Gallo said that scientists are just beginning to understand why. ‘It’s not just removing the lipids and oils on your skin that’s drying it out,’ he said. It could be ‘removing some of the good bacteria that help maintain a healthy balance of skin.'”

Come clean: How often do you shower and shampoo? Do you think less often is better’and healthier? Do you think it’s taboo in our culture to admit to not bathing?

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