I haven’t washed myself with a soap since 2017. I stopped using it for my kids aged 10 and 7 since 2019. Does that mean we have truckloads of muck deposits on all of us?
On the contrary, I have not had to use a moisturizer or a body lotion since around the same time. My son’s extremely dry skin issue which had started developing into psoriasis patches has reversed completely. My daughter’s skin has stopped scaling in winter season. My dog hasn’t had any skin infections, fleas or ticks episodes since he came to our house as a puppy and is a healthy 2.5 years old now.
Let me take you through a brief history of soap. It is known to be invented in the Babylonian era when animal fats was mixed with wood ash water (lye) to wash wool and cotton before weaving into clothes. This basic mix of animal fat and lye continued to be used for cleaning of clothes, utensils, industrial usage till well past industrial revolution also.
Ancient Greeks and Romans took communal baths in hot water and applied oils on their body and scrubbed themselves with towels, rough natural stones etc. Ancient China, Indian subcontinent was using soap nuts ( reetha) to make their own cleaning agents which were again restricted to cleaning everything but human bodies.
When the extraction of vegetable oils was invented in the early 1800s, one of the primary soap usage had begun amongst European royalty. Till then bathing with just water was still a luxury for the middle and lower class of society, with limited wood/fuel for heating water. In India soap was introduced in 1918 by TATA and it wasn’t until 1937 that it became a household item to be used by middle class income group.
What is a soap made of? Whether its Dettol or Dove, every soap contains lye/caustic soda/sodium hydroxide (all the same) which isn’t harmful to the skin in small doses but isn’t beneficial either. There’s another category of glycerin soaps which are supposed to be mild and moisturizing but the cheapest glycerin is derived from petroleum extraction. I am yet to find a product which mentions vegetable glycerin in its ingredients.
In my research on natural soaps made there are very few which use only natural ingredients and vegetable oils as the base. A lot of them still use glycerin or soap base (caustic soda) to give shape, form and solidification to the soap. Shower gels contain surfactants (sodium laurate sulphate) and most of the creams/body lotions contain petroleum extracts in one form or the other.
Do we need soaps to cleanse ourselves? As is quite apparent, soaps, in our subcontinent aren’t even a century old. Does that mean we had filthy ancestors?
Ayurveda mentions one simple cleansing routine for skin and that is friction which basically means rubbing it vigorously. From using dried sponge gourd as loofah, to lentil powders as a scrub, or just a rough towel to remove dead skin, cleansing was never more than that.
All of these practices were meant to increase blood circulation, extract toxins from the body and promote supple skin and body.
When it comes to ancient civilizations, there is always similarity in the basic principles. The delivery and practices differ depending on the resources, place and weather. Ancient Greeks used bath water scented with flowers, oils and salts known for removing toxicity from the body through the skin. This is absolutely similar to using medicated oils for massage therapy. Romans used to apply pumice/ash or salts on their body, smear with olive oil and then rub and scrub. That definitely sounds like a homemade scrub we all know of.
Ancient Chinese also followed the same practices of scrubbing with natural ingredients, gentle massage with scented oils and warm water immersion.
So why is it then when I spoke to a lot of people of both genders on this topic, the most common response was “I don’t feel clean unless I have used a soap/shower gel”. Is the soap usage just a psychological barrier with absolutely zero physical benefits?
With women a common response was “I don’t use it on my face, just on my underarms and private parts”. The other response of mostly mothers is “Kids often come covered with mud/sand, how to we wash them if not for a soap”
Why don’t we need a soap? Our skin is capable of staying healthy on its own especially when not doused with synthetic chemicals. Our skin is the largest organ of the body and it absorbs everything we pour on it. The healthier you are, deeper is the penetration of external substances used on the skin. Do we really need sodium hydroxide and sodium laureate sulphate to look beautiful and stay healthy?
How else do we clean ourselves?
For adults who aren’t rolling in mud and sand (although it’s extremely good to destress yourself), just a water bath is enough. For the ones who have dry skin issues, quick 5 min oil application on your body followed by a shower is enough to leave you well moisturised for the rest of the day. This is especially relevant in winter season.
For kids smeared with mud, sand, potters clay, paint colours, glue, toothpaste, candle wax, plaster of Paris (references drawn from my kids), grounded oatmeal mixed with little turmeric is enough to scrub off all of this grout. The same paste is ideal for infants even for the sensitive skin types. Ladies do not wash your nipples or pubic area with soap/v wash and the likes, it will do more harm than cleansing.
Except for hand wash because we don’t have wood ash in our homes anymore, soap in my opinion is unnecessary and sometimes harmful product to use. Since all of us have the ability and the right to choose, my only recommendation is “CHOOSE WELL”