Monday, July 9, 2012

The no-soap, water-only washing experiment

Back in October, I thought I'd try a no-'poo experiment but do it one further: no cleansers at all. No conditioners. No products, natural or otherwise. Just water.

I wanted to see if water alone could keep my face, body, and hair clean. Here are the results of my two-month experiment.

In crunchy parlance, no-'poo refers to forgoing shampoo and conditioner to cleanse one's hair and instead using natural concoctions of baking soda, apple cider vinegar, coconut oil, and the like. I'd already been doing no-'poo or low-'poo for years in Curly Girl terms, which means, literally, no shampoo but still plenty of conditioner (known as co-washing).

I was happy with my current hair regimen, but I was curious to try the crunchier methods. I sort of figured that since I hadn't used harsh shampoos in my hair for years that I already had a good oil level in my hair, and I was skeptical that any other no-'poo routine would serve me better than the conditioner routine I already had set up. But I do love me an experiment (and potentially making myself miserable). And since I was going to experiment, I thought I'd start first with water-only, since that intrigued me even more. Nothing crunchier than plain water, right?

How to cleanse with water only

Here's the thing: Soap and detergent have a purpose. Soap acts as an emulsifier, and detergent breaks the surface tension of water, both of which, essentially, allow water and oil to mix, and thereby let the dirty greasiness on your body be washed away. Or, as Beakman's World helpfully and catchily taught me, soap makes water wetter.

I point this out just to show that: (a) I don't have anything against cleaning agents. They do a job, and they make life easier. Because: (b) If you don't use soap or detergent, you'll want to use some other method of making the water get rid of the things you're trying to clean off your body. Namely: friction.

Here was my routine for water-only washing in the shower:
  1. Stand under warm water spray and get hair and body wet.
  2. Scrub scalp with pads of fingertips.
  3. Use wide-tooth comb to get off any extra dead skin and help pull scalp oils through hair.
  4. Use washcloth to scrub body, paying close attention to scrubbing and rinsing traditionally smell-prone areas (armpits, crotch, feet, yum) and anywhere dead skin tends to build up and get itchy (legs, for instance).
  5. For my face, I usually just rinsed. Honestly, I've been doing water-only washing of my face for a couple years now, so I already knew that worked fine. Sometimes I do a little oil cleansing, but I skipped it for this experiment. I have acne, and I'd already found that less is more when it comes to cleansing my face.
  6. For shaving … well, I'm fine with water-only shaving, actually. I usually do that, or shave dry. And by "often," I mean, I don't shave that frequently. And particularly not in the winter when I was doing this experiment. You'll have to decide what you're comfortable with there.
  7. Rinse well.

(I will point out that I continued to use whatever soap was available to wash my hands throughout the day. I know water-only plus friction can work to kill bacteria, but frankly, I didn't want to risk it.)

Pros of water-only cleansing

There was a freedom in stepping into the shower with absolutely no need for products. It felt almost gleeful, this complete divorce from our culture's obsession with Products to Make You Clean. I could scoff at all the commercials, because I had something no one had to sell me: water. Just tap water and elbow grease.

It alerted me to the possibilities for travel and camping. If you ever forget your toiletry bag or the airline loses your luggage, no worries. If you're out in the wilderness and don't want to pollute the stream, then don't. Just scrub, rinse, done. (Now, when you're traveling, you might actually care how you look, who's going to see you, and what pictures are being taken, so that could limit your insouciance about water-only cleansing unless it's a short trip.)

Water-only washing is very gentle on your skin and scalp. I didn't need any sort of moisturizing, because my natural oils were allowed to stay put.

My body and hair were clean. I want to add some sort of qualifier to "clean," like "technically" or "pretty much." More on that later, but here I'll just say that the basic standards of hygiene were being met. I had no visible dirt, my hair looked like hair (albeit a bit limper), I didn't get sick, I didn't get an invasion of fleas or anything. I was hygienically acceptable. Clean (ish).

I already knew it was theoretically possible to be clean with water-only washing, because it's how we've washed our kids. Mikko and Alrik are both water-only washers for their bodies, and though I had to graduate Mikko early on to conditioner-washing with his mop o' hair, Alrik's hair (such as it is) still just gets a rinse in the tub. They're both clean (right after a bath, anyway!) and non-smelly (barring obvious reasons they might periodically become smelly again). Their skin is soft and healthy. We never need to put moisturizer or other creams on them, and they never complain of itchiness or the like. In short, I already had a great experiment in them to show me that water-only washing is a win … for those of us who have not hit puberty and/or don't care what their hair looks like.

Those last two points were the rub, and why I eventually stopped.

Downsides, and why I stopped

As for puberty, even though, as I've said, Mikko and Alrik are never smelly despite a weekly or so water-only bath, I found that I was. Not just after I showered, but soon thereafter. I'm not used to smelling body odor on myself and my clothes, so I'm guessing that usually soap holds that at bay for me. Water-only washing was just not as effective at long-term cleanliness — or, I guess, technically, long-term unsmelliness.

Presentable, but not inspiring.
My hair was clean enough, but it was never great. The oils weren't overwhelming, but they were present, weighing down my locks, and seriously, my hair doesn't need help being limp. It pulled out the wave and any volume. I don't know that anyone else would have noticed the difference, but I could see the subtle sheen of oils near the scalp, and it just wasn't my favorite look. Second-day (or further-day) hair was a big miss and needed to just be pulled back or up after using a natural-bristle brush to try to move some of the oils down the hair length. By the end of the experiment, I was feeling quite discouraged with how I looked, and it was messing with my self-confidence about going out in public. (That's when I knew it was time to move on.)

The biggest blow to water-only washing was how ungreen it was. I know — that was the big reason I wanted to try it! And my conclusions were that it was worse for the environment (for me). I typically shower every 3-4 days, and my showers last presumably a short to normal amount of time. I have my routine down pretty well, and I have people waiting for me, so I don't dally. With conditioner washing my hair and using organic soap to wash my body, taking brief showers twice a week or so is perfect for me. I'm clean, my hair is manageable, I'm unsmelly.

With water-only, I found myself getting antsy to shower again after just a day. After all, I smelled. My hair was limp. My legs were itchy. And when I'd get in the shower, I'd stay in much longer than you'd think necessary for water-only ablutions, trying to make sure I scrubbed and rinsed as much of the grease, smell, and dead skin away as I could to make the shower's effects last longer. I couldn't help but realize I was using much more water than before, and how could using several times more water be better for the environment than using dabs of organic conditioner and shampoo?

I'll point out, too, that if you've been using conventional shampoos and switch cold turkey to water-only, you'll likely have a detox-type period where your scalp will be pumping out oils (as it's been taught to by the harsh shampoos, to replenish what they've been stripping), and only several weeks in will the production level out.

I'm guessing everyone's experience of water-only washing will be different. I've read from people with thick or unruly hair that they like the extra weight the grease gives. I'd imagine that a short haircut such as on a typical Western male might do just fine, or likewise, very long and thick hair, whereas with my hair, being of a normal weight and at a middling length, it simply pulled out the wave and made it look pretty blah.

I'd imagine other people have different tolerance levels, too, for (a) how often they shower (if you already shower every day, you'd probably not notice much of a difference switching to water-only) and (b) how much they smell (I was surprised that I smelled as much as I did, though Sam said he didn't notice it; I was too embarrassed to ask anyone else!).

Conclusions and recommendations

Ok, these are my opinions, based on my experience with the experiment.

For kids, absolutely give water-only washing a go. It makes things easy and keeps their skin healthy and soft. It works perfectly well, for now, for our kiddos. Mikko does sometimes luxuriate in a bubble bath now, just because he discovered the fun of bubbles, but I appreciate that their skin isn't regularly being stripped of harmless oils at their age. Depending on your kids' hair type (thickness, cut, style), you can try water-only there as well, or you could do some gentle conditioner washing.

For face, definitely try a gentle water-only wash, particularly if you're acne-prone or have other skin conditions. Despite having greasy skin, I find not using cleansers doesn't increase the grease level — quite the opposite. If you use makeup, try to switch to all-natural brands that won't clog pores or hurt your skin if it doesn't all get rinsed off, such as a natural mineral makeup. (I like Everyday Minerals.)

For hair, I next tried the crunchy no-'poo of baking soda and vinegar, which I hope to write about. But (spoiler alert), I still prefer my conditioner-washing method or using Jessicurl's curl-friendly shampoo and other products (giveaway coming soon, I swear; I love this line!).

For body, well, there's a reason soap was invented! I'm back to cleansing with actual cleansers, and I no longer smell. Woo!

Have you ever experimented with water-only washing or other alternative cleansing methods? What do you recommend?

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an ad from BlogHer.
The post is unrelated.
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I'm Katie. said...

I have gone to the crunchy side when it comes to washing clothes, and the perfume-free life is a little jarring. I used baking soda and vinegar to make sure everything is squeaky clean and odor-free, but the lack of perfume is weird, even after months. Knowing that this is a ridiculous standard (like douching used to be- there'd be roses growing on us if we were meant to smell that way!), I suck it up, but other forays into all natural deodorant/no deodorant/no 'poo/no soap have met quick demises. *shrug* I did find that olive oil is a great cleanser for my baby's skin when she's particularly grimy in her neck/armpit folds. *gives self a Participation Award* ;)

Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing this experience! I also haven't found the need to wash my 1yo with soap unless she is particularly dirty or to remove sunscreen residue. For myself, I tried to go poo-free, but gave up after about a week because I work in a professional office and couldn't wait the adjustment period. Currently, I wash my hair with an organic shampoo without conditioner and shower about twice a week. I don't use soap though. I just wash with the shampoo suds as they rinse from my hair. I live in Florida, so things can get a bit steamy, but my hubby's never complained that smelly. Usually, when I get out of the shower I put coconut oil on my face, and I do use a moisturizer on my legs after I shave. It makes me feel better knowing that other people find it acceptable to shower less often and not have a bathroom full of products! Thank you!

Jackie said...

Thank you for sharing this - it is such a taboo issue among a lot of people I know, and it's great to see someone being so open. Makes me feel a lot less ashamed of my own habits.
I've never tried water-washing my hair - but I do only wash it every 4-5 days. I prefer 2nd (and 3rd and 4th) day hair; it's easier for me to manage. And only having to straighten it every few days helps keep it healthier I think.
As for my body - I rarely use body wash. It's water-only for me. I wash every day (at the sink if I'm not washing my hair) and honestly, I get told I smell *good*! I avoid lotions/perfumes but I do wear commercial deodorant, so maybe people are just loving that "shower fresh" scent. ;)
Like you, I cannot give up my handsoap. Some things just aren't worth risking, haha.
Thanks for making me feel less gross - we all have to do what works for us. For some, it's soap and shampoo; for others, it isn't. There isn't a "wrong" way, in my opinion.

Chetana said...

I live in India and I use Green Gram flour mixed with dry turmeric to wash the body. Turmeric is anti-bacterial and the green gram makes your skin fresh and doesn't dry it. Its does not create harmful effluents, so its very eco-friendly. I buy the beans and the turmeric, use a blender to make a fine powder of the beans and blend in the turmeric.
For hair, I am yet to experiment, and I am inspired by your post to try washing it only with the green gram flour sans the turmeric. Will let you know how it goes.
If you are in the US, you can get the flour in any Indian store or you can get the green gram beans and make a fine powder at home with a blender.
Every since my DD was born 2.5 years ago, we have switched to this mix and its been working great for our family.

Chetana said...

turmeric can cause a slight burning sensation on skin, so if you have sensitive skin, please be careful

sustainablemum said...

I haven't tried water only but we do not used bought products in our house any more. I wash my hair with bicarb (baking soda?) and cider vinegar, we use oatmeal in a pair of tights and run the water through for our family bath. We wash the surfaces with bicarb, the loo and glass (windows and mirrors) with white vinegar. We have just bulk bought some ingredients to make dishwasher powder. For laundry I use Eco balls or bicarb and vinegar with a few drop of lavender oil. We are still using up the bought washing up liquid so that will be next on the list to 'make'. If my skin feels dry I drink more water and I make my own deodorant.

LaChesita said...

I usually do water only for my hair and lovely handmade, all-natural soaps for my skin. If I feel particularly grimy or my hair gets icky looking I'll swipe a wee bit of my hubby's shampoo. When my hair just needs a bit of a refresher, I put a drop or two of essential oil on my hairbrush before running it through my hair. I do use commercial deodorant most days because I have mighty BO. When I'm not doing much, I use a natural crystal deodorant.

Melissa said...

I read this blog last night, and I was like "ooh, interesting", and now today I am rethinking it from a daytime-in-the-summer mindset. In the middle of a Northeast summer, sweating my petunias off every day, I can't imagine showering every 4 days, or not using soap for that matter. I last showered yesterday morning, then I cooked breakfast for my daughter, we packed up and went to visit Pepe, went out for lunch, came home to nap, I did 2 loads of laundry, ironed my clothes for work and put makeup on, vaccuumed the house, then the baby was up and I gave her a snack. By then my husband was home from work, so I headed out the door, on the way to my job. Today, up again early to cook breakfast (I wish to god my daughter ate cereal, it would be soooo much easier!) then vaccuumed again (yes, I have 3 cats. So. Much. Cathair.) Then put barbeque chicken in the oven to cook and cooked some corn on the cob for baby to eat for dinner tonight, since my husband and I are both working tonight and I have to have dinner ready for the babysitter. While dinner was cooking (and turning my entire kitchen into an oven) I started folding my MOUND of laundry, with the baby trying to "help". Now the baby is napping and I have to go iron clothes for my husband and I for work, and I am literally a giant sweating greasy mess. It's been 80+ degrees around here, and I am HOT. It's actually not too muggy right now, which is nice, but if it were muggy I'd probably put the AC on and wouldn't be so sweaty. So the nicer weather actually makes me more sweaty and gross. Go figure. There's no way I could not shower at all, and just rinsing with water would definitely not get the job done. I'm not trying to criticize or sound like I'm busier than others (I only have 1 kid, I know other moms are way busier), but I just can't imagine how someone can shower so infrequently! What does your day look like that you aren't all gross and sweaty in the middle of the summer? How do you do it?

Lauren Wayne said...

@See Kate run.: Your Participation Award is making me grin. :)

The biggest confusion for me was going from dryer sheets to wool dryer balls. I bridged the gap by having the dryer balls scented at first with essential oils, but it was still jarring, as you say, not to smell anything on my clothes. Just … nothing, which is to say, clean. I've gotten used to it now, though, and when we were traveling picked up a body wash and was overwhelmed by the fragrance.

Lauren Wayne said...

@Unknown: The adjustment period is a pain! I'm always glad, too, to hear from other people who limit their hygiene down from what our culture says is the minimum.

Lauren Wayne said...

@Jackie: "Thanks for making me feel less gross - we all have to do what works for us. For some, it's soap and shampoo; for others, it isn't. There isn't a "wrong" way, in my opinion."

Yup, absolutely. Everyone has to figure out what works for their body chemistry and lifestyle.

Lauren Wayne said...

@Chetana: That's so interesting. I never knew you could wash with those ingredients. I'd love to hear how it goes for your hair, too, if you try it! I'm assuming you don't use the turmeric on your face if it causes a slight burning — do you use the green gram flour?

Lauren Wayne said...

@sustainablemum: That's so inspiring. I'm making a move away from many store-bought products, but you're way ahead! :) I'd like to learn to make our own laundry and dishwashing detergents and bought some of the ingredients.

Lauren Wayne said...

@LaChesita: I was using a crystal deodorant in the winter and spring (a giveaway win from a lovely fellow blogger) and it worked great. But now that it's finally hot here, I chickened out and went back to my conventional deo, since I was planning to use it up at some point anyway. I am curious, though — maybe I should switch back and try it…

I love your idea of using essential oil on a hairbrush. Sounds heavenly! I'll have to try that.

Lauren Wayne said...

@Melissa: Oh, I definitely think you have to shower/soap as often as works for your day and climate! I'll point out a couple things for me. First of all, I did the experiment in October-December. Secondly, I live in the Pacific Northwest, and it's just now decided to turn summer here. Regardless, it doesn't often get too hot and typically not very humid. Now, for the people who are in Florida or wherever and still say they don't shower often, maybe they use more A/C? Or maybe sweat just doesn't bother them.

I'll be honest and risk grossing people out some more (heh heh), but even after I sweat (like, after a run or ballet class), I'm not likely to hop in the shower. Once it dries, it's dry, and I don't find I'm smelly. I really think that's a body chemistry thing — some people are more prone to b.o., and some not. And some of us have been conditioned to believe we must be smelly just because we've been sweating. But if you are uncomfortable and hot, then definitely shower! I used to live in Indiana, and jumping in a lukewarm or cool shower was sometimes all that saved me in the summers.

P.S. I always think it's interesting to hear what other parents do! Here are some other day-in-the-life posts if you want to browse some other experiences. I should write a proper one sometime myself.

Inder-ific said...

I love these experiments that you conduct! It's so interesting to read about them. BTW, I've been doing less shampoo and more conditioner on my little guy's curly head, and it's working AWESOME. I was shampooing periodically with Selsun Blue to address his eczema (he also gets a good amount of goo on his little bod for this reason), but doing it every 2 weeks instead of every week doesn't seem to make that big a difference. So that has been great. :-)

slightlycrunchy said...

I only wash my hair once a week because its too long and thick to bother washing it more than that!! I tried bicarb and cider vinegar for a while but y scalp got really itchy... I'd like to try it again but I'm not sure where I went wrong. Does anyone have any tips to avoid the itch?

Lindsay said...

I had terrible results with crystal deodorant and all the other natural deodorants I tried-I smelled and felt like I used nothing except for the Tom's of Maine's which gave me a rash, and an $18 Lavanila kind at Sephora that I can't justify the expense of. Seriously, whole experiment was one fail after another. But then after I gave up, I saw some Arm & Hammer naturals deodorant. It's not as natural as say using just baking soda, but it has no parabens or aluminum, is baking soda based, and actually prevents pit stains and odor in most conditions (other than like running a 5k on a 90 degree heat or things like that no deodorant can beat). Anyway, that's my suggestion for a giving up deodorant without having to completely give up. I was so glad I found it! (and it's like $2)

Jenny said...

I have to really scrub and generously apply deodorant crystal to not smell stinky, and even then I do by the end of the day. I am so jealous of naturally non-stinky people who don't have to work at it! Then again, I am in South Carolina where it's very hot and humid.

Have you ever tried Norwex? They are a company that makes microfiber cleaning cloths with silver woven into them. Not only household cleaning cloths (great for the kitchen, bathroom, etc) but also BODY cloths. I don't use mine on my body because I heart soap; however, they are perfect for washing my face and they do an awesome job of getting my eyeliner off! I can try scrubbing off the eyeliner with soap, it'll still be there, and then the Norwex cloth takes it right off. It's great.

Megan said...

I switched to a goat's milk deodorant that I bought at the farmer's market, and as long as I'm careful with it, it works really well. If I put too much on it can make my clothes greasy and then it doesn't come out :(. I have been considering honey as a facial cleanser, and also thought about no poo, but that adjustment period is a scary proposition.
The only non-natural home cleanser I use is chlorox wipes, but they're probably the least eco-friendly so I'm planning to make up a bunch of cleaning cloths and store them in an old wipes container with vinegar water.
I would suggest to anyone with acne, though, to try going gluten free for at least three months and see if that helps. I have been gluten free for almost a year now, and my skin looks so much clearer than it did before. I still get comments (from people who've known me for a while) about how great my skin looks. Another side benefit was that I lost weight - and I am not a calorie counter, and I do not work out or intentionally exercise. It was just from cutting out gluten. The only tough part was finding gluten-free options when eating at a restaurant.
Anyway, back to the original topic! Has anyone tries brushing their teeth with salt? The flavor of baking soda makes me gag and I have to admit, I'm partial to the non-natural flavor of orange crest...

Unknown said...

@See Kate run.

I had a similar problem, except for me it wasn't perfumes, but suds. It took me a long time to really grasp that sudding wasn't SUPER MAGIC CLEANING IN ACTION, but a side effect of... EDTA? I used to work in a lab, I should know that shit. Once I got there, I could get with all this powder cleaning and shiz.

julilee said...

I've been skipping the soap and shampoo for six days now. My hair was all greasy and weird for four days. Then, suddenly, it was glossy and bouncy after my shower yesterday. I think it's because I used a warm, cold, warm temperature progression and the massage setting on my shower head. Haha, you really have to get in there to get the gunk out. I found something called "Snowy's Massage Technique" on a forum that really helps work the sebum through the hair, too. I think that makes brushing less gross, but it does take a lot of time.

I hadn't thought about the greenness/water usage issue, but I guess having to thoroughly scrub their scalp really would lengthen showers for a lot of people. Because it's just my husband and me, I can and do take 30-ish minutes in the shower most of the time. It takes me at least 5 minutes to wash my hair now, but I think my total shower time is shorter since the only other thing I do in there now is give myself a gentle scrub-down with a wash cloth. (I was brushing my teeth, shaving, and using various washes before, and I've always been really weird about rinsing the shampoo and conditioner out of my hair super thoroughly.)

Lucky for me, I have never really had issues not using body soap (except for missing the exotic fragrances). When I was in high school, I never wore deodorant because I just didn't stink. When I started working, that changed a little (stress), but I have always been able to get away with aluminum-free, "all natural" deodorant. I have dry skin and am prone to nummular eczema, so I was advised by my doctor to only use soap in the "stinky" areas years ago. I don't want to gross anyone out, but I just want to say it because I see a lot of posts from women about soaping in what I consider to be the wrong places: I DO NOT use soap in my crotch. It can disrupt the balance down there if it goes where it's not supposed to, and since it's a liquid once it hits the water, I don't know how you would keep it out. I've always just used hot water, and I do it last just in case soap from the rest of me made its way down. Haha, I'm probably just paranoid with that last bit, but it's what I do.

The one issue I'm experiencing now without soap is that my skin is actually drier. I was using a very nourishing body wash that I think was less drying than water. Oh yeah, and lotion. I'm hoping that my skin adjusts. Otherwise, I'm going back to that body wash.

I've also been using the Oil Cleansing Method for my face the past few days, too. I tend to get blackheads and have found that water only doesn't get rid of them. (I tried! My skin is SO sensitive!) I haven't experienced anything nasty yet in terms of an adjustment period. I am a little dry after my morning shower, so I'm trying to work out how that can be avoided without 1) getting too oily and 2) using moisturizer, which my gut tells me will only break me out. I do have one big zit, but it's better than the rash of breakouts I had on my cheeks and the blackheads I had on my chin and nose, which are virtually nonexistent now. It's soooo healing for me. I highly recommend it.

Woo, that was a lot of info! Hope this helps someone!

Lauren Wayne said...

@julilee: Thanks! I love hearing other people's experiences and am sure it will be helpful to others.

Lauren Wayne said...

@Megan: On the acne side, it's funny you said gluten-free helped, because we've been grain-free for a few months now, and I had high hopes my skin would be clearer. But it's worse! I think (I fear) it might be that I'm eating more dairy (cheese as snacks) now that I'm not eating grains. Hmm… But I've heard from a lot of other people that going gluten- or grain-free helped their skin, so maybe things will get better for me eventually!

Lauren Wayne said...

@Jenny: I need to find these Norwex cloths. They sound magical!

Lauren Wayne said...

@slightlycrunchy: Super-long response time here, but Mamammalia has written more than once about using baking soda and vinegar, and she answers readers' questions to troubleshoot, so you could try her!

hallielynnw said...

Loved this post! I actually have never used soap or body wash in my body and my skin is great! Occasionally it gets dry in the winter when I indulge in a hot shower instead of my usual cool ones. Also no odor issue (but I do take fenugreek supplements and it does give me a faint maple syrupy scent). I was recently inspired to try no shampoo or conditioner for my hair but it is driving me crazy. My hair is greasy and my scalp itchy and flakey, and the worst part is I am having a major acne breakout. Not sure if I can persevere. It has been 2 weeks...

hallielynnw said...

Loved this post! I actually have never used soap or body wash in my body and my skin is great! Occasionally it gets dry in the winter when I indulge in a hot shower instead of my usual cool ones. Also no odor issue (but I do take fenugreek supplements and it does give me a faint maple syrupy scent). I was recently inspired to try no shampoo or conditioner for my hair but it is driving me crazy. My hair is greasy and my scalp itchy and flakey, and the worst part is I am having a major acne breakout. Not sure if I can persevere. It has been 2 weeks...

Anna said...

I am 14, and have always been interested in natural products. I started no poo last year, and just recently switched to WO hair washing. At first I didn't even realize it, but I had stopped using soap in the shower, using deodorant, perfume, and hair products. I don't stink, and my hair looks great too!!

Samantha Anne said...

@See Kate run.

try some quality essential oils from a health food store! it's a lot of fun to mix em n wear a few at a time.... mmmmmm sandlewood... rose... ylang ylang.... lavender.... sage.... :)

Gabriel + said...

This is interesting! A few comments:
I've been on "water-only everything, shower once a week" for the past three weeks. Like you, I was jarred by the "body odour" scent at first, but oddly, two things seem to be happening:
1) I have less BO (almost none!) than at the beginning of the experiment; and
2) It doesn't stick to my clothes, at all!

Granted, it's the end of winter and here winter is long and cold. I'm sure in the summer I will have to modify this.

As for my hair, I was just noticing how FANTASTIC this has been for it: I'm black, so my hair is very curly and naturally a bit oily. I keep it fairly short..."no shampoo" and "wash with water twice a month" has meant
1) no dandruff and itchy scalp(this used to be a problem for me, now no more!)
2) hair that requires no shaping and little combing,
3) no need to shave my head to keep it short -- it stays compact on its own now (my theory is it's the natural oils)!

My skin is another big win! MUCH less dry, and I genuinely think it even has a richer, healthier colour.

I'm washing high-odour areas of my body every day (with water only).

I couldn't be happier with my decision, and I'm just excited to see how it'll play out for the summer. You talked about a washcloth for scrubbing; I've been using my bare hands but you may be on to something.

Anonymous said...

I've had eczema since I was an infant; hereditary but triggered by a childminder feeding me cereal too soon. When I was old enough to bathe myself, I was often advised by doctors to take frequent, lukewarm showers & only use soap on the smelly parts. I didn't follow directions because they didn't work for me: I looked & smelled like a zombie. Frequent showering didn't allow my skin to heal & hot water (terrible, I know) numbed itchiness. The scaling & oozing ALL over my body required scrubbing with a washcloth & cleansing with soap.

I should mention that water is like acid on my skin regardless of temperature. And dryness of skin means little to no body odor. So, since adolescence I have showered no more than once or twice a week, anyway. I stopped using medicated ointments (thins the skin) & popular, heavy, petroleum creams a few years ago. For a while I was using Vanicream products (soap & cream), green tea shampoo & conditioner, UV light treatments & a water filter to alleviate my scalp-to-legs eczema.

Now I dry brush before a shower, use my Vanicream soap for shampoo, a tiny bit of coconut oil for conditioner, & apple cider vinegar as a body cleanser with/without a washcloth. When I have to shower quickly I use the soap for a full-body wash. Sometimes I use apple cider vinegar to wash my face on in-between days, but I can get away with a warm, wet cloth. I switch between soap & apple cider vinegar for hand washing. And I use hypo-allergenic wipes to clean the private areas. For moisturizer, I either make a body butter, use straight coconut oil, or mix the coconut oil with Vanicream cream. I'm looking at switching to a natural deodorant like Green Body, Aubrey's E Plus High C, or Primal Pit Paste. Right now I have Dove unscented for sensitive skin that I use sparingly when I leave the house.

My eczema [& acne that I've had since 18] has been well controlled since late fall 2013. It's already spring & I'm not seeing any worrying changes. The biggest contributors are probably the filtered water, what I use for cleansing, & that when I shower it's usually at night. I know it's time to hop in, when I start to smell or don't like the appearance of my skin & hair. My hygienic outlook is motivated by a lazy, low-maintenance attitude & a desire to avoid painful skin situations. As a bonus it's health conscious & Eco-friendly.

niel said...

Is there a transitional period for water-only body washing, and if so, how long is it and what usually occurs during that period? What if only cold water is used? Would filtered water work better? SORRY if this is TMI: So just as long as we (gently) and thoroughly scrub, water alone will wash away human waste germs? Menstruation? What about sex? Wounds?

Judy said...

I've been shampoo-free for three years. For the first two years I mostly used baking soda to wash and vinegar to rinse, but I found that the bs was drying out my hair so I switched to washing with water and rinsing with vinegar, and occasionally omitting the vinegar step. My hair is soft and clean-looking until about day 5, but I only wash it once a week so I put up with the oiliness on day 6. My hair is below my waist and I wear it in a braid so it looks ok.

I gave up using soap on my body about a year ago and to my surprise, I've found that my natural body smells are now milder although they haven't disappeared altogether. I use Crystal deodorant or sometimes none if I'm not being active, and I wash my hands with soap as needed.

I have not washed my face with anything but water for more than ten years, and it seems to be doing just fine. I don't wear makeup but do use sunscreen, and water seems to get that off well enough.

I don't scrub at my body; just splashing the water on and gently wiping with my hands seems to work. I do massage my scalp very thoroughly with my fingertips when washing my hair.

Judy said...

I've been shampoo-free for three years. For the first two years I mostly used baking soda to wash and vinegar to rinse, but I found that the bs was drying out my hair so I switched to washing with water and rinsing with vinegar, and occasionally omitting the vinegar step. My hair is soft and clean-looking until about day 5, but I only wash it once a week so I put up with the oiliness on day 6. My hair is below my waist and I wear it in a braid so it looks ok.

I gave up using soap on my body about a year ago and to my surprise, I've found that my natural body smells are now milder although they haven't disappeared altogether. I use Crystal deodorant or sometimes none if I'm not being active, and I wash my hands with soap as needed.

I have not washed my face with anything but water for more than ten years, and it seems to be doing just fine. I don't wear makeup but do use sunscreen, and water seems to get that off well enough.

I don't scrub at my body; just splashing the water on and gently wiping with my hands seems to work. I do massage my scalp very thoroughly with my fingertips when washing my hair.

Aaron said...

Lauren! What you describe that made you want to stop water-only bathing appears to be what most everyone experiences during the first week or so.

In theory, if we use soap (or shampoo) to remove oils from the hair, then the body may make a ritual of compensating with a lot of oil. And so the oily hair during the first few days of water only treatment may simply be the manifestation of all of the work that the body goes through because of shampoo.

Niall and several others (those who have commented) have talked about their positive experience:

I'm not saying what's best for you - I just would like you to have the complete story.

Lauren Wayne said...

@Aaron: I agree with you on the detoxing sort of experience for the first week or so. Unfortunately, I did this for 2 months, and it never got better for me. :) I'm happy it works well for others, though.

Lauren Wayne said...

@niel: Sorry for the long delay in responding. The short answer is I don't know the answers to all your questions and was hoping someone else would chime in. ;) I think water only would be fine for menstruation or sex, because it's not an infection or a problem, just messy. I don't know about for wounds; however, for small wounds, I already use water only to wash them out before I bandage because it hurts less and flushes out any dirt, and that's worked fine. I don't know what's happening at the bacterial level, though, or whether that would be harmful for some people or for some wounds.

I don't know about cold or filtered water. I often use cold water (with soap) for washing my hands, but if I want a deeper wash, I tend to switch to warm or hot — I have the sense it cleans more easily, but that could be just my impression.

There definitely is a transition, and I talk about that a bit in the post. You'll be oiler for awhile.

Unknown said...

ive gone crunchy all the way, and was a little surprised at reading your article. no-poo/no-nothing works great for me! then again, living in a very hot, very dusty place, makes an everyday shower(with or without cosmetics) mandatory. i switched from a very intensive chemical cleansing routine to water-only and the 'detox' lasted a month. now i just wash my hair twice a week and my body everyday with water & 'elbow grease' haha. and comb it with a regular comb every morning, works like a charm. there is a feeling of liberty to it, isn't there? ;)

Lauren Wayne said...

@shashwati jha: I bet it does make a difference if showering every day. That's great that it's working so well for you! I agree that it's liberating to be so product-free in getting ready. :)

Anonymous said...

@LaChesita, I'm curious what kinds of essential oils you use on your brush. I tried water washing and had really great success over all (nitty gritty details here if you want), but after about a month and a half, I ran into some real issues with dandruff. I ended up washing with a little tea tree oil shampoo just to get this under control, and I've had to keep using this every couple of weeks. Do you think that just using tea tree essential oil would work the same way? Does pure essential oil on your hairbrush irritate your scalp at all? Sorry for so many questions—just very curious since I'd love to be able to do pure water washing without shampooing every other week.

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