We thought daily showering was the stuff of a healthy lifestyle. Cleanliness and disease don’t mix, so the cleaner the better — or so the thinking goes. In reality, we are doing serious harm to our health. It’s time to quit showering. That’s the argument, at least, according to a new book by author and Atlantic staff-writer James Hamblin, Clean: The New Science of Skin, those hot, long, luxuriating showers and scrub sessions aren’t just terrible for our skin but for disease prevention efforts in general. In fact, Hamblin stopped using soap for his showers years ago, instead opting just to rinse off every once in a while, eschewing soaps, shampoos, conditioners, and other perfumed delights that make us all smell like fruits and flowers.
But why is showering so bad? According to Hamblin, when we grab our favorite lavender-scented-scrubby-soap and rub it all over our stinking selves, we’re actually destroying a microbial universe that exists on the surface of our skin. When we do that, per Hamblin, we temporarily “alter the microscopic populations,” either by getting rid of them altogether or getting rid of the resources that help them thrive.
That matters because microbiomes, as the population of microbes that live on the skin and in the gut are called, are very important for human beings: scientists have long maintained that microbiomes help maintain immunity, digestion, and can even regulate your mood. There are entire books about why kids should be encouraged to go outside and even eat dirt, and studies as to why children who have dogs from a very young age are healthier and less likely to develop allergies, due to the sheer number of germs they come into contact with after Fido drinks out of the toilet bowl and gives them a big fat kiss on the cheek.
If it sounds gross, it really kind of is. Most would shudder to put down the soap and embrace their summer stink in its full, rank glory. But Hamblin says that by using soap and wiping out microbes, we’re making ourselves vulnerable to maladies like eczema, food allergies, and more. Parents may hear this and actually take a sigh of relief. No longer is it necessary to scrub away at the dirt under an uncooperative kid’s fingernails, scrape away at their armpits or force them into a steaming hot bath every night as they protest a solid washing session. In fact, why not just skip bathtime altogether?