“To be, or not to be, that is the question.”
– William Shakespeare
Bathed, that is. Or, rather, the necessity to – and if so, how often.
If the old chestnut of “Cleanliness is next to Godliness” is true, one could think we Americans are surely heaven bound. But we’re not alone. The average American showers six to seven times a week, the global average, including people in Spain, France, and India (for Mexico, the Middle East, and Australia, eight showers a week is fairly normal.) But that’s nothing in comparison to Colombia and Brazil, where they take 10 to 12 showers a week. And if bathing (cleanliness) leads to heaven, the people living in Japan, the UK, and China, who only indulge in around 5 showers a week, need to step up their game.
In the Bard’s day, in Elizabethan England, the lower classes would only bathe a few times in a single year (the “uppers” roughly once every few weeks – it is said that Good Queen Bess of England only took a bath every four weeks “whether it was necessary or not”), in a wooden tub next to the fireplace to keep the water warm, everyone in the household sharing, in turn, the same water (and, as an aside, with no running water, no indoor toilets. And in the facilities outdoors – quaintly called “outhouses” in America – there was no toilet paper, only clumps of grass or hay was employed for, uh, cleaning. But I digress.)
Using soap in the bath has been around since time immemorial. By the second century A.D., the Greek physician, Galen, recommended soap for both medicinal and cleansing purposes. But after Rome (Romans delighted in bathing) fell in 467 A.D., so did the habit of bathing. It didn’t revive until the 7th century. Even so, the popularity of bathing was slow to rebound, and the use of soap even slower.
It wasn’t until the early 20th century, that the advertising industry created a “need” for “toilet soap” where one hadn’t existed for most Americans (prior to that, “soap” meant laundry soap, usually made with lye) – people merely used water to rinse away the grime. A gentler alternative was invented for cleaning the body, called ‘toilet soap’ to distinguish from the more caustic laundry stuff. Today, ‘toilet soap’ is simply called soap. And showering was virtually unheard of until just 100 years ago. It was only with the advent of indoor plumbing that it became the alternative to tub bathing, due to convenience.
But enough history, back to the questions of: Is bathing (or more commonly, showering) necessary? How often? They are worth considering.
Your skin is teeming with bacteria that help prevent infections. They educate your skin cells to make your own antibiotics while they produce their own antibiotics that both use to kill off bad bacteria. And it’s bad bacteria that not only can cause disease, but also skin problems by exascerbating conditions like eczema, psoriasis, acne, and body odor. When you shower or bathe, you not only wash away dirt but also this microbial balance. Using soap in addition only makes it worse. Daily showers might ultimately upset your health. Still, we want to be clean, feel clean and – above all – smell clean.
Dermatologists tend to frown on daily showers, especially in hot water and with harsh soap, because of the damage it can do to your skin. According to John Oxford, professor of virology at Queen Mary’s School of Medicine and Dentistry: “A vigorous daily shower would disturb the natural bug flora of the skin as well as skin oils… As long as people wash their hands often enough and pay attention to the area of the body below the belt, showering or bathing every other day would do no harm …Even twice a week would not be a problem if people used a bidet daily as most infectious bugs hang around our lower halves… We should wash to stop cross-infection, not for grooming reasons.”
Dr. Casey Carlos, assistant professor of medicine in the division of dermatology at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine notes: “It’s the hardest thing to get people to use soap only where they need it… People don’t realize that the skin does a pretty good job of cleaning itself.”
Professor Elizabeth Shove, (a sociology researcher at the University of Lancaster, England), says, “Ask yourself whether you need to do it before you turn on and step under.”
So, a bath/shower, (warm but not hot water, dermatologists advise) maybe every other day, and only daily washing with soap those areas where bad bacteria thrive – under arms, crotch, skin folds, etc. It’s all one needs to have healthy skin and odor control. Unless, of course, one perspires excessively or gets dirty.
Also, the frequency of bathing/showering depends on age. According to the American Academy of Dermatology and other authorities:
• Infants – A bath isn’t really necessary more than once or twice a week. Just wash the face frequently and thoroughly clean the genital area after each diaper change. Many people think that babies need to have a bath every day, but that can dry out your baby’s skin.
• Toddlers to Tweens – Once or twice a week, more only if they get dirty, such as playing in the mud, or after being in a pool, lake, ocean or other body of water, or if they start to smell.
• Tweens and Teens – Once puberty starts, kids should shower or take a bath daily, wash their face twice a day to remove oil and dirt, and after swimming or playing sports.
• Young and middle aged Adults – (I already told you; re-read everything above.)
• Older adults and Seniors – like infants, older people have dryer skin; it’s a developmental thing in babies, an aging thing for seniors. Twice a week bathing (either bath or shower) is sufficient along with spot washing daily as needed (in the critical areas – crotch, underarms, etc.) for odor control.
And on a related subject, shampooing, most authorities agree – in all likelihood you’re doing it a lot too often. Daily use can cause conditions that will require more products to correct resulting dryness, oiliness, brittleness, etc. Shampoo less often and allow your hair’s natural oils to hold in moisture. As a general rule, shampoo once or twice a week. If you exercise every day, consider simply rinsing your hair with water and applying a little conditioner; it – with the water – will leave your hair clean without washing out the natural oils that protect both hair and scalp.
So there you have it. Bathe (rinse, really) – if you must – daily, but without soap (except for “pits and privates”), unless you play in the dirt.
Give it a try for a month and let me know how it works for you. I’ll be glad to do a follow-up article on your conclusions.