Did you know that many parts of our bodies are self-cleaning?
I’m sure you know a few of our self-cleaning systems: our digestive tract and kidneys are famous, as is our liver. The lymph nodes and lungs are also part of the team that rids our bodies of toxins, but fewer people know that our skin is self-cleaning as well.
Crazy but true! And all of our self-cleaning mechanisms work best when we don’t interfere with them too much, or overload them with toxins (*cough* synthetic hygiene products *cough*).
When we regularly use things like soap and shampoo (even “natural” ones), we tell our skin that it doesn’t need to clean itself anymore. So, that self-cleaning process turns itself off, because our bodies are really good at conserving energy.
Use of these products perpetuates itself. You can’t go too long without them, once they’re part of your routine. If you stop using a cleaning product you’re accustomed to using, your body will likely go through a really dirty stage: You’ve stopped cleaning it, but it’s still not cleaning itself, either.
When you give up conventional personal care products, it takes time for your self-cleaning process to come back.
But it does come back.
And your body will thank you. And you will say you’re welcome, and then eventually you will say, “No, thank you,” because you will be so relieved that you don’t have to worry about putting all that stuff on and in your body for the sake of personal hygiene.
The history and science of personal hygiene
My approach to personal hygiene is rooted in history and science, as well as my own personal experiences (and conversations with others about their experiences).
Many people may have the idea that before the advent of modern personal care products, everybody was just dirty and smelled badly all the time. This is pretty inaccurate, both scientifically and historically.
Scientifically, our skin cleans itself, if we let it.
Our current cultural practice of incessant washing with harsh chemicals disrupts these systems, so that when we go a day without the chemicals, we do get dirty and stinky.
But when we don’t interfere with it too much—when we wash more on an “as needed” basis, with mostly just water and some natural cleaners—our body’s hygiene system will actually work.
Also, our olfactory system is highly adaptable, so the synthetic scents we’ve come to associate with bodies (deodorant, shampoo, perfume) have become the norm. Throughout human history (and still today, in many parts of the world), the unadulterated scent of human skin—which we would now associate with “BO,” however mild—is the norm.
Historically, people have been using some form of body-cleaning practice and products as far back as we can find evidence.
The idea of helping along our body’s natural cleansing system is scientifically and historically sound. For example, as you may drink lemon water to help “detox” your liver (a self-cleansing organ), you may use water and a basic soap to help your skin combat harmful bacteria (without decimating the helpful or benign bacteria population, or microbiome).
You wouldn’t drink bleach to clean your liver. Arguably, most contemporary hygiene practices are the equivalent to that.
My own approach to personal hygiene
My approach to personal hygiene is about how to at once encourage your body’s natural cleaning process, and not be a social pariah (not for hygienic reasons, in any case).
It’s about finding a balance between embracing your body’s human odors, and unnecessarily offending others with them.
It’s about spending a whole lot less time, money, and energy fussing with your body. It’s about freeing you from all that maintenance, so you can live your life more fully. It’s about conserving resources and your sanity.
So, if you’d like to achieve a personal care routine that is low-hassle, low-cost, low-time, and eco-friendly, body-friendly, and mind-friendly, please stay tuned for tips and tricks, history and science!