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Four Weeks Without Soap Or Shampoo 250

Posted by Soulskill
from the or-as-frankie-calls-it,-february dept.
An anonymous reader writes "A biotech start-up from Massachusetts has an unusual product: a bottle full of bacteria you're supposed to spray onto your face. The bacteria is Nitrosomonas eutropha, and it's generally harmless. Its main use is that it oxidizes ammonia, and the start-up's researchers suspect it used to commonly live on human skin before we began washing it away with soaps and other cleaners. Such bacteria are an area of heavy research in biology right now. Scientists know that the gut microbiome is important to proper digestion, and they're trying to figure out if an external microbiome can be similarly beneficial to skin. A journalist for the NY Times volunteered to test the product, which involved four straight weeks of no showers, no soap, no shampoo, and no deodorant. The sprayed-on bacteria quickly colonized her skin, along with other known types of bacteria — and hundreds of unknown (but apparently harmless) strains. She reported improvements to her skin and complexion, and described how the bacteria worked to curtail (but not eliminate) the body odor caused by not washing. At the end of the experiment, all of the N. eutropha vanished within three showers."
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Four Weeks Without Soap Or Shampoo

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 23, 2014 @08:35AM (#47073757)

    She sounds hideous.

  • by Kaz Kylheku (1484) on Friday May 23, 2014 @08:35AM (#47073759) Homepage

    If you want subjects who don't mind not bathing for four weeks, just go to any CS lab.

    • by yendor (4311) on Friday May 23, 2014 @08:52AM (#47073895)

      The problem there isn't the lack of showers but the repeated use of clothing.

      • by AbrasiveCat (999190) on Friday May 23, 2014 @09:08AM (#47074019)

        The problem there isn't the lack of showers but the repeated use of clothing.

        But then you have CEO of Levi Strauss saying don't wash your jeans. http://www.latimes.com/fashion... [latimes.com] I guess its back to nature time. I hope the windows open for a fresh breeze...

        • by OakDragon (885217)

          The problem there isn't the lack of showers but the repeated use of clothing.

          But then you have CEO of Levi Strauss saying don't wash your jeans..

          It's a conspiracy by Big Denim to keep us clothed... and, uh, dirty?

          • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

            by Anonymous Coward

            No, it's a conspiracy by the clothes to keep us covered. Kill la kill.

          • Everybody tells me I'm a dirty old man, even after I have a shower!

        • by RJFerret (1279530)

          That reminds me of a college student back in the 80s or early 90s who studied the amount of bacteria on jeans and learned single wear washings of them was pointless.

        • I've done this. I was working with a pair of raw denim jeans, and the advice is to not wash it until you've worn them for 6 months.

          The first month is the worst, but after that, they stop smelling like anything at all. As long as you're not doing deep lunges in the summer sun while you're going commando, it's probably fine. Actually, even that might be fine.

          Those jeans have gone their whole lives with only two full washes and that's it. They still look good and like I said, they don't smell like anything at

          • I don't know, my jeans usually end the day covered in glue, solder, grease, paint, oil, food etc. Something tells me that this would not work for me.
          • by uncqual (836337)

            they don't smell like anything at all, even when you put your face up to them to test them

            They probably don't smell to you. People become desensitized to odors after they have been exposed to them regularly (which is probably fortunate for those working in some areas of sewage treatment plants).

            In the early days, Steve Jobs was sure that he didn't have body odor and didn't need to shower because his diet cleansed him. Some of his co-workers reported disagreed with him on that point.

            Don't be a Steve Jobs WRT

            • I have an objective sense of smell, honest. I've had jeans that stunk. I've had these jeans smell bad. But after a while, the smell is gone. I have a partner and I work in mixed company, and I KNOW someone would've mentioned it if they were terrible. (My partner is honest; some of the people I work with are reasonably tactless.) I've been caught out at a restaurant unexpectedly in jeans that I was embarrassed to be wearing because they smelled terrible.

              I shower and wear clean clothes and different jeans. If

        • Just throw them away and buy new ones!
        • by msauve (701917)
          "I hope the windows open for a fresh breeze..."

          You misspelled "Febreze."
    • by TWX (665546)

      If you want subjects who don't mind not bathing for four weeks, just go to any CS lab.

      Please don't. It's bad enough having to put up with that one weekend a year at Comic Con...

  • So? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by PuddleBoy (544111) on Friday May 23, 2014 @08:39AM (#47073779)

    I suspect there are slashdot readers who, uh, know someone who takes long spells between showers...

    • Re:So? (Score:5, Funny)

      by excelsior_gr (969383) on Friday May 23, 2014 @09:20AM (#47074113)

      Especially resurrection spells, I've heard, take particularly long to cast...

    • by Jon_S (15368)

      But the article wasn't specifically about not showering. Yes, that was part of it, but the main thing was the application to the skin of ammonia-oxidizing bacteria on a regular basis. It is not as if people just stopped showering. We all know how that turns out. But that's not what this is about.

  • Derp (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 23, 2014 @08:41AM (#47073791)

    Most people have known this for some time. I haven't washed my face in years. It was the only thing that stopped acne. By "not wash", I mean don't use soap or cleaners. Obviously, some shampoo trickles down on it and I rinse with water each day.

    Hair can be handled the same way if you have naturally dry or frizzy hair.

    Captcha: untidy

    • Most people have known this for some time.

      Yeah, the soap and shampoo industry is really suffering.

    • Another alternative for hair is just to condition, not shampoo.

      • Re:Derp (Score:4, Interesting)

        by sudon't (580652) on Friday May 23, 2014 @02:12PM (#47077461)

        Another alternative for hair is just to condition, not shampoo.

        The introduction of conditioner is what allowed the practice of daily shampooing to become common. I can still remember the Clairol Herbal Essence commercial jingle from the late sixties / early seventies:

        "You can wash your hair, now, every night, every night...",

        Myself, I stopped shampooing daily in the eighties. I rarely shampoo more than once per month, just rinse it with water during my daily shower. My (long) hair stays clean enough, looks healthy, and is easier to manage. If you're not using shampoo, you'll have no need of conditioner, (except when you do shampoo).

    • Re:Derp (Score:5, Informative)

      by Gaygirlie (1657131) <gaygirlie@hotmaiLIONl.com minus cat> on Friday May 23, 2014 @09:48AM (#47074301) Homepage

      I take a step somewhere in-between: I shower every 3-4 days, depending on how dirty I feel. Even then, I only wash my body with water, no soaps or cleansers or anything like that, though I do use some basic shampoo and conditioner on my hair. If I take showers more often my skin immediately starts to feel a lot drier and flakier. I dunno if my experiences match anyone else's, but it seems to suit my body quite fine.

    • I have also found the same thing. I use a good moisturizer but I just stopped using anything stronger than water on my face on a daily basis. (Unless I've got on makeup or sunscreen, then it gets a really mild soap.) I still have the occasional zit sneak through - stupid demodex bugs cannot be completely eliminated - but my active acne is gone.
    • Same here. I wash everywhere else but I don't think I've used anything other than water on my face in 30+ years.
  • More than this (Score:5, Interesting)

    by koan (80826) on Friday May 23, 2014 @08:42AM (#47073803)

    Scientists know that the gut microbiome is important to proper digestion

    Gut bacteria is more than proper digestion, it's a second mind.
    It's interesting as well that one of the most important parts of a cell are the mitochondria, which by all rights are their own separate critter that set up a successful house in just about everything alive.

    What a menagerie.

  • Poor example (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 23, 2014 @08:42AM (#47073807)

    A 4 week test on something related to skin and they used a female journalist? Could by chance her skin complexion improved because of her menstrual cycle? There's about a 75% chance that she wasn't coming off of her period right before application so of course she probably noticed improvements to her skin, especially her face, over a 4 week test.

    • Re:Poor example (Score:5, Informative)

      by lanswitch (705539) on Friday May 23, 2014 @09:06AM (#47074001)

      4 weeks= 1 ovary cycle. Think about it.

    • Re:Poor example (Score:4, Informative)

      by sandytaru (1158959) on Friday May 23, 2014 @10:13AM (#47074449) Journal
      Ah - something men may not know, that isn't common knowledge, but is a thing. Many women who take BC pills are going for 6-8 week stretches at a time per cycle now. So you cannot assume a woman is on the standard four week cycle (with or without the pills, everyone is different) unless she says so.
      • by BronsCon (927697)
        And likewise, many who take them do so because they're constantly flowing if they don't. Hormone deficiency, and BC pills bring the levels back up.
  • I think that these bacteria like something about baking soda. When I started adding it to my baths I stopped smelling. PH maybe? Or the baking soda was a bacteria vitamin?
    • Or the increased pH level saponified the oil on you skin?

    • Re:PH (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Immerman (2627577) on Friday May 23, 2014 @09:12AM (#47074047)

      Baking soda is a base, and as such converts oils into soaps on contact - my first guess would be that it's converting some of the more aromatic oils on your skin. I've heard of it used to clear up enlarged pores as well - the combination of mild abrasion and high PH do a number on the sebum (waxy oils) that otherwise build up in your pores. PH cold definitely also have an effect on your surface microbes though.

    • Re:PH (Score:5, Informative)

      by jeffb (2.718) (1189693) on Friday May 23, 2014 @10:26AM (#47074533)

      Much of body odor comes from short-chain fatty acids, produced when various bacteria break down skin oils. Baking soda turns those acids into salts, which don't smell nearly as much. However, it can also saponify your skin oils, so it's hard on your skin if you use too much.

      • Baking soda turns those acids into salts...

        ...which are highly water-soluble, and rinse right off. Forgot that extremely important detail.

  • Control Groups (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Wycliffe (116160) on Friday May 23, 2014 @08:43AM (#47073817) Homepage

    Where are the control groups? Shouldn't there also be at least a few of these:
    1) One group that showers daily and uses the spray.
    2) One group that showers daily and sprays plain water.
    3) One group that doesn't shower for 4 weeks and sprays plain water.

    Number 3 is almost required for any accurate study and I would think it would
    the other 2 wouldn't hurt either.

    • Re:Control Groups (Score:5, Informative)

      by SailorSpork (1080153) on Friday May 23, 2014 @08:58AM (#47073941) Homepage

      Where are the control groups? Shouldn't there also be at least a few of these: 1) One group that showers daily and uses the spray. 2) One group that showers daily and sprays plain water. 3) One group that doesn't shower for 4 weeks and sprays plain water.

      Number 3 is almost required for any accurate study and I would think it would the other 2 wouldn't hurt either.

      Reading the article, she was subject 26 of who knows how many. For all we know, she was in the control group, or there may have been separate control groups present. The article recaps her personal experience, not the complete conditions for the experiment. Maybe with the initial findings, they'll do multiple rounds with different variables as you suggest above.

      • There's a reason we don't trust journalists to get science stories right. They allow hedlines which ignore issues like control groups.

    • Re:Control Groups (Score:5, Informative)

      by AthanasiusKircher (1333179) on Friday May 23, 2014 @09:14AM (#47074061)

      Where are the control groups? Shouldn't there also be at least a few of these:

      Perhaps I missed this, but it doesn't seem that TFA is reporting official results of a study -- it's just the anecdotal description of somebody who participated in a study that's been going on. All she says is: "I was Subject 26 in testing a living bacterial skin tonic." I don't think there's anything in TFA that mentions what control groups there may have been, nor does it imply that there were not any.

      This is just one subject's experience that she decided to blog about... so should we really be questioning the validity of the study or its design when she doesn't even discuss methodology (and perhaps doesn't even know the details, since she was... you know... a PARTICIPANT in the study)?

      About the only thing in TFA that suggests anything about research design is this:

      A regime of concentrated AO+ caused a hundredfold decrease of Propionibacterium acnes, often blamed for acne breakouts. And the company says that diabetic mice with skin wounds heal more quickly after two weeks of treatment with a formulation of AOB.

      Soon, AOBiome will file an Investigational New Drug Application with the F.D.A. to request permission to test more concentrated forms of AOB for the treatment of diabetic ulcers and other dermatologic conditions. "Itâ(TM)s very, very easy to make a quack therapy; to put together a bunch of biological links to convince someone that somethingâ(TM)s true," Heywood said. "What would hurt us is trying to sell anything ahead of the data."

      "A hundredfold decrease," "wounds heal more quickly" -- these imply that there are comparison groups. And if they are applying to do testing with the FDA, they're going to have to do control groups.

      Seriously -- what is it with Slashdot and the "But didn't they think of doing a real science experiment, with, you know, data and stuff" comments? This is a link to a blog post by subject in a study. You want details? Wait until an actual study comes out.

      But if this company is planning on getting its stuff approved as a medical treatment or marketing it on its particular benefits, it would actually be incredibly counterproductive to design poor experiments, since they wouldn't allow them to refine or further develop their products.

      Do you really think these people are idiots?

      • Do you really think these people are idiots?

        More likely they're trying to sell something. A few years ago there were these balls you could throw into your laundry that cleaned your clothes without detergent. Reusable! They de-ionized the water! They didn't really work, but water will get your clothes clean in a lot of cases.

        Same thing here, they're probably not idiots, but they might be looking for idiots.

  • Uh huh (Score:4, Funny)

    by NotDrWho (3543773) on Friday May 23, 2014 @08:46AM (#47073835)

    the bacteria worked to curtail (but not eliminate) the body odor caused by not washing

    I used to work with sailors who would come back after long fishing trips. And I can assure you that they definitely did not have this bacteria present.

  • Bathe for health (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bluefoxlucid (723572) on Friday May 23, 2014 @08:47AM (#47073853) Journal

    You bathe for health. You don't bathe for an optimum natural balance; you do it so you get nasty pathogens off your body, and don't get infected wounds.

    Apparently some health comes at the expense of some other health, like how antibiotics destroy gut bacteria but save you from death by sepsis.

    • Re:Bathe for health (Score:5, Interesting)

      by 3.5 stripes (578410) on Friday May 23, 2014 @09:07AM (#47074015)

      The idea here is probiotics, good bacteria outbreed and exclude the pathogens... The article even states that the byproducts of the ammonia processing by these bacteria produced nirites and nitric acid which inhibited staph growth, they even noticed reduced healing times for mice.

    • by Talderas (1212466)

      And that's why you take probiotics with antibiotics.

    • Re:Bathe for health (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Immerman (2627577) on Friday May 23, 2014 @09:22AM (#47074127)

      That's the theory, but it's a theory established back when we thought all microbes were bad, or at best harmless. Now they're re-evalutating the theory to see if perhaps it's not actually counterproductive.

      The thing is those pathogens are going to get on your skin again almost immediately after washing anyway (think of everything you touch both before and after bathing), and if you've washed away the beneficial bacteria then the more virulent ones can recolonize your skin virtually unopposed. Meanwhile all your traditional symbiotes have been washed away, so you're not getting their benefits either. Could be a recipe to make people considerably more vulnerable to infection than otherwise.

      • It's about amount and growth. Anthrax is on everything; you can refine anthrax from the soil in your back yard. Straight white powder anthrax will cause severe health impacts, even though you're constantly touching and inhaling anthrax.

    • you do it so you get nasty pathogens off your body, and don't get infected wounds.

      You don't have to wash the whole body just to keep a wound clean, you know? It's perfectly possible to just clean and sanitize the wound and the surrounding area.

      • Originally, these things were not known. Also, we're better at determining where a wound is; back in working man days, you had scrapes and cuts and bruises all over your body. Times have changed.

  • by yendor (4311) on Friday May 23, 2014 @08:51AM (#47073887)

    I ask myself if the showers that kill the flora is just water or use soap.
    Shampoo is something I long ago stopped using and after a short period I stopped producing excessive amounts of oil. The only times I have to shampoo is when because of a skin condition.

    Using soap in general isn't something I feel is needed since a regular rinsing leaves me non smelly.

    Question is if I am actually breeding these little microbes and my lack of soaping is why I don't smell or if it's simply because I'm not a smelly person as some of my friends and family asserts?

    • Or you've just stopped noticing the smell, which is the worrying theory.

      I've actually stopped shampooing as well, though I also have to keep my hair buzzed short. It's the only thing I've found to reduce the oil and irritation. I'm far too aware of BO to stop using soap, though...

    • by Muad'Dave (255648) on Friday May 23, 2014 @09:04AM (#47073977) Homepage

      Using soap in general isn't something I feel is needed since a regular rinsing leaves me non smelly.

      According to your nose you may be non-smelly. Perhaps you're like a coworker of mine that could not smell BO. He didn't think he needed to wash regularly or use deodorant since he couldn't smell himself. Being an avid runner, he STANK most of the time; I mean he reeked to the point of making people's eyes water.

      You really don't want to be 'that guy'. You might want to get a second opinion from an unbiased source (not "friends and family").

    • Question is if I am actually breeding these little microbes and my lack of soaping is why I don't smell or if it's simply because I'm not a smelly person as some of my friends and family asserts?

      Smelly is relative term.Are your relatives are smelly?

      But seriously, I think a lot of folks don't soap their entire bodies when they shower. I just hit the critical spots in a normal shower. Full soaping only happens before a long flight or after doing something significantly dirty. Shampoo once a week at most, keeps my scalp from drying up.

      • by TWX (665546)
        I found that getting the water as hot as I could stand before rinsing out my hair seems to help rinse out excessive oil buildup. I tend to shampoo two to three times a week instead of daily, and I've noticed that when I do this with the hot water my hair looks better than when I use cooler water.

        But yeah, otherwise soap all the way.
  • To maximize bacteria (Score:5, Informative)

    by ColoradoAuthor (682295) on Friday May 23, 2014 @08:51AM (#47073891) Homepage
    IIRC from the book "The Life That Lives On Man," the skin count of undesirable bacteria is maximized by daily showering. That's just frequent enough to wash away the desirable strains, and to keep things moist enough for the undesirable strains to proliferate. That research is over 20 years old, so I'd love to see an update.
  • Quick! (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Ship a crate to Stallman! Along with a box of chocolate covered toenails-and-bunions.

  • not so bad (Score:4, Interesting)

    by tverbeek (457094) on Friday May 23, 2014 @08:57AM (#47073929) Homepage

    I've gone 10 days without washing (other than water), on a wilderness backpacking trip. Despite the fact that I was sweating a lot every day, at the end of the expedition I didn't feel as "dirty" as I would've expected. I think we could find a happy medium between our modern antibacterial-soap fetish and ye olde annual bath.

    • yea, like soap with bacteria in it. :-)

      Yogurt enema anyone?

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I went 2 months without showering, when I was working in the Arctic, living in a tent, etc. A snow shower at -40c didn't seem appealing.

      Then my flight out was delayed by weather. I lost the shower day I was going to have between flights.

      So took the bush plane out the next day and ran for my next flight. New sweat to freshen up 2 months of stench. After take off, everyone moved to the front of the plane and the flight attendant discreetly sprayed the entire now-empty-except-for-me rear cabin with air freshe

    • I felt the same way. And then, when I got back to civilization, everyone within a 5 foot radius of me nearly died from the smell.

  • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Friday May 23, 2014 @09:02AM (#47073963) Homepage Journal

    At first I was stinky and greasy. Later I was just greasy. But hey, I've got greasy skin. So I went back to product, because I didn't want to be greasy. But I have hippie shampoo and soap, no patchouli involved — unscented shampoo, and peppermint soap. No deodorant, I smell at least as good now as I did when I used it in conjunction with a bunch of toxic crap.

  • Or (Score:5, Funny)

    by Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) on Friday May 23, 2014 @09:05AM (#47073995) Journal

    Ya know what I'm thinkin'? D&D conventions.

    Have you ever walked into a hobby store on a Saturday with gaming tables set up? Fucking unwashed pigs.

    "Shut up!!! It's Baron Harkonnen cosplay! >:-( "

    • Re:Or (Score:5, Funny)

      by fey000 (1374173) on Friday May 23, 2014 @09:14AM (#47074063)

      Parent deserves at least a +1 for the visual of Baron Harkonnen cosplay.

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      Have you ever walked into a hobby store on a Saturday with gaming tables set up? Fucking unwashed pigs.

      The real problem often ain't the gamers themselves, but their laundry habits or lack thereof. If you're gonna work around the house, sure, put on yesterday's pants. If you're going to sit right next to someone else, put on a full set of clean clothes, you goddamned savages. And, you know, actually do your laundry.

  • by B33rNinj4 (666756) on Friday May 23, 2014 @09:36AM (#47074239) Homepage Journal
    I'll stick with soap.
  • by dubbayu_d_40 (622643) on Friday May 23, 2014 @10:46AM (#47074669)

    I believe in taking care of myself and a balanced diet and rigorous exercise routine. In the morning if my face is a little puffy I'll put on an ice pack while doing stomach crunches. I can do 1000 now. After I remove the ice pack I use a deep pore cleanser lotion. In the shower I use a water activated gel cleanser, then a honey almond body scrub, and on the face an exfoliating gel scrub. Then I apply an herb-mint facial mask which I leave on for 10 minutes while I prepare the rest of my routine. I always use an after shave lotion with little or no alcohol, because alcohol dries your face out and makes you look older. Then moisturizer, then an anti-aging eye balm followed by a final moisturizing protective lotion.

    • by Prune (557140)
      Of course, you're quoting to opening narration from the American Psycho movie. But if you think about the described routine, it doesn't really make sense. He first applies an ice pack (which does, indeed, reduce puffiness), and then a pore cleanser. I thought everyone knew that cold constricts pores. That's why at some spas when you get a facial they start with warm steam. This opens up your pores, and the cleaning works better. Another problem with the routine described in the movie is daily exfoliation of
  • by TomGreenhaw (929233) on Friday May 23, 2014 @12:26PM (#47076073)
    Shower as usual to strip the skin of all microbes and then moisturize with a probiotic. Seems more logical to me.

    I declare this idea to officially be in the public domain :-)
  • by drainbramage (588291) on Friday May 23, 2014 @12:26PM (#47076077)

    They've been testing this for years in France.
    The research lab is on a road named something like Rue The Day.

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