If, like me, you’re unlucky enough to be an active Twitter user, then you’ve probably witnessed one of the many insufferable rounds of discourse around washing. I myself can no longer wash my legs in the shower without thinking about the day I found out that some people… don’t do this.
In a profile with Vanity Fair, Jake Gyllenhaal revealed “there’s a whole world of not bathing that is also really helpful for skin maintenance”, ironically (or perhaps shrewdly) said while advertising Prada’s new Luna Rossa Ocean fragrance.
Meanwhile, Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis went on a podcast to announce they don’t believe in bathing, with Kutcher adding that he only ever washes the crevices. This led to an interviewer asking Jason Momoa about his showering practices, to which he responded: “I shower. I’m Aquaman.”
How did we get here?
In light of our cursed new reality, in which the richest white people in the world have seemingly decided to forgo personal hygiene, I decided to reach out to Adam Friedmann, a consultant dermatologist at Stratum Dermatology Clinics, to ask some important questions.
VICE: Scientifically, how bad is not washing your skin and body?
Adam Friedmann: I suppose the biggest concern is obviously going to be odour, and most people start to develop body odour if they don't wash within 24 hours. But obviously, with modern antiperspirants, deodorants and perfumes, people can mask that quite well.
From a skin perspective, we're not too worried if you wash the skin, as it's pretty much self-cleaning and self-regulating; it’s designed to do that. But I think most physicians would say washing every 24 hours to keep your odour down would be probably normal. If you don't have to be in a work environment and you're at home, there's no harm in having a lazy day, where you can wash on the second day of the weekend.
Would you not start to develop spots or a rash or anything like that?
If you literally don't wash ever, you will start to get a build-up of excess keratin – your skin becomes a bit scalier and rougher and starts to pick up the dirt, so you will actually look grimy over time. The longer you leave it, the more prone you'll be to picking up all sorts of nasty stuff, like body lice. Acne itself is not a hygiene thing, so you won't necessarily get that through not washing the skin, as it tends to be a genetic tendency and hormone-related. If you never wash and you get sweaty, you can get irritating rashes or eczema in the armpits or wherever you're not keeping your skin clean. But it would take a while to get that bad.
How long are we talking?
I would say a week minimum.
You’d be pretty smelly by then, I imagine. What do you think is driving this anti-bathing Hollywood movement?
I mean, as far as I'm aware, they are only saying they go a couple of days without washing if they feel the need.
Jake Gyllenhaal said that he is increasingly finding bathing to be “less necessary”, and that and we naturally clean ourselves. I’m assuming he thinks he doesn't smell.
Maybe he likes his own smell? I don't know the answer to that. Actors are an esoteric bunch; they often have interesting views on life. The barefoot, unwashed hippie is a thing… Maybe that's what we're talking about with some of the Hollywood set.
Do you stop noticing your own smell? Obviously everyone else can tell you stink, but I feel like maybe these people have got to a point where they can’t smell their own odour?
If you're surrounded by a certain odour for a long period of time, your nasal nerves will be desensitised to that smell, so I think it is possible that people could be desensitised to their own smell. But let's face it, we've all met people who absolutely stink and you think to yourself, ‘wow, can they really not smell that?’ So, I think the answer is yes, you probably desensitise a bit to your own smell over time, but that is not to say that you don't still necessarily smell horrible.
Some other actors, I think it was Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis, and also Kristen Bell and her husband, said they do “smell tests” with their children. So, either they only wash them when they smell, or when they see physical dirt on them. Is it different for kids?
Kids are a hell of a lot cleaner than adults. They get dirtier, but they don't smell foul until they go through puberty. Babies are actually extremely clean – they don't need to be washed particularly often at all, probably every three or four days. It is fine to wash children less frequently, but of course, as anyone who has kids knows, they’ll often come back [from playing] filthy, so they end up getting washed because they're dirty far more often than because they are stinky or anything like that.
Someone on the other side of this conversation is The Rock, who entered the chat and said he showers three times a day: a cold shower in the morning to wake up; a warm one after his workout; and then a hot shower at night. Is showering too much a thing?
In dermatology, we get very fearful of people using soaps and irritants and washes, and of people using super hot showers, because that combination of hot water and soap can irritate the skin. But everyone is different! Some people can get away with [that routine], but most people would find three showers a day probably leaving their skin a bit drier and more uncomfortable because, ironically, water leaves you drier afterwards. Therefore, switching from washing with soap to washing with a moisturising cream would probably be a good idea.
Are we showering too often as a culture?
We probably shower a lot more than we really need to, but if you're not doing yourself any harm with it, then it raises the question: Is it a problem? We probably are, but who wants to smell?
So there you go. Please, please, keep washing yourselves.