Can you really get clean without soap?

Can you really get clean without soap?

People don't like their soap. They just don't know it. 71% of adults report having sensitive skin, with symptoms that include dry, itching, stinging, cracked or even bleeding skin. How could it be that, after millennia of evolutionary optimization, the vast majority of humans are having problems with their skin? The answer: soap.

Soap has been around since the time of the Babylonians, but only in the recent past have people started using it daily on their bodies. Originally made from animal fat mixed with ashes and water, modern formulations are derived from detergents that chemically bond fatty lipophilic molecules with powerfully hydrophilic molecules, like sodium or glucose. Whether naturally or chemically derived, all soaps share several core characteristics: 1) they clean exceptionally thoroughly, stripping away everything from dirt to bacteria to our body’s protective oil barrier and our microbiome, 2) they are more alkaline than our skin and disrupt our natural PH, and 3) they reduce the surface tension of water – in other words, they foam.

Clearly there are many benefits to soap. In the mid 1800s, a Hungarian doctor discovered that washing your hands with soap improves your health dramatically. Almost immediately after this discovery, average human life expectancy, which had been stuck at about 35 years forever, surged and almost doubled in the next hundred years. Removing dangerous bacteria and other pathogens from our hands is critical to good health, and cleansing away bacteria that cause body odor is equally important to good body hygiene. In these ways, soap definitively makes life better.

The flip side is that our skin has evolved over millions of years to protect our bodies without requiring the extra help of soap, and as much as soap successfully removes dangerous and undesirable bacteria and other microorganisms it also weakens our own skin’s ability to perform its primary function: creating a protective barrier between the inside of our bodies and the dangerous outside world. Because soap strips away our protective oil barrier, it requires our skin to work overtime replacing this incredibly important physical shield. When soap removes the symbiotic bacteria, fungi and microorganisms that comprise our microbiome, it creates a free-for-all by which other bacteria, flora and fauna are able to populate our bodies and crowd out those that we need to stay healthy. And because it is alkaline and raises the PH of our skin, it erodes the lipids that make up the very structure of our skin.

In a world where everyone uses soap regularly, no wonder 71% of people report having sensitive skin!

The good news is that, thanks to new innovations in chemistry, there are now soap-free or soapless cleansers that give you all the benefits of soap without any of the negative downsides. Like soap, soapless cleansers leverage amphiphilic molecules that are both lipophilic and hydrophilic to clean away dirt, sweat and dangerous bacteria and other germs you need removed to enable a long life, but they accomplish this without stripping away your natural protective oil barrier. They are made from plant-based esters and fatty alcohols, which are more acidic and aligned with your skin’s natural PH of 4.5 to 5.5, so they do not undermine the structural integrity of your skin. And some soapless formulations such as Sans Savon contain naturally derived antimicrobials that are able to target and remove those bacteria that cause body odor while leaving your microbiome intact. These breakthroughs are creating a new era for body hygiene and enabling people to balance healthy skin with cleanliness.

When evaluating which soapless cleansers to choose, be sure to read the ingredients. Many “gentle” soaps and cleansers claim to be soapless and yet have detergents in the first few ingredients. As a simple rule of thumb: if it suds it strips. Truly soapless cleansers won’t foam at all, and the best will leave your skin feeling protected and moisturized.

To learn more about soapless cleansers like Sans Savon and give them a try, click here.

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