Like most little kids, I was 2 or 3 when I was taught the face washing “rules.” Get your face wet. Apply soap to cheeks, forehead, nose and chin. Be careful! Avoid the eyes! Rinse. Repeat at least twice a day. It took me more than 30 years to realize rules were made to be broken.
I stopped using soap two years ago, and I haven’t looked back.
The first time I skipped the “soap” step was an act of mercy for my cheeks. It was winter, and despite all attempts to hydrate, moisturize and set up petroleum jelly barriers, the skin was red and screaming. Adding soap was like squeezing lemon on a paper cut.
So I went through the usual routine in the shower — shampoo the hair, wash the body, shave the legs — but I decided to give my face a pass. Was one “dirty” day really going to matter? Would anyone even notice if I waited another 12 hours?
I assumed I’d resume the sudsing up the next day, but it just … didn’t happen. Soon this was my new routine: I run water on my face twice a day, be it with a splash from the sink or sticking my chin and cheeks beneath the shower stream. That’s it.
Along with an estimated 81 million Americans, my skin has always tended to be dry, but I’m also in the boat with the 40 to 55 percent of American adults who suffer from adult acne. Put together, this combination skin used to cost me hundreds of dollars a year as I hunted for the one magic product that would ward off the pain of a honking red zit without making my cheeks look like Santa Claus after a trip out to visit the reindeer.
I tried drugstore brands. I tried department store brands. I consulted with dermatologists and the aesthetician at the spa. Still, I walked around with patches here and zits there, my face always feeling like I’d been washing it with a potato peeler.
Until I stopped it all.
I don’t have perfect skin now. I still get a few pimples when I’m PMSing, and the area right above my lips tends to chap come winter time if I don’t pick up my water consumption. But the rest of the time, it looks like... skin. It’s clean. There’s no weird oily sheen, no dirt or flashing light that screams, “This woman doesn’t wash her face.”
We’re trained as kids that soap is necessary, and the drumbeat only gets louder when we hit the teen years and the oils and bacteria in our pores start pushing pimples to the surface.
The American Academy of Dermatology ranks cleansers so high that they get top billing in the organization’s “Face-Washing 101” on its website.
“Use a gentle, non-abrasive cleanser that does not contain alcohol,” the guidelines state.
But do we really need soap — even if we’re not seeing any ill effects from skipping out on it? There’s an increasing amount of evidence out there that soaping up other parts of the body has drawbacks — from hands to hair.
Medical experts are divided straight down the middle. Giuseppe Militello, MD, a dermatologist with the Summit Medical Group in Summit, New Jersey tells FIRST the mix of oils and dead skin cells on our faces are akin to olive oil. When you pour water in cooking oil, the latter forms little globules, but it doesn’t wash away. It takes a detergent, the scrubbing factor in a soap, to do that, Dr. Militello says.
“Water alone is not going to cut it,” he notes.
But the more I’ve started opening up to other women about my dirty little secret, the more people I’ve found who do as I do. They wash their faces. They just don’t use soap.
And a growing number of clinicians say the need for soap is overhyped.
Kathryn A. Boling, MD, a primary care provider at Mercy Personal Physicians in Lutherville, Maryland says she rarely uses cleansers on her own face, and she tells patients it can be drying out their already dry skin.
“If you have oily skin or a lot of sweat you may need soap, but if you have dry skin, you can get by with nice, good water,” she says.
That works for me!
This essay was written by Jeanne Sager.
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