A freshly-washed face is one of those little pleasures in life. The fresher your face, the fresher you feel.
But science is discovering that clean skin is hiding a dirty secret.
Lathering up each day can lead to increased oil production, acne, skin irritation, and visible signs of aging. Yikes!
How could cleanliness go so wrong?
A Short History of Skincare
Most of us fall into 3 camps when it comes to skincare:
- Skincare minimalists, for whom soap and water is good enough.
- Skincare conventionalists, who follow beauty advice to the letter.
- Skincare revolutionaries, who risk ridicule in pursuit of truth.
These days, I fancy myself in the third category. Getting older has freed me to do embarrassing things, even if no one else is doing them.
My willingness to look outside the box of conventional skincare started young.
As a teen, I had terrible skin. A dermatologist suggested I try Redken’s cleansing bar for men. My mother had to go to a men’s barber shop to find it for me. (I flatly refused to go in with her. I was willing to risk embarrassment, but not to that degree.)
Then I got hooked on the product.
Each bar was gorgeous: dense, scented, and a beautiful shade of green. It left my skin feeling tight and oil-free. Back then it was called the RK bar, and it had a major cult following. Still does, in fact.
Ah, for those simple days of yore…
Once upon a time, you washed your face and put on moisturizer.
Then we learned that we should never use bath soap to cleanse the face, because bath soap strips skin of its natural oils.
Then we learned that we shouldn’t put moisturizer around the fragile eye area. Instead, we needed to pay a fortune for a small pot of specially-formulated eye cream.
Then we learned that moisturizer and eye cream weren’t enough. We also needed a serum (applied before the moisturizer, to ensure maximum absorbency).
And we weren’t supposed to use the same moisturizer during the day that we did at night. And we needed a toner, too, to apply after cleansing but before applying a serum. And don’t forget the sunscreen!
By that time, we started to notice that our boyfriends had just one container of shower gel in their showers that they used for everything—face, body, and hair.
Leading us to wonder:
Are all these products REALLY necessary?
It’s the million-dollar question: how many products do we need?
Skincare companies have a lot invested in convincing us that we need their latest product. They play on our desire to look beautiful. 9 out of 10 women would rather keep their skin young and smooth for life than win the lottery—in my humble opinion, at least. 😉
But you don’t need 101 beauty products to get youthful, glowing skin. Sometimes, the best route to dewy skin is to use nothing at all.
My status as skincare rebel was confirmed when I had my daughter. Like most first-time mothers, I wanted to get it right. I spent a lot of time researching what to use on her tender new skin.
Imagine my surprise when I learned that soap wasn’t even necessary in the first year. A warm water bath would do just fine. In fact, one pediatrician argued that the upsurge in eczema was partly caused by washing babies too frequently with soap.
Then one day I opened up a woman’s magazine and read an article I’ve never forgotten.
It turns out our faces were just fine before we started washing them.
Doing It the Old-Fashioned Way
Before modern life became so hygienic, most people didn’t bathe every day—or even every week. Disgusting, right?
They had a natural self-cleaning system that didn’t require soap or water … and they weren’t even aware of it.
Let’s take a step back.
By now, we all know about the beneficial microorganisms that live in our gut, helping us digest food. We even take probiotics or consume fermented foods to replenish them. The term “good bacteria” doesn’t faze us.
Before we began going overboard on the soap and water, beneficial microorganisms lived on our skin, too.
They originally came from dirt or natural water sources like rivers and streams. But once they found themselves on our skin, these ammonia-oxidizing bacteria adapted happily to their new environment. They fed on the ammonia in our sweat, reducing odor and inflammation.
Our ancestors didn’t need soap and water to clean themselves, because they had good bacteria living on their skin who did it for them.
That’s the premise behind the newest revolution in skincare:
Bathing in bacteria.
One Product to Rule Them All
Companies like AOBiome are convinced that they can convince consumers to forgo cleansers and shampoos in favor of a spray that reintroduces these good bacteria to our skin.
The modern American has no trace of ammonia-oxidizing bacteria on her skin, because they can’t survive soap. Doubly so if you’re using antibacterial soap or taking antibiotics to treat acne.
Forgo the soap, use AOBiome’s spray, and you’ll enjoy freedom from skin conditions like acne, dryness, sensitivity and blotchiness. At least, that’s the promise.
And that’s where I hit my limit as a skincare rebel.
Not a chance.
There’s no way I could give up that freshly-washed feeling. I like bacteria, but I wouldn’t keep one as a pet. On my skin. Feeding it sweat.
So I’ve found a compromise. I use the gentlest soap possible, and I use a lot less of it.
Washing your face just once a day can make a world of difference. This idea has even been picked up by skincare conventionalists, who recommend that you don’t lather up your face in the morning. Instead, splash your face with warm water, then apply your makeup. Wait to wash your face until evening, when you need to get rid of every trace of makeup and grime before you sleep.
No wonder I struggled so much with my skin as a teen. Regardless of my hormones, I was washing my face every chance I got. That dry, tight feeling was a sign that I was overdoing it.
So what will it be?
Loyalty to that freshly-washed feeling … or a new definition of clean?