What happens when you don’t use soap?

Soap has been heralded as a cleansing wonder since Roman times, but increasingly experts advise not to use it regularly. Here’s why plain old water may be your best bet.

As children, we were all taught the only way to get squeaky clean is to scrub with a bar of soap.

But, with some soaps made with harmful chemicals, dermatologists are now recommending that we ditch the common household product.

Dr Leona Yip, of the Australasian College of Dermatologists, says while it may feel counterintuitive to eliminate soap in your beauty routine, it could actually be the simple answer to healthier skin.

Is soap bad for skin?

Using soap every day can irritate skin, says Dr Yip.

“Soap is not a good skin cleanser as it is harsh on the skin due to its alkaline nature with high pH levels,” she says.

“Normal healthy skin has pH levels that are slightly acidic, soaps increase the skin’s pH making it more prone to dryness and irritation by stripping off natural skin oils.”

Soap can also upset the bacteria your skin needs, and can lead to dry skin or eczema.

Does soap have any benefits?

Apart from making you smell nice, Dr Yip believes there is no value in using a traditional bar of soap.

Researchers at Epworth’s Centre for Paediatric Allergies are now studying the link between using soap on babies and the early onset of eczema, which can also trigger other allergies.

So, to be on the safe side it is recommended parents use water-only baths for bubs or a gentle non-soap cleanser.

Antibacterial soap is also being put under the microscope in the US, where the Food and Drug Administration in 2016 banned 19 so-called antibacterial additives commonly found in over-the-counter soaps.

In fact, studies have found using chemicals in soap to attack bacteria may not be healthy in the long term.

Additionally, some researchers believe washing vigorously and for longer with just water also has a germ-busting effect.

What happens if you stop using soap?

“Nothing detrimental happens if you decide to have showers with just water without soap,” Dr Yip says.

“The skin’s natural pH levels should be restored in time and there should be less dry and flaky skin.”

If you are not ready to give up soap altogether, Dr Yip recommends using alternatives that replenish the skin as well as leaving you smelling nice.

“Use soap-free skin cleansers with enriched moisturisers like glycerine and oatmeal that help to replace or restore the natural skin oils that get stripped off in showers,” she says.

What if you like soap?

If you do not experience any skin issues, it is fine to continue your normal cleaning routine.

But Dr Yip recommends avoiding using soap on your genitals, as these areas are more vulnerable to irritation.

She also recommends avoiding “over washing your face and hands” as over- cleansing can make skin produce more oils, upsetting the natural balance and causing irritation, acne and greasy skin.

Written by Alex White.