November 16, 2011

Well, Eleanor, I Hope To Make You Proud

We're now halfway through November and I've managed not to start my sharing of personal things in the pursuit of doing things that scare me, at least from a blog perspective. (If you don't know why I'm doing that, please take a moment to read a bit of last month's post for that info.) Clearly, I'm not afraid of procrastination.

I want to share with you some of the changes I've made in my life over the last year. Some of these things I've told to very, very few people, others I've been a little more open about and still others I've never mentioned to another soul. I wasn't sure where to start, but I've decided to go with the thing that I've been doing the longest. So, here goes.

Potentially Surprising Personal Revelation #1:  I don't use soap on my skin.

That's right, I don't use soap or shower gel or anything like that on my skin. Let me be clear: I DO WASH MY HANDS WITH SOAP. (A lot. I'm a real proponent of frequent hand washing because I believe it's imperative to help prevent the spread of disease. Seriously, if you are going to take issue with this revelation, don't be stupid and mistake my meaning, okay?) I'm talking about the skin on the rest of the body, my arms, legs and torso, the vast majority of the skin on my body.

Why do I not use soap? It started right after I read this article on BlogHer called "I Went Soap-free and I Liked It." That was nine months ago. So if you've seen me in person since February, you've been around me since I stopped using soap. And I'm going to bet that you never noticed.

I'm not sure I can explain why this article really resonated with me, except to say that I found myself nodding a lot and thinking, "Why do we need so much harsh cleanser on our skin on such a regular basis?" Especially for someone like me who doesn't have a terribly active lifestyle and doesn't work up that much of a sweat, but who appeared to have somewhat sensitive skin. Also, the amount of money we as a society spend on soap and cleansers, which contain all sorts of chemicals and ingredients that we really don't understand much about, is kind of alarming. Add to that the cycle of drying our skin out with soap then spending more money to try to put the moisture back in with expensive lotions and creams. The money-saving aspect and the potential environmentally positive aspect (though admittedly, the latter is going to be a small impact from just one person) both really appealed to me.

Before I stopped using soap, I had very itchy skin on some parts of my body, most noticeably my lower legs and my back. There was a point a year or so ago when I was scratching my legs so much at night (when it always seemed to start up) that I was drawing blood and the constant itching was making me a little nuts. Lotions only worked for a while and I grew weary of constantly having to put them on. I also used to get a lot of ingrown hairs on my upper legs, which, if you've ever had them, you know can be rather painful. Finally, I had these uncomfortable and rather unsightly little red bumps all over my upper arms.

So, on that day in February, I ditched the shower gel and just used my little nylon scrubby puff vigorously all over where I would normally have used it lathered up with soap. I've been doing that ever since. As the writer of the article I mention above did, I do "use...cleansers for my face, hands, and privates" however I have all but stopped using regular soap in those areas. I will elaborate.

I haven't used actual soap on my face in decades. It's too drying and I have problem skin. I've used cleansers that don't contain soap during that time, but I've gradually phased out the heavy-duty (and expensive) kinds of cleansers I had been using as an alternative. I use a pre-moistened towelette (Neutrogena, if you're wondering) to remove makeup each night. Yes, they do contain some chemicals, so it's not a perfect solution, but it completely removes my makeup, including mascara, without tugging at my skin or stinging my eyes, in one easy step. In the shower, I use baking soda to cleanse and exfoliate my face. I take about a tablespoon and, in two passes, I moisten it with water and gently scrub all over. It's surprisingly effective and it feels really nice. As a mask, now and again I take baking soda and mix it with whipped honey and lemon, put it on for 10 minutes and rinse it off. My skin feels incredibly soft afterwards. (Baking soda will make an appearance in a few of my other revelation posts, by the way.) I will use a bit of medicated, non-soap cleanser that comes from my aesthetician if I'm having breakouts, but I need very little and use it only on the affected areas, and sometimes a stronger exfoliation product if my face needs it.

On the other areas of my body where soap would be needed (a.k.a. one's private parts), I now use liquid castile soap. If you're not familiar with that, it's made from olive or vegetable oil and is very mild, and fairly inexpensive because it can be bought in bulk. It will lather up, but just a little because it doesn't contain sulfates; it doesn't have the mounds of bubbles we've been convinced we need to get clean. And I'm pleased to report that my privates have no complaint whatsoever about this change.

I want to mention that I have a separate scrubby just for my feet, in case anyone wonders. This is important in the summer when I wear sandals constantly. I scrub very thoroughly, no soap, then follow with a brisk toweling of each foot. There is much less dry skin sloughing off than there used to be, I have noticed.

Which leaves us with the hand soap. The hand soap that I do use. A lot. :-) Hand in hand with this no-soap commitment (pun intended), I made a commitment to using or recycling/repurposing the things I already have in the house as much as possible and not buying anything new if I have something else I can use. That means using up the regular hand soap that I have before switching over to all castile soap, which is my plan. That also means giving away any unopened soaps and cleansers to anyone else who uses them, such as the many products I received from the BlogHer conference in San Diego, some of which I got without being able to choose to avoid soap products. As I know I will continue to get free products that I won't use, I will continue to either give them to friends and family, or will donate them to shelters, where there's always a need.

So, that's it. My first big personal revelation. At least, it feels big, and a little scary, to expose this aspect of myself to the entire Internet. Have questions? Fire away. I will require that they be asked with respect or they will be either deleted or derided publicly. And I expect that at least a few people will delicately and inconspicuously try to sniff a bit when we next meet in person, just to see if they can notice any difference. It's OK, I understand...I'd probably do the same thing.