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Cleansing and looking after our skin and hair is an important aspect of our overall health, helping us to maintain nourished, glowing skin and soft, shiny hair.

Contrary to popular belief, skin and hair don’t need foamy cleansers or soaps to be clean. In fact, the detergents in everyday cleaning products cause devastating damage by stripping away the natural oil (sebum) that protects our hair and skin naturally.

When we use products that strip, our skin and hair try to compensate by becoming overactive and overproducing oil to counteract the damage.

This is why Le Lapin will never offer foaming cleansers, shampoos, or soaps.

Your skin and hair know how to take care of themselves and letting them do their job on their own allows them to learn to self-regulate, resulting in healthier, happier skin and hair.

The most common argument against going soap- and shampoo-free is that it’s dirty. That you can’t possibly be clean without using something that foams. But that’s simply not true.

For many, soap and shampoo has been in use for so long that they make the simple assumption those products are not harmful to us. But what if we examine the products we used in the past that took us, as a race, so long to discover were actually extremely harmful? Not so long ago, applying mercury, arsenic, lead, and other heavy metals to our faces as makeup was perfectly normal. It wasn’t until the 20th century that the true dangers of these chemicals were discovered — and yet they’d been in common use since ancient times.

A brief history of soap and detergents

Soap and soap-like products have been in use for millennia. It’s thought that the Babylonians first invented soap in 2800 BCE, though evidence suggests this was only used to wash fibres in preparation for weaving, rather than on the body. Soap for personal cleaning only became popular with the fashion of bathing during the later centuries of the Roman era, some three thousand years later.

The soap and shampoo products we know and use today are actually much newer than many believe. During World War I, soap as we know it today was invented by German scientists, and then in the 1930s we got shampoo as it is known today. The thing that made these new soaps and shampoos different to those of old is that they were no longer “soap”, but rather “detergent”. Widespread use of detergents only came in during the 1950s and 60s.

Instead of actual soap, detergents use synthetic surfactants, many of which are petroleum by-products. Surfactants are harmful to the environment, with many known to be toxic to animals, ecosystems, and humans, and one of the main sources of water pollution is everyday detergents, which are poisonous in all types of aquatic life. Surfactants can also kill microorganisms in the environment and inhibit the degradation of other toxic substances. This means each and every time you wash a detergent-based product down the drain — whether it be soap in the bathroom, shampoo in the shower, or detergent in the washing machine or dishwasher — there is significant risk to the environment, and of contamination of water supplies, rivers, oceans, and soil.

Long-term use of surfactants can cause skin irritation and can disrupt the body’s normal physiological function, and may accumulate in the body.

Along the way, commercial soap manufacturers also discovered they could remove the natural glycerine in soap, which is what gives soap a tiny bit of moisturising power. The extracted glycerine was then used in other, more profitable products, such as the moisturisers you need to use after thoroughly drying out your skin with their soap.

Let’s get one thing absolutely clear: at no point should any product dehydrate your skin or hair, leaving it tight, rough, itchy, or dry.

If the use of one product necessitates the use of another to return skin or hair to a state closer to what it was before the use of the first, does that not suggest it’s doing something wrong? After we “clean” our bodies with soap, our skin is left feeling dry and so we moisturise it. After we “wash” our hair with shampoo, our hair needs to be conditioned to keep it from becoming a tangled mess, with a product that same company produced for that very reason. Whilst this can also be true of washing with just water, the issue is exacerbated a thousandfold when we use synthetic products. One product leads to another, each designed to steer you towards the next.

Instead of this vicious cycle, products should be designed to assist and supplement our bodies’ natural functions where and as needed. None, however, should demand the use of another.

You may wonder why so many cosmetics and beauty companies continue to promote products that are known to be harmful and try to convince us they’re “safe”. The simple answer: the ingredients are cheap. Cheap and nasty.

The sad part is that the many people who continue to buy into this marketing are doing more harm than good to their bodies when they use these products.

So what can we do instead of stripping our bodies and hair of its natural oils? In one word: exfoliate.

The importance of exfoliation

While exfoliation often gets a bad rap for being harsh, it actually strengthens our skin’s barrier function by removing dead and damaged cells that clog the skin’s surface and uncovers fresh new cells below. In actual fact, exfoliation ranks higher in our skin’s needs than moisturising.

When left to build-up, dead skin cells can leave skin looking dull and dry, as well as resulting in clogged pores and excess oil. This in turn can bring about the typical feeling of skin being unclean, as the debris on the skin traps dirt and grime. Most people are under the impression that a foaming cleanser or soap will wash away this debris, but in fact this is not true. Combining exfoliation with soap-free, water-only washing actually offers a far more effective cleanse, without the stripping action of detergents and soaps.

Exfoliation has many benefits, some of which are stimulation of lymphatic drainage to dextox and increased circulation to stimulate oxygen-rich blood and boost cellular health for radiant skin.

By exfoliating, the surface of the skin is buffed and smoothed, and moisturising products are able to penetrate more deeply into the skin, ultimately making them more effective. Exfoliation can also greatly improve your shaving routine, as it clears away dead skin cells that can clog your razor, helping to get a closer shave.

Regular exfoliation will leave your skin looking fresh and healthy, and can help increase collagen production, a protein that not only contributes to glowing skin, but also promotes skin elasticity. Unclogging pores also helps to prevent acne, as well as whiteheads and blackheads.

Physical exfoliation (using brushes, cloths, or scrubs) should generally be limited to once or twice a week, though some prefer to exfoliate every other day. Listen to your skin and how it responds to exfoliation.

  • Invest in a sisal or other natural fibre hand glove or scrub for exfoliating, to eliminate the need for soap or body washes.
  • Exfoliate your face gently a few times a week with a face washcloth and your whole body more thoroughly once a week.
  • Dry brush your entire body once a week, including your face.

Hopefully it won’t take another couple of thousand years for the human race to stop participating in the modern era of chemical-laden products. Not only are they unhealthy for our bodies, they’re destroying our planet. What happens when the Earth runs out of crude oil for us to refine into petrochemicals?

Just as we now look upon the use of heavy metals as preposterous, future generations will look back at our era in a similar way for the widespread use of sulphates, parabens, formaldehyde, silicones, and the host of other chemicals present in cosmetics and beauty products.

It’s only been 70 years since detergents came into popular use. That means it took us less than three generations to reach a global understanding that we have to use them. Not long.

If we as a race survived for so long without such products, surely we can go back to not using them without too much fuss.

Let’s make a conscious decision to use products more in line with the current era.

Featured image © Rémi Thorel on Unsplash