Gross-out green week - Day two: Skipping Soap - Our Daily Green

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Gross-out green week - Day two: Skipping Soap

No More Dirty Looks 
Back in January of 2011, Our Daily Green embarked on a "No Soap" for a week challenge as proposed by the writers over at No More Dirty Looks (who've also published the featured book of the same name). They challenged us to go five days without soap. Not being one to put my perceptions about personal hygiene before the potential to win a prize, I took the bait.

Contrary to predictions, I did not come down with an incurable disease, I did not smell like a sewer, and in fact, there was no noticeable difference. I spent a week in midwinter using soap only on my hands and "private" areas. Everything else was washed with water and a good washcloth.

Before you're tempted to ask what could possibly be green (besides the potential for growth of scum) about skipping soap, let me explain a little bit about how soap works and how soap is made. From a purely chemical  perspective:
Nearly all compounds fall into one of two categories: hydrophilic ('water-loving') and hydrophobic ('water-hating'). Water and anything that will mix with water are hydrophilic. Oil and anything that will mix with oil are hydrophobic. When water and oil are mixed they separate. Hydrophilic and hydrophobic compounds just don't mix.
The cleansing action of soap is determined by its polar and non-polar structures in conjunction with an application of solubility principles. The long hydrocarbon chain is non-polar and hydrophobic (repelled by water). The "salt" end of the soap molecule is ionic and hydrophilic (water soluble). 
When grease or oil (non-polar hydrocarbons) are mixed with a soap- water solution, the soap molecules work as a bridge between polar water molecules and non-polar oil molecules.
Since soap molecules have both properties of non-polar and polar molecules the soap can act as an emulsifier. An emulsifier is capable of dispersing one liquid into another immiscible liquid. This means that while oil (which attracts dirt) doesn't naturally mix with water, soap can suspend oil/dirt in such a way that it can be removed. The soap will form micelles and trap the fats within the micelle. Since the micelle is soluble in water, it can easily be washed away.
Soap carries germs away by surrounding the oily dirt, germs and bacteria with water and rinsing them away.

To make soapanimal or vegetable oils (acid)  are mixed with either sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide (base) to make a salt. Depending on the proportions, the salts are basic or alkaline in nature with a pH value of about 9-10 while our skin has an acidic nature with a pH between 5.6 and 5.8. Using soap on your skin increases the pH of our skin harming it.

Again, to simplify, the ingredients in soap strongly affect our skin's natural pH. An addendum to the "No Soap" challenge was that using soap for handwashing is an absolute must. Our hands touch things that need to be removed from our skin's surface. Same goes for the private areas of our body that are also exposed to bacteria. However, we do not roll our bodies in germy substances on a regular basis and therefore most of our skin does not require that intense level of germ removal. In fact, that level of removal is actually damaging to our skin's pH balance.

The skin is our largest organ. Skin is a living breathing organ of the body and absorbs anything that is put on it or next to it through the pores. The caustic chemicals that make soap effective also can be absorbed into the body. Last month, in fact, a University of California Davis study showed that triclosan (a common germ killing ingredient in soap and hand sanitizers) reduces muscle strength in mice and fish, and researchers theorize it may also be a problem for humans. Many soaps also contain chemical additives for fragrance and dyes.

In the year plus since my no soap for a week experiment, I have used less and less soap. My typical shower routine is soap only for my feet, armpits, and personal areas, to remove germs and bacteria. The rest of my body just gets a vigorous scrub with water and a washcloth. My skin's natural pH stays balanced, I am clean and I'm not absorbing as many chemicals through my skin into my body.

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