A daily shower may be bad for you? Er, I’ll take my chances!

Would you go without a shower for 15 years? Well one man has, so says Trevor Laffan in his weekly column
A daily shower may be bad for you? Er, I’ll take my chances!

RITUAL: Most of us shower daily, but one man hasn’t washed in 15 years. Picture posed by model

MILA Kunis and Ashton Kutcher are a celebrity couple. I don’t know them, so I have no idea why they are celebrities, but they caught my eye because of something they said in relation to washing their children.

They were married in 2015 and have two kids, but they don’t bathe them every day. In fact, they don’t wash them unless “you can see dirt on them”. They reckon if you can see the dirt on them, clean them. Otherwise, there’s no point.

I’m not so sure about that. How many times during the Covid pandemic have we been told to wash our hands? You can’t beat the power of soap and water, the experts keep telling us.

But while hand washing is essential, there are some, like Kunis and Kutcher, who think washing the rest of the body isn’t as important.

Robert H. Shmerling, MD, a Senior Faculty Editor at Harvard Health, suggested it’s not clear that a daily shower accomplishes much. In fact, he says, a daily shower may be bad for your health.

Normal, healthy skin maintains a layer of oil and a balance of ‘good’ bacteria and other microorganisms. Washing and scrubbing removes these, especially if the water is hot. As a result, skin may become dry, irritated, or itchy.

A guy called David Whitlock had a similar outlook, but he took it to extremes. He claims he hasn’t showered or bathed for 15 years, yet, according to himself, he doesn’t have body odour.

“It was kind of strange for the first few months, but after that I stopped missing it,” he says. “If I get a specific part of my body dirty, then I’ll wash that specific part” - but never with soap.

OK, but I’d like a second opinion on the lack of odour claim.

According to National Geographic, there is an alternative method of cleaning ourselves called ‘forest bathing’. The term emerged in Japan in the 1980s as a physiological and psychological exercise called shinrin-yoku (‘forest bathing’ or ‘taking in the forest atmosphere’). The purpose was twofold: to offer an eco-antidote to tech-boom burn-out, and to inspire residents to reconnect with and protect the country’s forests.

The Japanese quickly bought into it and researchers began studying the benefits of forest bathing, providing the science to support the belief that time spent immersed in nature is good for us.

Forest bathing is not just for the wilderness-lover; the practice can be as simple as walking in any natural environment and consciously connecting with what’s around you. A few extremists even do it while in the nude.

I wouldn’t put any money on that catching on here. I can’t imagine too many strolling around Glengarriff Wood or Gougane Barra in the middle of November with their clothes piled neatly in the boot of the car. You might return with a cleaner body than the one you started out with, mainly due to the rain, but hypothermia could very likely be your next challenge.

But not all dirt is on the outside of the body. Trimethylaminuria is a word I came across recently. It’s a bit of a mouthful and not something you want to become too familiar with because it’s a rare metabolic disorder in which the body is unable to break down trimethylamine, a nitrogen-containing compound that has a pungent fishy odour. The more common name for this condition is ‘fish odour syndrome’.

It has been described as smelling like rotting fish, rotting eggs, garbage, or urine. As trimethylamine compound builds up in the body, it causes affected people to give off a strong odour in their sweat, urine, and breath. The intensity of the odour may vary over time and can interfere with many aspects of daily life, relationships, your social life, and career.

Some people with trimethylaminuria experience depression and social isolation as a result of this condition.

It’s easy to see how that could get you down. Nobody wants to be giving off bad body odour, but the good news is that treatment is available.

There are some people out there though who pollute the air simply because they just chose to ignore their personal hygiene, even though their treatment is a lot less complicated. All they need is soapy water.

BO is like a thick fog that lingers and once you smell it, it’s difficult to ignore. Especially if you happen to be in a confined space like an office or a car where there is no chance of escape. There is really no excuse for it; just use the shower.

While there’s no ideal frequency for showering, experts suggest that taking short showers several times a week is plenty for most people, unless you have other reasons to shower more often, like the poor gong-farmers. They would certainly have had good cause to shower more often than most.

Gong-farming was a profession dating back to 15th century England. Gong was the term used to describe the chamber pot and its contents. In those days, when the pot was full, it was emptied out onto the street. Larger towns and cities often had public latrines as well, like giant septic tanks, but they were generally few in number, so they were overused and filled up quickly, which is where the gong-farmer came in.

A gong-farmer’s job was to remove human excrement by shovel and take it out of the town by cart. These guys could only work by night and the conditions were terrible, but it was also dangerous work, and many died from the poisonous fumes.

The gong was used to fertilise fields, and dedicated gong-farmers would dig through the muck in search of lost money.

Having emptied a septic tank myself back in the day, I know it would take more than a walk in a forest to get rid of that smell.

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