How much does it benefit the environment if I skip a shower once, twice or three times a week? What about replacing shampoo and conditioner with baking soda and apple cider vinegar?
SueAnne Ying, ’02, Castaic, Calif.
Before anyone squeals “eww” at the thought of skipping a shower once in a while, a recent New York Times article explored the growing trend of skipping showers and shampoo, even if few people would publicly admit it. Some dermatologists even argue that constant soaping can be counter-productive.
Whoa, is it possible to be too clean? Just thinking about the millions of bacteria lurking on the doorknob that everyone else has also touched makes me want to wash my hands immediately. But constant washing makes my hands dry and irritated, and now I have to use lotion constantly to moisturize. This is because most soaps and shampoos are strong detergents that remove the skin’s natural moisturizers. Some studies show that hands washed repeatedly can harbor more bacteria than hands washed less often. This is because skin damaged from constant washing has less of its natural protection to fight the foreign bacteria. This doesn’t mean you need to stop washing: the no-shampoo, or “no-poo” trend promotes substituting shampoo with natural products like baking soda for better scalp health, for example. It’s possible that using gentler cleaners can help both our health and the environment.
Skipping showers or substituting out commercial products can help the environment by reducing water use, energy use and chemical pollution. These previous SAGE articles provide advice on how to reduce water use in the shower and how to find eco-friendly cleansing products. According to the Water Research Foundation, the average person in North America uses 170 gallons of water per day. Half of that is used indoors, and half of the water used indoors is used in the bathroom. If one skipped three showers a week, one could save approximately 100 gallons of water a week, or 5,200 gallons per year. See the Nitty Gritty section to calculate your personal water use.
Comparing the actual environmental impacts of substituting baking soda for shampoo would require a complex life cycle analysis, which would be difficult to perform. We do know, however, that synthetic chemical compounds, such as those found in commercial soaps and shampoo, tend to persist longer in the environment than natural compounds. And these compounds are increasingly being found in natural lakes and rivers where they can affect the growth of fish and aquatic animals. The EPA is currently studying the effects of pharmaceutical and personal care product (PPCP) chemicals on environmental health. You don’t need to stop showering altogether to reduce your impact on the environment. In fact, just using water more efficiently and making more careful choices about the chemicals we use can be easier life changes to maintain, and therefore have larger and better impact on the environment.