Monday, March 23, 2015

The Foolishness of Not Using Soap

A few days ago I read a book by Mark Boyle called The Moneyless Man: A Year of Freeconomic Living. It's an interesting concept, and I found it to be a pretty fast and easy read, but ultimately it was nothing special, was actually a bit boring and shallow, and definitely no Walden.

I don't really want to get into a thorough review of this book here, and I could probably write several stand-alone posts based upon many of the ideas touched upon in this book, and maybe I will, but for now I just want to address one thing advocated by the author that really bothers me, and that kind of totally turned me off to everything else he wrote, which was his rejection of using soap.

Okay, I'll admit it, I have a soap fetish, but not just any soap, I love using my Dr. Bronner's Magic Peppermint Soap. My day does not feel right without a shower using my favorite soap, and if a shower's not possible, at least some sort of sponge bath, washing my armpits, my face, and my hands. If I don't do that, I feel grungy. Washing with soap and water boosts my spirits, makes me feel stronger, more energized, more focused, and more productive. I would never voluntarily go without soap.

Okay, that's a personal preference, a preference not shared by all. I've read about the negatives of shampoo damaging your hair, stripping your scalp of its natural oils, and leaching toxic chemicals into your bloodstream. Not all soaps and shampoos are equal. Some contain toxic additives and perfumes. Many do in fact dry out the skin. But it's one thing to take a shower without using soap, and still maintaining some degree of cleanliness, and yet another to advocate not washing your hands with soap ever again.

I cringed as I read about him in this book talking about not using soap, and in the next section going on to describe using his outdoor humanure toilet, where he then goes on to shave (of course without soap), and then prepares his food, all with no mention of washing his hands.

He says the same thing in his follow-up book The Moneyless Manifesto, where he gets into more specific detail about it, basically saying that he considers the use of soap to be completely unnecessary, its use being more so a matter of personal preference used for cosmetic reasons rather than being necessary for good health and hygiene. Okay, maybe that's true for your hair. Maybe that's even true for the rest of your body to some extent, as far as your armpits and face and crotch is concerned, where washing with clean water may suffice, but its not true for hand washing.

Certainly washing your hands with just water is better than not washing your hands at all, but washing your hands with soap and (clean) water is probably the single most important innovation made in medicine for the prevention of disease.

But Mark Boyle does not mention this in his books. He appears to be blissfully unaware of it, and in his ignorance he is giving out some very bad and very dangerous advice having potentially deadly consequences.

It just goes to show you that you've got to be very careful when you're reading information concerning health and safety advice coming from non-scientists, and that you shouldn't uncritically believe everything you read, people can and do advocate bad ideas, and get those bad ideas published in books, ideas that are either untrue or dangerous to your health and safety if you follow them.

Read up about it, there's tons of information online from reputable sources, about why, at least when it comes to washing your hands, it's unwise to forgo the soap.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention handwashing with soap and water saves lives. 

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And via umcor.org:

"Washing hands thoroughly, in flowing water and, best of all, with soap, is vital for counteracting infectious diseases that claim so many lives every year around the world.
Handwashing with soap has been described aptly as a “do-it-yourself vaccine.” It’s a simple and highly effective way to combat diarrheal bacteria and the pathogens that carry typhoid, cholera and all the other common gastro-enteric infections. It also fights many respiratory infections like influenza and pneumonia.
Research shows that children who live in households that understand the message of handwashing with soap, experience half the incidence of diarrhea that other children do. Ingraining the habit of handwashing can, it’s believed, save more lives than any single vaccine or other medical intervention."

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Concerning handwashing technique (via infectioncontroltoday.com):

"The aim of handwashing is to remove microorganisms from the hands, preventing their potential transfer. It is known that organisms survive and multiply on human hands, creating the opportunity to infect others or the host.6 Handwashing reduces the number of transient organisms on the skin surface. Although hands cannot be sterilized, most transient organisms can be removed by 30 seconds of proper scrubbing with soap and water. Proper scrubbing would include vigorous motion with the hands rubbing together and fingers working in between the finger web space and inclusive of the dorsal and ventral surfaces of the hands. Microbes that reside in sweat ducts and hair follicles of the skin, however, cannot be dislodged readily. Surveys show that one in five medical professionals carry potentially pathogenic antibiotic-resistant pathogens on his or her hands. Handwashing by medical professionals occurs at only 30% of the ideal rate. Failure to wash one's hands before and after each patient contact is probably the most important contributor to the spread of infections."

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