Unwashed, unruffled


A daily shower is a deeply ingrained human habit. Most people would no sooner disclose they had not showered in days than admit infidelity. But Jenefer Palmer, 55, of Malibu, California, acknowledged that she doesn\’t shower or shampoo daily and doesn\’t use deodorant. Ever. No, she does not work from home in pajamas. In fact, Palmer, the CEO of Osea, an organic skin-care line, often travels to meet business contacts at the five-star hotels where her line is sold. They might be surprised to read Palmer, a petite brunette, showers \”no more than three times a week, \” she said, and less if she hasn\’t been \”working out vigorously. \”

Defying a culture of clean that has prevailed at least since the 1940s, a contingent of renegades deliberately forgoes daily bathing and other gold standards of personal hygiene, like frequent shampooing and deodorant use. To the converted, there are many reasons to cleanse less and smell more like yourself.

\”We don\’t need to wash the way we did when we were farmers, \” said Katherine Ashenburg, 65, the author of The Dirt on Clean: An Unsanitized History. Since the advent of cars and labour-saving machines, she continued, \”we have never needed to wash less, and we have never done it more. I\’m going to sound like dirty Katherine in this article, \” she said, \”but it doesn\’t matter. I\’m still invited to dinner parties. \”

Retention of the skin\’s natural oils and water conservation are two reasons Palmer and others cite for skipping a shower. Some have concluded deodorant is unnecessary after forgetting it once with no repercussions, or are concerned about antiperspirants containing aluminum. Shampooing as little as possible can help retain moisture in dry locks and enhance curl shape, argue adherents of the practice;for some men, it\’s simply about looking fashionably unkempt.

Resist the urge to recoil at this swath of society: They may be on to something. Researchers have discovered that just as the gut contains good bacteria that help it run efficiently, so does our skin brim with beneficial germs. \”Good bacteria are educating your own skin cells to make your own antibiotics, \” said Richard Gallo, chief of the dermatology division at the University of California, San Diego, and \”they produce their own antibiotics that kill off bad bacteria. \”

Some people have long complained that showering too much makes their skin drier or more prone to flare-ups, and Gallo said scientists are just beginning to understand why. \”It\’s not just removing the lipids and oils on your skin that\’s drying it out, \” he said. It could be \”removing some of the good bacteria that help maintain a healthy balance of skin. \”

Whatever the motivation, personal cleanliness in the US has long been big business. Widespread advertisements address – generate – anxiety about body odour. They seem to work: Adults younger than 24 use deodorant and antiperspirant more than nine times a week, but even for older age groups, usage never falls below an average of once a day, according to Mintel, a market research firm. Ninety-three percent of the country\’s adults shampoo almost daily.

America\’s custom of rigorous cleanliness was in full swing by World War II, at which point most homes had acquired a full bathroom, said Ashenburg, and intensified with postwar marketing efforts. But standards are relaxing. An article in Parenting magazine suggests that stressed mothers need not shower daily, stating: \”The air is drier in the winter, which means you need your skin\’s natural lubricants. \”

Meanwhile, sales of dry shampoo – a spray used to prolong the time between wet lathers (and perhaps ) showers – \”more than doubled\” from 2007 to 2009, according to the NPD Group, a market research firm. Recently, the Investment Banking Club board, whose membership is made up of 20 per cent of the students at Columbia University\’s business school, sent a \”friendly reminder\” of some \”personal hygiene basics\” to members seeking jobs. One commandment: \”Carry anti-perspirant with you if you are worried about sweating.\”

But some young would-be professionals are unconcerned. \”I don\’t feel I\’m stinkier than the next guy, and I know a lot of people who say the same thing, \” said Blake Johnson, 25, a law-school applicant. \”I never get told I stink. When I tell people I don\’t wear deodorant, they are surprised to hear it. \” As if arguing his case in court, Johnson went on: \”When I was working in San Francisco, in an office in a prestigious law firm, I had to wear a shirt and tie all the time, and I think at some point my boss would have been like, \’There\’s something I\’ve got to talk to you about . . . everybody in the office is noticing. \’\”

But no \”talk\” ever happened. Johnson, an everyother-day bather who resembles the late singer Elliott Smith, also confessed he lets his shaggy hair get oily so he can style it the way he wants. \”Right now it\’s cool to appear like you don\’t care about what you look like, \” he said. \”You have to invest time, and often money, into making it look like you\’ve done neither, or you can take the easy route, and just don\’t wash your hair for a week and a half. \”