science of us

Soon I Will Be Vindicated for Not Washing My Face for Years

Photo: LisaValder/Getty Images

I never wanted this Bloomberg Businessweek story about the microbe-friendly body-care industry to end, although I also did want it to end so I could again wonder and google freely about buying some healthy-bacteria-boosting probiotics and microbe sprays. (I won’t just yet.) Writer Caroline Winter touches on the studies that “have some scientists fearing that people, especially in the West, are cleaning themselves sick.”

But Winter’s story largely covers the way big brands, like L’Oréal and the makers of Raid (also Unilever and Clorox), are eyeing the microbe-friendly world of bacteria-preserving or microbiome-enhancing sprays and beauty products — the ones aimed, ostensibly, at maintaining “good” bacteria on the skin and beyond. She includes colorful details about the unusual founder of the company AOBiome, who at one point was sleeping in a plastic bag to test the way things reacted to his skin (poorly).

I bought a kit of AOBiome microbe-friendly bacteria sprays and washes in 2015 when I was lonely and eager to overhaul my skin-care approach. I’d been compelled by a 2014 New York Times Magazine story about going without soap and allowing yourself to become greasy before getting naturally clean, which the Businessweek story also references. As the Times Magazine’s Julia Scott memorably wrote of not using soap or shampoo, “For the first time ever, my pores seemed to shrink. As I took my morning ‘shower’ — a three-minute rinse in a bathroom devoid of hygiene products — I remembered all the antibiotics I took as a teenager to quell my acne. How funny it would be if adding bacteria were the answer all along.”

I used the face/body spray and the shampoo for a few weeks before tapering off, forgetting about them, and eventually throwing them away. I’d hoped they would be the missing link toward having the skin I’d always dreamed of (and still always dream of), and it was disappointing that nothing happened immediately, though I probably should have stuck with them longer.

But the Businessweek story makes me think I’m being just as well served by the other habit I picked up around same time: washing my face only with water. I wrote about it a couple of months ago, and in the spirit of full disclosure I’ll add that I’ve started using a face oil at night and some eyeliner but still no soap or face wash beyond water. I’m telling you, it’s not gross. Results may vary.

Soon I Will Be Vindicated for Not Washing My Face for Years