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What If You Never Washed?

VO: Noah Baum WRITTEN BY: Nathan Sharp
To look after our health and hygiene is something we're told from an early age. We should wash our hands, our faces, and shampoo our hair, otherwise we could get dirty and sick. But, some people claim that our insistence on cleanliness is unnecessary, and that it's only by exposing ourselves to germs that we can grow immune to them. So, what would happen if you never washed at all? Ever? In your life? In this video, we take a look... If you're watching in smell-o-vision, beware.
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What If You Never Washed?


Bathing is still an oft-discussed and debated concept in the 21st century. Some people believe that a person should wash themselves every day, others are a little more liberal with their approach, bathing once every few days, and maybe even washing their hair only once or twice a week. But there’s a general consensus that people should bathe at least some of the time. So what would happen if you never washed?

Bathing and cleanliness have long been extolled throughout history. Several Hindu texts praise cleanliness, and Christianity has long advocated hygiene and rituals of purification. The Church encouraged people to attend public baths in Medieval times, and soap became a common item, with Italy becoming a major exporter by 800, and soapmaking considered an art alongside other trades such as blacksmithing and carpentering.

Perhaps the most famous bathers however are the ancient Romans. Romans loved themselves a good bath, and luxurious bathhouses were commonplace, even in small towns. Some bathhouses could accommodate over 1,000 people. They welcomed anyone as long as they paid the relatively cheap membership fee, and contained various amenities like gyms and libraries. They were basically the YMCAs of Ancient Rome.

Let’s imagine however that you decided to rebel against all this tradition, and never wash again. And we don’t mean just never bathing. We mean never washing with water again, period.

Perhaps the most obvious sign would be your smell. Most of our body odor comes from the apocrine sweat glands. Once sweat is secreted, the microorganisms living on our skin feast on the chemical compounds and release the smell commonly known as BO. Our feet often smell even worse because our socks and shoes prevent our feet sweat from evaporating. The microorganisms have a field day down there, as they practically swim in your body’s natural juices all day.

Your hair would also be a disgusting mess. Dead skin would quickly accumulate on your scalp, and dandruff would fall from your head like snow in February. Naturally, dandruff is quite itchy, and if you literally never washed your hair, the dandruff would likely become unbearable. You would also quickly look like a 50s greaser, as your body’s natural oils and sebum would soak into your hair, giving it a glossy shine. However, 50s greasers were able to pull this look off because they carefully groomed and styled their hair. If you’re not one to run a comb through it, your hair would be knotted, matted, and smelly, as dirt and various pollutants clumped together.

However, smelling bad might actually be the least of your concerns. You could also develop a serious case of acne, and we’re not talking about just one or two pimples here. Oil and dead skin would clog the pores on your face, and bacteria growing inside them could lead to inflammation and pustules.

And it won’t just be your face that has problems. You could also develop Athlete’s foot, as fungus and mould inhabited your unwashed foot’s dead skin. Athlete’s foot is itchy and visually unappealing, but can also lead to some nasty infections if the skin cracks. Scratching isn’t recommended, as it allows the fungus to reach underneath your fingernails, which could lead to disgusting yellow nails, or the nail falling off. Further scratching can spread the fungus to various parts of your body, and soon enough, you’d be covered in fungal infection. Good luck getting rid of it, because discarded flakes of skin can easily re-infect an otherwise clean person upon further contact.

But wait, it gets even better! Eventually, dermatosis neglecta will also rear its ugly head. Dermatosis neglecta literally means “neglected skin,” and it’s what happens when sweat, sebum, and dirt accumulate on your skin. You may develop visible wart-like plaque or skin discoloration.

You could also develop a nasty case of intertrigo. This is an inflammatory rash that pops up as a result of moist, sweaty skin folds rubbing against each other. It naturally occurs in areas where skin chafing is common, such as the armpits, thighs, between toes and fingers, and under the breasts. If you’re lucky, this chafing will only result in a raw-looking and itchy rash. If you’re unlucky, the rash will ooze and hurt like hell.

So, just to recap, if you never washed, your hair would be a knotty, greasy mess that showers down dandruff, your face and body would be covered in acne and fungus, your skin would literally change color due to the accumulated and unwashed crap, and your folds would contain an itchy, oozing rash. Oh, and you would smell positively awful.

And that’s just the stuff on the outside.

You’d also be at a significantly higher risk of disease and infection. What’s the first thing you do when you suffer a particularly nasty wound? You go to the bathroom and wash it, typically with that painful stuff hydrogen peroxide. Otherwise, it could lead to infection. Now, just imagine suffering a cut when your skin is covered with acne, fungus, and bacteria. It could quickly lead to a horrific infection, and if it were to progress, you could be facing amputation or even death.

Disease would also be a major threat. Without washing your hands, you’d be susceptible to some truly nasty sicknesses. In fact, UNICEF declares that up to 30% of diseases in developing countries are the result of bad hygiene.

If you don’t believe just how bad it would get, let’s take a look at some real-life examples. A man in Jalan Bukit Merah, Singapore, named Choo Kim Guan didn’t shower for ten years. Upon entering his apartment, volunteers found Choo covered in mucus and bedbugs. This is actually tame compared to the story of Amou Haji, an Iranian who claims not to have showered in 60 years, and lives in isolation eating rotten porcupine meat and smoking dry animal feces. His hair is matted and unkempt, his skin is grey and dry, and his hands look like those of a mummy. Haji believes that being clean will make him sick, and he once ran away from a group of men who offered to clean him.

We can see that never washing can result in some horrific consequences. But that doesn’t mean you should start obsessively cleaning yourself quite yet.

In fact, most people probably shower too much. By vigorously scrubbing and shampooing every day, you’re stripping the body of its natural oils and needlessly drying out your skin. This may paradoxically lead to even greasier skin and hair, as the body overcompensates sebum production due to the dryness.

By destroying the body’s natural source of oil, we’re also exposing ourselves to disease. Natural oils are meant to protect our skin, and when they’re scrubbed away, disease-causing microbes can enter our skin, and lice can more easily pitch a tent in our hair. Aside from protecting against dangerous germs, sebum also serves as a natural moisturizer and delivers antioxidants around the body.

We then in turn spend money on moisturizers, antioxidants, and germ-killers. By showering every day, we’re not only exposing ourselves to sickness, we’re also preventing the body from doing its job and spending a lot of money to replace the functions it does for free.

In fact, many experts advocate only showering two or three times a week, as long as you take care of your hands and downstairs on a daily basis and groom your hair. Anything more than that is just expensive overkill.

Naturally, this applies to those of us who aren’t visibly dirty every day. If you work in a coal mine, then yeah, you should probably shower after work.

Never washing would be a dangerous gamble. It can lead to various disgusting physical ailments and puts you at risk of serious disease and infection. That said, showering every day is not ideal, either, as it can prevent the body from performing some of its natural and essential functions. If your lifestyle affords you the chance to shower only several times a week, then it might not be a bad idea.

Everything in moderation, right?
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