Do we really buy this stuff?

In the August issue of Runner’s World (South Africa edition), the Gear section is all about skin care. The opening blurb, intended I think to tell us why we should care about the very thinly disguised advertising in the next few pages, says: “The skin is the largest organ of the human body, but it takes a beating out in the sun and the elements. . . even in winter!” (it is winter here, so they had to add that last bit.) Turn the page and you are faced with 10 or so products “For Him” and the same number “For Her” that presumably you must have to protect, recover, and repair your skin from the “beating” it gets.

Hmm, but if I may be a bit skeptical here. Do we need any of this stuff? Really? Think about it. Human beings have lived on the earth for how long? Hundreds of thousands of years. Up until the last 100 years, most human beings everywhere in the world spent most of their time outside in “the elements.” And we didn’t have any of these products. Even plain old soap is a fairly new invention in the scheme of things.

I’ve often questioned the marketing hype that has been aimed at me as a woman—and there has been plenty. I think these days most younger women would be astonished at the “absolute truths” that women of my generation were fed about what it meant and what you had to do if you were “a real woman.” The 80s were quite the nightmare with “dress for success” and all that. Oh my.

Aside from a brief stint in the 80s, I’ve never worn makeup. I’ve never colored my hair. I haven’t shaved in nearly 20 years and even before that it was off and on. I haven’t worn high-heeled shoes in more than twenty years. Mostly because I am far more interested and committed to feeling comfortable than fashionable. Now, I know lots of people are very much into fashion and if you like to dress that way or wear makeup or shave all your bits, good for you. I have heard dress up can be really fun. This is one of the benefits of the more progressive societies in the world – we have much choice about how we present ourselves to the world.

However, there are still many people who believe that one “must” dress this way or that to “be a woman” or to “be a man.” Or even to be a human being. A person must use face cream or something (what?) horrible is going to happen. If you don’t protect your lips, they will fall off.

Recently, my questioning has gone much, much further. One of the things about living in Africa is that you feel much closer to our origins and history as human beings. And I feel much more part of nature; I have a deeper sense of my place, as a human animal, in the world. In addition, so many of the things that seem absolutely necessary to live in the developed world either don’t exist here or are out of reach of most people (myself included at the moment). And so, when I see a spread telling me that surely I must have at least 10 products to take care of my skin, I am very incredulous. We humans survived a long, long time without shower gel or active face wash or exfoliating scrub or shampoo or even, believe it or not, sunscreen.

So, I started a little experiment. Now, I stopped using deodorant years ago (though I still carried around a tube “just in case.”) I’ve never used anti-perspirant because it always seemed unhealthy to me to clog your pores to stop them from doing what they were designed to do. Lucky to me–partly hereditary, partly keeping stress low—as long as I bathe regularly, I do not smell. Then, over the last few years because my hair was dry, I was down to only washing my hair once a week. I read blogs of several people who went further, so about 2.5 months ago, I did my own experiment—I stopped using shampoo and soap altogether (except washing my hands with soap a few times a day). There must be a more natural way of getting clean, I thought. Surely all these chemicals are neither necessary nor good for me. Among the other experimenters I read, there were those who used nothing but water and others who had created natural solutions with baking soda, vinegar and oil (mostly). I decided to start with a month of just water and see what happened.

Now it has been two and a half months and I don’t plan on ever going back to using all that stuff. It took a few weeks for my hair to adjust but now it looks and feels the same as when I was washing it. Sometimes I put some coconut oil on my hands and run them through my hair because it is dry, but otherwise, I just rinse it with water. With my skin, there was even less of an adjustment period. I have no breakouts at all (though that is primarily a function of a good diet). On my face I rarely put anything at all. Because it is very dry living so near the Kalahari desert, I often use coconut oil on my hands and feet (why do my ankles get all white and scaly?). And honestly, I think I am cleaner now. Because rather than assuming soap was doing something (which it doesn’t really), I now use my hands to scrub dirt, salt, etc. off my skin and I pay attention to all the nooks and crannies.

A fairly radical experiment, but it’s working quite well for me. And it is great to not have to think of a million things to bring if I am going away somewhere. Just a toothbrush and toothpaste (and that only because I LOVE the toothpaste I use—Colgate Herbal—even though I’m sure I could just as easily use perhaps nothing or only baking soda).

For me this is really about getting more in touch with myself, with the world, with reality, with my being as a human animal and a child of God. I am not a consumer, I am a human being. What do I need? What do I really need? What is important?

This is also why I am more and more going barefoot (but that’s a whole other post).

The final page of the Runner’s World spread was the most absurd. Entitled “Scentsible,” it says: “Active bodies have special needs when it comes to fragrances.” You have GOT to be kidding me!

As they say on one of my favorite podcasts (Latest in Paleo), human beings are not broken by default.


About Seth Longacre

primal health coach, vision fast guide, itinerant discalced Episcopal Deacon, barefoot runner, photographer, spiritual director, yoga teacher, minimalist, pilgrim
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2 Responses to Do we really buy this stuff?

  1. Don’t forget the sunscreen. 🙂 Skin cancer is horrid.

    • tlongacre says:

      Ah well, you see, I don’t wear sunscreen at all. I prefer to use my skin’s own protection which has a much longer and safer history of effectiveness than chemical-laden sunscreens.

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