Journalist Jackie Hong is used to reporting the news, but thanks to a surprising part of her beauty regimen, this 23-year-old recently became the story.
Hong has been “soap free for seven years”—a personal fact that she revealed in a no-holds barred essay for the Toronto Star.
Like all great things, Hong’s journey to a life sans suds started in high school. The then-grade 11 student was chatting with the artist-in-residence at her high school, and he mentioned that he hadn’t used soap in two decades. She was disgusted. But then he asked her: “Well, do I smell?”
When she realized that he was not particularly pungent, she decided to follow his example.
“That’s basically how it started, I was an easily impressionable 16-year-old and I just dropped soap cold turkey,” she says.
Since then, Hong has given up all forms of body cleansers. That means no bars, gels or bath bombs. Two years ago, she also started cutting back on shampoo, inspired by the “No Poo” movement which encourages people to lather up less frequently. She now shampoos her hair about once every month, but mostly, just uses water.
The Toronto journalist still uses antiperspirant and occasionally body spray, but not as tools to cover up a stench. In fact, according to her story in the Toronto Star, neither her coworkers nor her boyfriend say that she smells bad.
And washing the traditional shower routine down the drain didn’t prove difficult at all for Hong.
“It wasn’t a hard transition at all, if anything it made my shower routine even easier,” she says, adding that not only did it save her time and money in the shower, but she noticed that it also benefitted her skin. “I don’t get dry skin in the winter, it doesn’t flake and I don’t get winter itch or anything like that.”
But before you crinkle your nose in judgement, Hong makes it very clear: no soap does not mean no bathing.
“I take daily showers and I scrub. I’m not shunning bathing or being hygienic,” she says. “It’s just that for the regular person who doesn’t come into contact with a huge amount of grime every day, soap is not necessary to maintain good hygiene.”
To prove that point, Hong spoke with Toronto dermatologist Dr. Sandy Skotnicki and a University of Chicago surgeon who’s an expert on the microbiome—a.k.a. the microorganisms and bacteria in our environment. Both explained that our use of soap has gotten out of hand.
“I like to use the example of a brick wall, so the mortar in between the bricks is the fat in the outer barrier of our skin,” Skotnicki told Hong for her Toronto Star piece. “Soap’s going to remove it more, because it’s quite harsh, and detergents are going to remove it less… I’m forever telling people to stop cleaning so much, stop using so many products. I see itchy, dry people all day and I’m always saying, ‘Why are you washing if you’re not dirty? Stop washing if you’re not dirty.’”
After her story was published, Hong says that she’s received the same reactions of horror and disgust that she once gave the artist at her high school.
“Soap has become so ingrained in our society, it’s become such a psychological dependence,” she says. “It’s so closely linked with hygiene, so as you introduce the idea of not using soap, people associate that with not being clean or hygienic when that’s simply not true anymore.”