Woman Goes 6 Weeks Without Beauty Products & Health Improves
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- Woman Goes 6 Weeks Without Beauty Products & Health Improves
BSA EDUCATIONAL by magic_glitter
/ Beauty Tip
Six weeks without a wash: The soapless experiment
by NATASHA COURTENAY-SMITH - Last updated at 01:12am on 24th August 2007
Every morning for as long as she can remember, Nicky Taylor — like millions of other women — has carried out her 'getting ready' routine.
It starts with shower gel, shampoo and conditioner, includes mouthwash, cleanser and a moisturiser, and ends with an array of age-reversing serums, make-up, hair gel, deodorant, toothpaste and perfume.
Exfoliating scrubs, nail varnishes and cellulite-busting creams are often thrown into the mix, too. It is a ritual that not only sets Nicky up for the day but one she has always believed was essential to keeping her looking good and feeling well.
But over the past six weeks, Nicky, 42, has cut this daily routine, and all the products associated with it, out of her life altogether. Yes, for 40 days and 40 nights, there has been no showering, no hair washing, no teeth cleaning and no deodorant.
She has ditched her make-up and hair styling products, and allowed herself access to just three outfits (her running kit, a pair of jeans and a T-shirt, and one summer dress).
So what has been behind this bizarre behaviour? A bout of madness? A desire to lose all her friends? Nicky, a mother-of-three who lives in Kidderminster and works as a television documentary maker, claims it's the first scientific experiment of its kind, designed to find out how she will look and feel without the aid of the avalanche of expensive modern beauty products.
She was, in effect, seeking to find out whether we are all simply wasting our money in the name of vanity. Are all the lotions and potions that women — and millions of men — use religiously every morning merely a form of social and psychological armour, or do they have a practical physical use?
"I'd reached a point where I was looking in my bathroom cabinet and feeling disgusted with myself," says Nicky.
"As a nation, we spend £10.5 billion on grooming and I personally spend around £2,000 each year on beauty products. I'm a sucker for any advert that claims a new cream or body wash will make me look younger or banish lines and wrinkles, and I think nothing of handing over £50 for the latest must-have product.
"Every night I was slathering on layer after layer of so-called miracle creams from a range of bottles and pots, and I had so much in my bathroom cabinet that something fell out and hit me on the head whenever I opened the door. I was guilty of beauty product gluttony.
"Then, one evening earlier this year, I sat down and read the labels of everything I used and worked out I was applying more than 200 different chemicals to my body each day. These are said to be safe, but what is not known is the effect that the 'cocktail' of chemicals is having on our bodies."
She adds: "With the incidence of diseases such as Breast Cancer on the rise, it's difficult not to wonder if these products could partly be to blame. Health campaigners are particularly worried about a group of chemicals called parabens, which are added to cosmetics to prevent them from degrading."
Nicky's approach was extreme, to say the least: surely having a good old clear-out would have sufficed? But no. She says that once the seed of the idea was sown, she thought she might as well push herself to the limit.
"I always think I look absolutely terrible if I haven't washed my hair that morning, when the reality is that other people don't really notice at all," she says. "The idea that we need all these products and that we have to be clean at all times is endemic in society, and I wanted to see what happened when I stopped washing altogether. Would I lose all my friends? Would I stink to high heaven? Or would life just carry on as normal?"
Before starting her experiment, Nicky called in scientists from the Skin Research Centre at the University of Leeds.
They took swabs from her armpits, mouth and groin to test levels of bacteria and yeasts, the results of which would be compared with identical swabs taken at the end of the six weeks.
To protect her children through the experiment, Nicky committed to wearing latex surgical gloves when preparing their food. She then emptied her bathroom of products — which filled two black bin liners — and the experiment began.
"Usually, I start my morning with a run, then a shower and breakfast," says Nicky, who is divorced. "But once I started the experiment, the half hour I'd usually spend in the bathroom became a lie-in, which initially I thought was great.
"Then I went for my run as usual and started battling with urges to shower as soon as I got back home. It just didn't feel right to get dressed after exercising without washing."
However, it wasn't until the fourth day of not washing that Nicky began to notice a certain odour emanating from her person.
"My hair quickly became pretty unpleasant," says Nicky. "Normally, I'd wash my hair every day, use a thickening conditioner, then I'd style it with mousse and hairspray.
"Within a few days it turned into a bird's nest and instead of allowing it to fall flatteringly around my face, I'd taken to pulling it all back into a ponytail.
"I'd heard that hair begins to clean itself after a few weeks, using oils which are naturally secreted by the body, but I wasn't sure I'd be able to wait that long. I was only four days in and I felt so unpleasant all over that I wanted to quit."
By the second week, Nicky's experiment and the subsequent haze of body odour accompanying her was beginning to affect her children, who refused to cuddle her. Nicky also had her first social engagement of the experiment — a work event at the Dorchester Hotel in London.
"Until that point, I'd been working from my house in Kidderminster, so I hadn't really had to see many people," she says. "Now, I had to show my face at an occasion where everyone else would be dolled up to the nines.
"I spent about 30 seconds pulling on my summer dress and slicking back my hair — which is the fastest I've ever got ready for a party. But I felt incredibly nervous as I got on the train.
I psyched myself up to expect people to move to the other end of the carriage, but that didn't happen. No one seemed to blink an eye.
"The same thing happened at the party. I thought everyone would turn and point and stare, but they didn't. I'm sure people thought I looked scruffy and wondered why I didn't have so much as a scrap of make-up on my face, but no one said anything or talked to me with any less respect.
"I was worried everyone would be edging away from me but that didn't happen. It made me wonder whether my children were over-reacting."
By week three, however, Nicky was beginning to see the signs of being socially ostracised, particularly by other mothers at the school gate.
"Things really were getting to a stage that I thought was utterly grim," says Nicky. "My hair was stuck together with grease. My toenails were turning a strange colour and I'd developed dry, peeling skin on my hands.
"But again, other people didn't seem to notice, not unless I told them. I wondered if I thought I looked far worse than I actually did, and it made me consider just how obsessed we all are about the way we look and how much we agonise over little things when most of the time other people simply don't notice.
"It was only when I made the mistake of telling the other mothers at my children's school, who hadn't seemed to mind my scruffy appearance at all until then, that things changed. When they realised I hadn't washed for three weeks, they turned up their noses and acted as though I was the most disgusting thing on the planet, even pulling their children away from me.
"It's as though we have been so brainwashed by advertisers to think that we must use these products every day that the thought of using none at all was too much for them to bear. After all, until that point they'd been merrily standing next to me every day as though there was nothing out of the ordinary.
"Once all the other mums knew, I felt very embarrassed and took to walking away from the school gate instead of stopping to chat. They all looked so glamorous and I felt like a scruff in their midst.
"I also developed bath envy — whenever I heard one of the children turn the shower on, I was filled with jealousy."
But by the end of the fourth week, something extraordinary happened. Nicky noticed that not only was she physically feeling better than she had done in a long time, her skin had begun to glow.
For years, she has experienced Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), which bizarrely seemed to improve the longer she went without washing. Although there is no medical explanation for this, Nicky is convinced it is to do with a sudden break from the chemicals seeping into her body.
At the same time, a persistent cyst on her eye disappeared — Nicky believes because she stopped irritating it with mascara and eyeliner on a daily basis.
"I went to see Dr Val Curtis from the London School of Hygiene to seek her opinion," says Nicky. "She told me that while I would eventually lose my teeth if I carried on not cleaning them indefinitely, not wearing make-up could well have helped my cyst.
"She said there was no known link between the use of beauty products and the prevalence of conditions such as IBS. But it is such a modern-day complaint and I believe it's possible that it is somehow linked to the chemicals in all the products we use.
"Aside from that, the most extraordinary thing was that without a doubt — and despite not having washed my face for a month — my skin looked fresher and brighter than it had for a decade.
"I also felt really healthy and good about myself, at least until I came into contact with other people, at which point I felt self-conscious and embarrassed."
However, as the experiment drew to a close, all Nicky could think about was rediscovering her old self.
"I was sick of wearing the same few items of clothing for six weeks. My hair was so greasy that it stayed in its ponytail position even when the hair band wasn't there. And my teeth were horribly discoloured and covered in a build-up of plaque.
"By the end, I'd virtually become a hermit because I couldn't face letting anyone see me like that. The stigma of being unwashed was just too strong for me to ignore, and overrode any sense I had of feeling healthy or looking fresh-faced.
"I cancelled going to a friend's wedding because I couldn't endure seeing anyone in the state I was in. It would have felt like a mark of disrespect to go to a wedding without making an effort."
But before stepping under the shower, Nicky had a second set of tests done by the team of scientists from the University of Leeds.
The results showed that although there were up to 5,000 times more bacteria in each of the areas tested, levels were surprisingly still within what are deemed to be 'normal' parameters for a human being.
More importantly, there were no signs of any sinister bacteria such as E.coli or streptococcus, meaning Nicky's health was not being put at risk by not washing.
The most serious outcome from her experience came when Nicky went to the dentist to have her teeth cleaned and was told she needed a filling. It was the first she'd ever had and came as a direct result of not brushing her teeth for six weeks.
Now enjoying long, luxurious showers every day, Nicky is reflecting on what she learned from her experience.
"I'd never want to do anything like that again because not washing affects your friendships, family relationships and self-confidence," she says. "Thank goodness I work from home, otherwise it would most likely have had a detrimental effect on my career.
"But the experiment worked in that I proved to myself there is no need for all these beauty products on which I've been frittering away so much money. My desire for them was all in my mind, not an actual physical need.
"It showed me that for years I've been using excessive amounts, and, at the same time, potentially putting my health at risk because of all the chemicals they contain.
"I was amazed to find that the point when my skin looked its best was after a month of not using anything at all. As a result, I've become far more moderate in what products I use and what I am prepared to spend money on.
"A bar of soap, organic shampoo and conditioner, and a basic moisturiser are all I need now. I no longer wash my hair every day and I no longer feel self-conscious if I'm not done up to the nines.
"If people didn't notice when they had me standing next to them during the experiment, I'm sure they won't be aware of small things that would once have got me down, such as a bad hair day or a minor skin outbreak.
"While I wouldn't suggest anyone else takes things to the extreme that I did, they can rest assured that when it comes to their beauty routines, less is more."
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