Poo on You – Six Health Issues To Know

Is there a sane, sensible approach to the No Poo frenzy? For those who have been living in a wonderfully Poo-media-free zone, we here at Doc Gurley both congratulate you on a rare achievement, and feel the need to clarify: No Poo refers to a growing worldwide movement to stop using shampoo – and not a movement (bowel-less, I presume) of severe constipation. Furthermore, as part of the No Poo movement, if No Poo Cold Turkey (now there’s a mental image to savor!) doesn’t work for you,

Shampooing (365 Reject)
Image by ktpupp via Flickr

then the dogma is that you should at least reduce the number of times you shampoo to, perhaps, twice a week. The basic idea behind the movement is that we’ve all been media-trained to wash our hair every single day with shampoo – and that isn’t right.

The reasons given for this movement are a blend of cosmetics (your hair looks glossier, you don’t need to color as often, it’s better for curly hair, etc.) and health. The health-related claims have gotten a huge recent boost by the discovery that many baby shampoos (even within and across brands) contain known carcinogens that are banned in other countries – but not here. So are the No Poo health claims true? Is there any data or clinical experience to back the idea that, when it comes to (non-GI) Poo, less is more?

Here are the salient Doc Gurley Take Home points, so you too can have shampoo-commercial hair (toss, toss, pout):

1) Babies shouldn’t be exposed to known, banned, carcinogens. It’s not an alarmist or fear-mongering approach to say so. In fact, putting a wee baby (whose body-surface area is much greater than an adults, and therefore has a much greater area for absorption) in a warm bath (which dilates blood vessels all over the skin) and leaving the wee tot sitting there in a tub of suds is a perfect recipe to get the highest possible dose of carcinogen at the most vulnerable stage of life. The only reason carcinogen(s) are in your child’s shampoo is the same reason there was Salmonella in peanut butter. Someone is cutting corners at your baby’s expense. Until we get a new FDA, you can teach that sleazeball who put carcinogens in your baby’s shampoo a lesson by walking with your pocketbook. Price is not related to lack-of-carcinogens – even the really pricey stuff labeled “pure” and “natural” can have them – so check here to see how a brand stacks up– and then save this info so you can check again when it’s time to re-stock. Whether you’re a No Poo or a Poo person – when it comes to carcinogens, less is definitely the way to go!

2) If you spend any significant time in a clinic seeing people afflicted with mild-severe eczema and psoriasis, and the wide diversity of humans we can be, one thing is certain – one approach is not suitable for everyone. I say this to actually, yes, refute the idea that everyone should wash their hair every day. How do doctors get involved in this discussion? It’s quite clear that many people with mild-moderate eczema, and seasonal eczema, can have a dramatic improvement by not using daily soap (and shampoo) on their skin/scalp. Does that mean you don’t bathe? Euw, some of you are thinking. Well, no. It means you become (as a great nurse-practitioner colleague of mine calls it) – a member of the Pits and Crotch Club. That means you soap up your Pits, your Crotch, and also, (but it doesn’t rhyme so well) your Feet, every day. The rest of you – you just let water run over it. Many people need (I mean really need) their body’s natural oils to protect the integrity of their skin. If you’re one of the people with mild-moderate eczema – try it. It’s an often over-looked cheap, safe, non-pharmacologic, and hygienic way to improve your skin, and possibly reduce your need for medicated treatment. Keep in mind, though, that if you take a bath, even if you stick to the Pits and Crotch approach, you’re less likely to get a good result – because sitting in soapy bath water will strip away many of your skins oil. All bathing is not the same. Which leads to the next point…

3) If you choose to be No Poo (some of you may think this is obvious – but it’s clearly not obvious to many people) –

Two children bathing in a small metal bath tub
Image via Wikipedia

you can still take a shower/bath every day without washing your hair. AND I thoroughly empathize with (and understand) the people who exercise hard and are somewhat repulsed by the idea of not washing hair afterwards. But keep in mind, you can rinse your sweat-soaked hair after exercise and get good results without using shampoo, or by using it more moderately.

4) If you’re “washing” your hair with conditioner – that’s fine too. But if you’re cutting out shampoo for yourself or your baby because of concerns about carcinogens, keep in mind that I don’t believe there are (yet) thorough tests to say whether or not the same kind of contaminants exist in conditioner.

5) Are you more or less likely to get lice if you’re No Poo? Head lice are notoriously resistant to shampoo – head lice are not a result of poor hygiene, but, instead a result of sleepovers. Um, I mean, head-to-head contact in pre-middle-school-aged kids. However, anyone who’s worked in a homeless clinic can tell you that BODY lice (an altogether different beast – and not attracted to the head) is something anyone can get as a result of extremely poor hygiene. There’s a reason we wash ourselves and our clothes. Given a choice, no one wants to re-enact the Middle Ages…

6) Finally, keep in mind that when people let water run over their hair, they tend to not “scrub” the scalp the way they do with shampoo – so many people can get reduced skin turnover (kind of like adult “cradle-cap”) and more flaking visible, since it’s not being rinsed out. So if you cut back on your shampooing, and get a flaky scalp, you can try rinsing with water when you bathe daily, and giving your head a good rub-a-dub with the pads of your fingers and see if that corrects the problem.

Bottom line: There are many gradations possible in the clean way we wash our bodies and our hair. Here are some of the options from least-stripping-of-natural-oils to most – shower daily, soap Pits and Crotch only, run water in hair; or shower daily with soap all over, water only hair; or shower daily with soap; only use conditioner on hair; or shower daily with soap, rinse hair (+/-shampoo, conditioner) twice a week; or shower + shampoo daily. There’s a wonderful diversity of humans and there should probably be more diversity in our Poo Paths. You are unique. Pick the best individual approach for yourself and your kids based on health and experience, and not shampoo commercials or peer (even your mother’s) pressure. As to whether or not you’re more beautiful? All I can say is that you’re already beautiful in my eyes…

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