UT graduate student ditches soap

Libby Cohen

In a bar following the Women in Science Writing Summit at MIT in 2014, physics graduate student Suzanne Jacobs talked with a man who stopped showering 15 years ago. David Whitlock, founder of AOBiome, explained to Jacobs the benefits of ditching Dove. 

During the Motolov Seminar 88 on Friday, Jacobs discussed how shampoo and bodywash remove healthy bacteria from our skin and how commercialized hygienic products are detrimental to the environment. These two factors, in addition to Whitlock’s hygienic routine, convinced Jacobs to stop using soap — for the most part — in 2014. 

“I was attracted to the way (reducing hygienic product use) could reduce your carbon footprint,” Jacobs said. “We use so many products full of synthetic chemicals in packaging. Even if it is recyclable, they’re still not good for the environment and we go through them so quickly.”  

To support her claim, Jacobs referenced researcher Annette Koehler’s 2009 study which found hygienic products take up 1.3 percent of total Global Warming Potential, equivalent to around 10.4 tons of carbon dioxide emissions.


While Whitlock still used the bacterial spray his health product company created to minimize body odor, Jacobs said she cut off all products to find out what her body needed. Occasionally using deodorant and rinsing off after her daily runs, she said no one noticed her soapless routine for a year. 

“People have been working next to me for a whole year and didn’t smell me,” Jacobs said. “I hope they realize it’s not actually gross.” 

About five years later, Jacobs still uses hand soap and uses shampoo when necessary such as when her body was acclimating to the Texas heat. 

Geography senior Kiara Hays said she fears the initial greasy stage of the soapless transition but considers experimenting with it for environmental advantages.

“To me, the point is not being 100 percent,” Hays said. “It’s being really conscious and doing a way better job than we generally do as Americans.”

Organizer of the Molotov Seminar, physics graduate student Abhranil Das, said Jacobs tied in the problem of consumerism with a larger trend to be more microbiomial and environmentally conscious. 

“The current economy is constantly pushing the idea that we need to consume more in order to be happy,” Das said. “I strongly oppose this idea and advocate for a life of minimal consumption out of environmental concerns, and I found a great validation of that in her talk.” 

Jacobs said she hopes people reevaluate what is in their shower.

“People may find they can use a lot fewer products,” Jacobs said. “That’s a win.”