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Some Thoughts on Personal Hygiene in a Post Apocalyptic World

November 29, 2015

Most of us today have rigidly entrenched habits of personal hygiene that simply won’t be tenable in a post-apocalyptic world. Many of the personal hygiene products that we use will no longer be available, and to continue our current lavish use of hot water would be labor intensive in the extreme. That’s the bad news. The good news is that a lot of what passes for personal hygiene these days really has nothing to do with hygiene but is really just unnecessary beauty treatment. I’ve done some thinking about this and tried to imagine what would really constitute necessary hygiene under potentially adverse conditions. Some of the circumstances I envision are as follow. (1) You won’t be able to run to the drug store and buy personal hygiene products; (2) medical help will be anywhere from scarce to non-existent so disease and injury preventing hygiene will be very important; and (3) obtaining and heating water will be a lot of work. So let’s think about what we need to start doing, what we need to continue doing, what we need to do but not do as often, and what we can do without.

Dental Hygiene

This will be an absolute necessity. An abscessed tooth that would be a 45 minute visit with the dentist today, could be a death sentence if no dental care is available. I don’t even want to think about having a tooth extracted without some sort of dental anesthesia. So brushing after every meal and flossing will be more important than ever. By the way, you can buy dental floss in bulk for way cheap. 200 yard rolls cost around $2.50.

Hand and Foot Care

First of all, hands and feet should be protected from injury. Closed toe shoes should be worn at all times, and steel toe work boots should be worn for nearly all outdoor tasks. No bare feet!! It may work okay for Cody Lundeen or Amazon tribesmen, but it is foolish for the rest of us to risk a cut that could become infected when all we have to do is put our shoes on. Feet should be washed daily and clean socks should be worn every day. Toenails should be kept trimmed straight across to avoid ingrown toenails.

Hands should be washed before every meal and immediately after handling any material that may cause bacterial infection. Work gloves should be worn when performing any task that could cause cuts or abrasions. Nitril gloves should be worn when processing game or handling any kind of decayed material or human or animal waste. The thing that we’re trying to avoid here is infection. The tiniest cut can become infected, and without antibiotics that could mean death. U.S. President Calvin Coolidge’s son died in 1924 from a blister that he got while playing tennis. The blister became infected, and since antibiotics had not yet been developed, he died. Enough said?

Bathing

The fact is that most people bath too often. Bathing too much washes away natural oils and friendly bacteria that help protect the skin. Most dermatologists agree that bathing once every two or three days is more healthy and better for the skin than bathing every day. Let’s face it, most of the time when we take a shower, it’s not because we’re dirty; it’s because we think we might smell bad, or because we feel a little sticky. The daily bath is one of those cultural phenomenon, kind of like Mother’s Day, that was created by an industry that reaps huge profits on the event. It’s like, “You smell bad and people won’t like you so you better take a bath, and your skin’s all dry now from bathing so you need to rub on some of our moisturizer, and your hair is oily so you need to wash it every day, and now your hair is all dried out so you need to use our conditioner.” Ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching $$$$.

So how often do you really need to bath? I’ve done some research on that, and I can’t come up with a definitive answer. Most of what I have read has a pretty strong bias toward the modern fear of the human smell, so it’s hard to tell what the bathing requirements are for actual good health. I’m going to have to fall back on my Dad’s childhood on an East Texas cotton farm in the early 1900’s. Besides his parents there were six kids in the family. They had to draw all of their water from a well and heat it on a wood stove. Grandma’s rule was you wash your feet every night before you go to bed, if something specific gets dirty you take a sponge bath, and once a week they would draw water and heat it for a tub bath. My Dad lived to be 90 and his brothers and sisters lived ranging from 88 to 100 years, so I guess that was healthy enough.

There is, of course, the smell factor. The human body has an odor. We have been taught that this odor is offensive, and so we try to either wash it away or cover it up. I imagine that washing it away, other than a cold water sponge bath, will probably be out due to the amount of work involved. I don’t think that covering up the human smell with deodorant or cologne will be very practical either. For one thing these products will not be available unless you stockpile them or manufacture them from natural sources. I suppose you could rub yourself with mint leaves or something of that nature, but there is a second and more important reason to avoid sweet smelling colognes. Mosquitoes. Sweet smells, especially fruit or flower smells, attract mosquitoes; and that is something that we certainly want to avoid. Over one million people per year die throughout the world from mosquito bourn illnesses, mainly malaria. We wouldn’t want to do anything to attract these little killers.

So I imagine that we all probably just have to smell a little bad. The good news is that everyone will smell bad, so it will quickly lose its social stigma. It has been my experience on long backpacking trips that everyone smells horrible for about the first three days; and then, all of a sudden, the smell seems to be gone. I think the current term, according to one T.V. commercial that I have seen, is nose-blind. You just get used to it and don’t notice it any more.

Hair

Over the years I have had hair of every possible length. At one time I wore my hair in a ponytail that fell to the bottom of my shoulder blades. A pain to wash, dry, brush, etc. Currently I have a shaved head. Once again a pain. You have to shave your entire head every couple of days to keep it slick. I imagine that in a post-apocalyptic scenario both of these would be out. I think that the most practical length would be as short as you could cut your hair with scissors. Here’s my thinking. The shorter your hair, the less likely that you will be troubled with critters like head lice. Short hair is easier to take care of. It looks neater, doesn’t get tangled up in stuff, and requires less soap or shampoo to clean it. Short hair makes it easier to treat head wounds. Now days if you go to the hospital with a head wound, the first thing that they are going to do is shave the immediate area so that it can be bandaged, stitched, or whatever. This is why the military wants combat troops to have short hair. Shaving your head would put you in needless danger of a cut becoming infected. So hair cut short, but without shaving, seems to be the most practical solution.

Shaving the face should probably be avoided for the same reason as shaving the head. A minor nick can become septic, and without antibiotics this could be deadly. Sorry girls, but I think the same logic will apply to armpits, legs, etc. So it will be short beards for men (currently very stylish) and hairy legs for women (not so stylish).

I don’t know if this is correct thinking or not, but it makes sense to me.

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