The naturalistic fallacy isn’t health care
I'm a religious reader and super fan of GOOD, but once in awhile they fall into some of the more annoying yuppie-left habits, forcing me to write complaining blog posts like this one. I only gripe because I love! The sin this time came, sadly for me, amidst a challenge you all know I'm going to support whole-heartedly, a "get healthy" challenge. But to my mind, a large part of being healthy is being evidence-based in your health choices, which can do two things for your health. One, it makes your choices more effective. Two, it saves you the stress of having to attend to a lot of things that are meaningless, like whether or not something is "natural" or "homeopathic", freeing up time in your day to do things that are genuinely good for your health, such as exercising, eating right, and sleeping 8 hours a night.
Day 8 of the challenge, therefore, is getting it from me. Cord Jefferson surprised me by writing an anti-soap screed, since he recently wrote an evidence-based explanation of why you should wash your hands every time you use the bathroom. That post made me even more cognizant of times I really should be more careful about washing my hands, and reminded me that I need to get a whooping cough vaccine update in order to be a good citizen who doesn't put physically weaker people in danger of catching germs off me. So I was surprised to see him dismiss soaps and shampoos as "chemicals" that are dangerous for their, well, chemicaliness.
In January of this year, prompted by the GOOD challenge to swear off soap for a month, I stopped using soap, body wash, and shampoo on my hair, face, and most of my body. My armpits and crotch still got lathered, but the rest of me was free of all the lab-made junk that goes into our hygiene products nowadays. Eight months later, I’m still not using soap, and my skin and hair have never felt or looked better. The moral of the story: You don’t need a bunch of nonsense dreamed up by chemists to stay healthy and be happy.
This might be a good time to point out that there's a great deal of variation in how much filth people have on their bodies. Some people are greasier and hairier than others, and some people have hormone levels that cause their sweat to be extra-smelly. Some people are up to stuff that gets them dirty. If a quick rinse does it for you, good for you, but individual results may vary. I'm not fond of heavy duty anti-perspirants, but I've come to realize how much of a godsend they are for people whose body chemistry isn't quite like mine. Plus, I just really like the feeling of being squeaky clean. Don't try to guilt me out of one of these little joys in life that harms no one. And that's my next point: the argument for why soap is "bad" isn't there.
Though most people eat, drink, and use dozens of foodstuffs and products per day, the vast majority of us never actually look at the labels and ingredients lists on most of our products. We’ll read countless blog posts, but not the little square on the back of our face wash that tells us we’re rubbing acid on our cheeks every morning…..
Should you actually be putting salicylic acid near your eyes? If the answer to these questions is no, try going a day without that product and see how you feel. If the answer is still yes, that’s fine, too. At least you’ll be far more aware of what it is your putting in and on your body day in and day out.
I get that he's trying to agree that individual choices may vary, but it's clear that the "correct" answer is that one shouldn't use salicylic acid because it's a Chemical. There's no actual argument here for why it's not safe, and certainly no producing of evidence for why one should hesitate to use this chemical; it's just unnatural-sounding and an acid to boot. This is just poor reasoning, plus a really unnecessary swipe at chemists, who are no more evil a group of people than anyone else. Honestly, they're probably better on average than we journalist types.
I blame Michael Pollan in part. He crafted some food rules that were intended to reorient people to eating healthy in a way that was less work than going through elaborate processes of educating yourself about everything that goes into food, by simply trying to push people towards simpler food that wasn't crafted in a lab in order to maximize your calorie and fat consumption. But in doing so, he reaffirmed the Cult of the Natural, i.e. the belief that because something has a chemically-sounding name, it's automatically suspicious. And we're seeing that logic taken to an extreme here.
The funny part is that salicylic acid is "natural". If you simply called it "willow bark extraction", the naturalism cult people would be eating that shit up. It's also pretty safe if used correctly, and I can attest is very good at holding off adult acne problems. But even if it wasn't "natural", the problem here is simply assuming that something is dangerous because it sounds complicated. There's no reason to assume that. I'm sorry to see such poor reasoning being passed off as health advice at GOOD. I realize filling 30 days is hard to do, but a better use of their time would be to encourage people to do things like get up and walk around more, or add more fruits and vegetables to their diets.