A Book Review: Beyond Soap by Dr. Sandy Skotnicki
Aug. 5, 2018
It's probably at least slightly odd to see a book review popping up on here, but bear with me. Beyond Soap is about skin health, and thus, I feel it is well within my territory of topics to speak toward (and I love reading, so why not?). Upon initial glance, I really did not think I would enjoy this book, and I think most people in my realm would feel similarly. We are, of course, all here slathering ourselves with this and that, hoping for improvements and benefits, so WHY would any of us want to read a book about how this obsessive preening can lead us toward skin issues? Anyway, basically, I'm not going to lie. I thought I was going to be highlighting selective bias, and generalization in this review when I undertook the task, but the read actually changed my mind.
Beyond Soap is Dr. Sandy Skotnicki's valiant attempt at proving that we, as a species, are too obsessed with cleanliness, and that the obsession is leading us to a higher prevalence of skin sensitivities. She maintains throughout the book that the products we use, the amount of water we expose our skin to, and the manner in which we go about treating our skin can be to blame for a myriad of rising issues such as eczema, asthma, etc. The first few chapters give us history, background, and a little bit about this dermatologist and her experience. As the chapters move forward she discusses the skins natural barrier and it's function, the natural microbiome of our skin and how products alter it, the problem with marketing and the dishonesty within that world, the most commonly irritating and allergenic ingredients, her specific guide to helping sensitive skin ("The Product Elimination Diet"), ways to best care for skin (babies included which I found incredibly interesting), and the future of skincare. I don't want to divulge much more than that, as I feel I would be here for three hundred years explaining every intricacy, but that is the gist of it. Dr. Skotnicki is thorough with her explanations and I found every chapter to be accessible, even as a non participant in the medical field.
My thoughts on Beyond Soap are nothing like I anticipated them being. I actually enjoyed it, and thought it was an informative read. People who identify as being sensitive, or people who are looking for a guide of ingredients to try to avoid and why could definitely benefit from this text. One reason being that some things in skincare are not logical. For example, natural skincare is a big thing right now and a lot of people think that's the way to go. The more natural, the better! But apparently, from a medical perspective, that isn't necessarily true in regard to skincare. There are a lot of botanicals and essential oils that are highly irritating, and with repeated use could cause a full blown allergy. Another example: Many people identify as being sensitive to fragrance, but the marketing behind fragrance is extremely deceptive. Fragrance can be derived from different sources, and marketers take advantage of semantics in this scenario. 'Unscented,' doesn't mean, 'free of fragrance.' And then there are botanicals. Botanicals can provide fragrance. So, 'fragrance-free,' doesn't mean, 'free of botanicals and fragrance.' So really the only way to be sure you're buying something without added synthetic fragrance is to buy something that explicitly states that it is, 'fragrance free.' If you want to avoid botanicals, too, there needs to be separate verbiage for that. How confusing. The last interesting topic I will highlight is the microbiome of our skin. How bacteria comes to exist on our skin and why it's important. I'm not a biologist, so this information was new, and fascinating to me. I personally found the bits on babies'/children's skin and how to best treat that delicate organ to be one of the best parts of the book. As someone who wants to have kids someday, and who has experienced many skin issues herslef, I really will take any advice on how to set my future children up for success in the skin realm. There are many, many more nuggets of information housed in this book that I found deeply helpful in a practical way, even if they were just ideas that reassured things I already thought I knew.
The last thing I really wanted to speak to is Dr. Skotnicki's methodology of repairing irritated skin; The Product Elimination Diet. It might actually seem insane to most people, upon first thought, especially fellow skincare/beauty bloggers. The product elimination diet actually isn't all that absurd, though, when you really think about it. The basic idea behind it is removing ALL sensitizing ingredients from your regimen if you're experiencing a bout of irritation. I think it's very important to mention that this is not intended to be a permanent 'diet.' It's to bring the skin back to baseline before incorporating products that could be irritating (slowly, one at a time). Now, irritation levels can vary tremendously, and it's not just those who experience extreme reactions who can benefit from this little reformation of skincare. I've had skin issues my entire life, ranging from dermatitis to severe acne; and when I stopped taking medication for my acne in 2012, I went crazy using products to keep my skin on the up and up. I used everything you could think of. I had 10-12 step routines that were "guaranteed" to give me clear skin. I didn't pay attention to ingredients EVER. And you know what? That assault on my skin left me so raw, so red, so irritated, broken out, and scaly, that I honestly did not think I would ever heal from it. And that's when I started using what I have always called 'the variable method' (essentially, the EXACT same thing as the product elimination diet). I stopped using everything except the most gentle products I could find. Without this EXTREME case of irritation, I don't think I ever would have learned about degrees of irritation, or the fact that even slight irritation can be problematic. But hey, the variable method/ product elimination diet worked for me. And it makes SENSE that it would. That period of my life was the only time I thought I had sensitive skin. What else could be to blame, besides the barrage of products with massive ingredients list, of which I knew NOTHING? After introducing that methodology into my life, I stopped thinking of my skin as sensitive, and I really believe part of is due to the fact that I now introduce everything new slowly. I now can recognize when something is making my skin act abnormally more quickly, it forced me to be more aware of ingredients, and my skin has never been better in my life. I obviously didn't follow Dr. Skotnicki's list of recommended products (because I didn't even know she existed), but I feel extremely validated knowing that a highly regarded medical professional endorses an approach like the one I've been recommending for years. So obviously, I think this is a really good option for people who are experiencing any degree of product-driven irritation (fair to mention as well, that many people can use ANYTHING on their face with no irritation, but for us unlucky few; this is helpful).
I only have a few criticisms toward Beyond Soap. I felt as though it droned on at times, and despite being easy to understand, I felt a lot of information was repeated, and often. Perhaps that was intended to make readers remember certain things more easily; I'm not sure. Another criticism is drawn from the very beginning of the book. I really thought the first chapter was slightly condescending and painted the text in a bad light. The way Dr Skotnicki spoke of patients who came in complaining of irritations was belittling, in my opinion. We are all a product of our environment. None of us are stupid or, really, even ignorant for buying into the beauty industry. It's commonplace in our society, and it makes sense that many of us would be participants. I just feel like she could have been a bit more understanding, and a bit less critical. In my opinion, it's not our fault that we experience irritation, ever. And my last criticism is that very few products on her recommended list for PED are cruelty free. That is a factor that is becoming more important to more people, and I feel like I would be more likely to redirect someone who is seeking guidance to that resource if there were cruelty free options. I went into this book thinking Dr. Skotnicki was going to be recommending a complete C&D on skincare-which I could never do. As someone who has experienced extreme skin issues even when doing NOTHING to my skin; skincare has SAVED me. I could never go back to the bare-bones, paleo-style skincare routines of our ancestors (IE not bathing or using any modern products). But in the end, I don't feel like that's the idea she was trying to impart with Beyond Soap, anyway. I don't think that was the point at all. I think the whole point is consciousness; we need to learn to be mindful of what we are putting on our bodies, how much of it we are using, and the possible implications of those products/ingredients. The point was to make us aware so we can have our sights set on success for the skin of the future.
*This book was provided to me by Penguin.