Jimmy and Gretchen did not waste any time getting to the serious stuff in the You’re The Worst Season 3 premiere, which aired Wednesday night. No, we’re not referring to their awkward debrief about trading I love yous; while that happened too, the couple had a more urgent question about fundamental human biology. Namely: Should you wash your legs?
When Gretchen first mentions that she’s about to wash her legs, Jimmy does a verbal double take. “You mean shave your legs?” he asks, quizzically. Upon learning that she most definitely meant wash, not shave — “What am I, a sucker?” she quips — the implications of her statement send Jimmy reeling. Does she not wash them every time she showers? Are all of our assumptions about human hygiene really just a soap-scented scam?
According to Dr. Brandon Mitchell, an Assistant Professor of Dermatology at George Washington University and general hygiene expert, Gretchen’s infrequent leg cleansing habits are not just benign — they might even be healthy. “There is little evidence that a lack of routine washing of areas such as the extremities leads to any medical problems and is also unlikely to cause any significant hygiene issues either,” he told Inverse in an e-mail. The only really important bits to clean out frequently, he says, are the smelly bits — that is, your butt, crotch, and armpits, all of which contain sweat-gushing apocrine glands, which are to blame for B.O.
That’s not to say you should never wash your legs. If they’re soiled, say, with dirt or spilled food, then it’s probably a good idea to splash ‘em with soap and water, lest the grime get rubbed into minor cuts on your skin. In extreme cases of hygiene neglect, Mitchell says, keratin — what we colloquially refer to as “dead skin cells” — can build up on the surface of the skin, causing hyperpigmentation. In other words, you end up looking really dirty, but it’s nothing a wipe down with alcohol won’t fix.
Gretchen’s bold defiance of hygiene norms is probably a backlash against the consumer industry, which, Mitchell posits, has led clean freaks everywhere to believe that antibacterial soaps are better. There is “no evidence” that killing bacteria is healthy, he says, explaining that messing with our skin’s natural microbiota could make us more prone to infections or eczema.
Bathing, for the zealously, begrudgingly thorough among us, just got a lot less time consuming, thanks to Mitchell. Still, Gretchen should be credited for being the first to verbalize our secret, dirt-harboring desires: “What am I gonna do, like bend down, and wash my legs?” she asks. “Who has the time?”