SCUM Manifesto
April 22, 2013 9:05 PM   Subscribe

I do not think of myself as a dirty person, but when I'm in the shower and I scrape my nails over my neck/chest/back area, a grayish scum collects under my fingernails. What is this disgusting medley, and what can I do about it?

I shower. I wash. Nonetheless, my skin seems to create a grayish, filmy, scum-like substance that I can scrape off with my fingernails.

Possibly related: my comb, after several uses, also seems to have a grayish film on the teeth.

Am I disgusting? What is this? How do I rid myself of the scum??
posted by airguitar2 to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
It's a combination of normal body stuff (oil, skin, etc.) mixed with dirt and fiber from your clothing. Get a loofah or a shower brush or even a washcloth, and maybe some exfoliating body wash, and go to town. You're totally normal.
posted by turgid dahlia 2 at 9:07 PM on April 22, 2013 [6 favorites]

Oh and as for your comb, do you suffer from dandruff or any similar scalp complaint? You might want to try switching shampoos. I use Selsun Blue and it does the trick, but there are stronger or gentler anti-dandruff shampoos depending on your requirements (if you require one at all).
posted by turgid dahlia 2 at 9:09 PM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Totally normal. Get a nice abrasive exfoliating body wash. Don't use it more than 1-2x per week, and don't use it before suntanning or the like (removes a layer of skin that you need for protection).
posted by St. Peepsburg at 9:15 PM on April 22, 2013

Literally everyone has this and it will never go away. It's a combination of dead skin cells and oil. Your skin in constantly regenerating new skin cells all the time. Unless you have body acne issues, exfoliating is just going to be a waste of time. Unless you have a dirty job or you're rolling around in dirt everyday, you're not dirty.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 9:16 PM on April 22, 2013 [7 favorites]

I'm not so sure it's such a wise idea to actively try to exfoliate this did skin. You could be doing some damage to your lower layer of skin that could make things worse in the short term and prolong this condition. My wife is from Japan, has beautiful skin, and cannot understand why people in North America scrub the hell out of their skin (my mom says the same thing).

It's likely that, for whatever reason, your body is producing excess sebum (skin oil) and you're also suffering from dry skin. Combined you get this scummy paste in the shower.

I would talk to a pharmacist - it worked for me. I sometimes develop really severe chunky dandruff, and a pharmacist suggested it may be something to do with the bacterial/fungal flora on my scalp getting out of whack and feeding on sebum. I had just gone from hot and humid (Japan) to cool and dry (Canada), which seems to trigger these sorts of blooms.

He suggested I try Aspergillus capsules and a fungicidal shampoo. It took a few days, but it worked.

I'm not suggesting you spread shampoo all over your body, but a pharmacist can probably suggest some ways to restore balance to your skin's ecosystem.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:16 PM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: What do you use to wash yourself? Something abrasive/exfoliant will help. The Salux Japanese washclothes (or the knockoffs you can buy in some stores in Chinatown) are wonderful for this because they dry quickly and are easy to rinse out.

But I don't think this scum makes you dirty. If it doesn't bother you, it's fine. I exfoliate because I'm used to it and I feel weird if I don't.
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:16 PM on April 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

posted by These Birds of a Feather at 9:20 PM on April 22, 2013

Best answer: Do you live anywhere near a Korean spa? They do this amazing scrub thing where they really scrub you from head to toe and you'll be elated/disgusted by the sheets and sheets of old dead skin that they'll scrub right off of you. You lay naked on a table like a beached whale and a pro scrubber goes to town! Sounds weird but I've been doing it since I was a little girl.
posted by dottiechang at 9:29 PM on April 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Here to second the Salux Japanese Beauty Skin Towel, $5 on Amazon or at your local Japanese grocery. You want to soap it up, and use it very gently. I use mine 2-3 times a week, because my legs make that weird grey scum too. You can polish your butt to a high gloss with it, but you want to be gentle because you can take some skin off if you're too rough.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:37 PM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It's just dead skin cells. The hot shower water is softening them up and when you scrape your nails across it you're just... scraping skin. Leave it alone and dry off and you'll be fine.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:37 PM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

grayish, filmy, scum-like substance

Any of the non-chemical sunscreens will coat you this way. And it does not wash off easily. Badger, Blue Lizard, ...
posted by rr at 9:38 PM on April 22, 2013

It's possible that there is some degree of soap scum involved also, especially if you have hard water. But mostly skin, yeah, and normal.
posted by SLC Mom at 10:22 PM on April 22, 2013

Best answer: You have a stratum corneum for a reason - it keeps you from getting infections. Since no amount of showering or bathing will significantly decrease the levels of bacteria living on your body, you're best keeping a certain amount of dead skin between them and the more sensitive layers of tissue they'd find more accommodating.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 10:50 PM on April 22, 2013 [7 favorites]

A large proportion of it is often also made up of any, well, stuff you've put on your skin. I get this to a decent degree as a normal state of affairs, but when I put on sunblock the amount of green-gray business I accumulate by the end of the day is kind of off the charts.

I find it disturbingly satisfying to rub off, like peeling glue from your fingers in kindergarten.
posted by threeants at 11:35 PM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Get an exfoliating glove or something. It's just dead skin. Doing it everyday sloughs off enough so it never accumulates into fingernail boogers.

There might be a bunch of this stuff around your ankles (unless boots/wool socks/somethingsomething) too, if you scratched around there.

Moisturizing helps, too. But this'll result in bigger skin scrapings initially as you work down to baaseline.
posted by porpoise at 11:57 PM on April 22, 2013

YEah, it's just body oil and dead skin.

As for your comb, it's the same thing, plus conditioner and whatever else you put in your hair. To clean your comb, soak it in hot vinegar water for a while, then rinse.
posted by notsnot at 4:49 AM on April 23, 2013

I wash with two exfoliating gloves on- they cost like a dollar each at the drugstore- to prevent the nasty from being rubbed off by my drying towel and lingering. Eeeew.

Anyways, yeah, normal.

For your scalp, scrub with an exfoliating wash now and then and clean your hairbrush with vinegar. Done!
posted by windykites at 7:10 AM on April 23, 2013

Don't go nuts, I use the Japanese wash cloths, I can get them at H Mart, the Korean supermarket near my house. They're made of the same netted material that those body poufs on a string are, they're just easier to use on your back.

Don't have such a hot shower. And don't flay at your skin. You may have a build up of your soap. This may be true if you're using a deodorant soap, if your water is hard, etc. A pure soap like Dr. Bonners or Neutrogena may have less build up.

But the whole thing is normal.

My favorite spa treatment is a salt rub.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:19 AM on April 23, 2013

Best answer: Dead skin and oil, yes. Leave it alone unless you have a specific reason to think that it is so excessive as to be causing some sort of problem. (Just being able to scrape it off in the shower is not a problem, that's normal.) It is part of your body's protection system, your immune system's first line of defense against pathogens. Aggressive exfoliation does more harm than good in the long run, except where the outer layer of dead skin and oil is causing problems like acne or ingrown hairs. It is usually best to leave it in place -- gentle scrubbing with a washcloth is fine, but aggressive scraping or abrading not only removes the protective layer but can damage the live skin underneath and open you up to infection.
posted by Scientist at 9:41 AM on April 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

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