Speaking in the context of a severe drought that has gripped large parts of the country, Dr Suretha Kannenberg, a dermatologist based in the Division of Dermatology at Stellenbosch University, says a lack of fluid intake or bathing over a prolonged period can be dangerous to humans.
“Not only can you become severely dehydrated but people with specific skin conditions, for example, atopic eczema and ichthyosis may run into difficulties.”
In a 2010 study entitled Water, Hydration and Health, Popkin, et.al emphasised the importance of water as prevention for nutrition-related non-communicable diseases. Kannenberg argues that the same principle applies from a dermatological perspective.
She says: “During periods of drought, individuals who are already managing specific skin conditions should be extra cautious and make provision for their water needs. People with specific conditions will require more frequent bathing to control it while individuals with healthy skins can easily skip a few days without a full shower or bath.”
Several chemical properties found in water make it indispensable for human beings, which is why this commodity is referred to as a source of life. But how much water does the human body need and what happens if we do not get enough of it?
According to Kannenberg, water is very important for maintaining general health. “About 75% of babies’ and 60% of adults’ body weight consists of water. The exact daily water requirement for people is highly variable, depending on, among other things, body weight, gender, age and ambient temperature.”
Without food, a human being can survive between one and three weeks but without water, a person could probably only survive 100 hours, depending on a number of factors.
“All human bodies need to be replenished often. Perspiration, urination, bowel movements and breathing helps the body rid itself of waste products and the fluids involved in these processes mostly consist of water. A lack of water intake will lead to an accumulation of waste products in the body, which can lead to other difficulties,” she says.
Conventional wisdom has it that thirst is a good indication of dehydration however, the thirst sensation disappears when dehydration becomes severe. She says: “We replenish our fluid supply by eating foods that contain fluids - this makes up about 20% of our fluid intake. The other 80% is supplied by the intake of any type of fluid - not only water.”
In replacing water as a means to clean oneself, hand sanitisers and other types of waterless cleansers are a good choice. “Stick to only washing with your hands and use a mild soap to cleanse your body that requires very little rinsing.”