Good personal hygiene will protect you from germs and illnesses, and most of us are taught basic skills such as brushing our teeth and showering at a young age. So, it might come as a shock when you learn that you have been doing it wrong all these years. Here’s a list of the common personal hygiene mistakes that you are probably making and should rectify.
1. Not flossing every day
Flossing is an important part of oral hygiene, but very few people actually floss every day. Even though it does not offer instant gratification, flossing provides a number of long-term benefits. It removes about 40% of the plaque or sticky bacteria from your teeth, and it cleans between the teeth where the toothbrush just does not reach.
When you go days or weeks without flossing, plaque builds up and it produces acid, which causes cavities and leads to gum diseases such as gingivitis. According to the American Dental Association, or ADA, you should floss at least once every day. If you hate flossing, you should use some other interdental cleaner that does the same job.
2. Not cleaning items you touch and use every day
When was the last time you cleaned your keyboard, mouse, smartphone, or remote? Though these items may look clean on the surface, they might be covered in bacteria and germs that get transferred through touch.
A study, conducted by the University of Arizona revealed that an average desktop has about 400 times more bacteria than an average toilet seat. Another study showed that two deadly and drug-resistant bacteria called MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) and VRE (vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus faecium) can survive on a keyboard for up to 24 hours!
Most of these bacteria are found in our mouths, nasal passages, and skin, and we transfer them to objects we touch. That is why it is crucial to clean everyday items such as keyboards, mice, remote control, and smartphones even if they do not appear dirty.
3. Not washing bath towels and not letting them dry properly
Showers are meant to make you feel clean, fresh, and rejuvenated, but all that work you put into soaping, scrubbing, and rinsing can go to waste if you end up drying yourself with a dirty bath towel. You might think that your bath towel cannot possibly be that dirty since you use it after having cleaned your body properly. In reality, bath towels are the breeding grounds for a range of microorganisms.
No matter how long you spend in the shower, you cannot get rid of all the germs and bacteria that cling to your skin. The same microorganisms get transferred to your towel, and they start multiplying on the damp surface. If you keep using the same towel every day without washing it, you are practically rubbing the same germs all over you after cleaning yourself.
Moreover, if you do not let your towel dry after use, it becomes a hotbed of molds, yeasts, and viruses. These can cause a host of problems including acne, eczema, infection, itching, warts, athlete’s foot, toenail fungus and so on. That is why experts recommend that you wash bath towels every two to three days. Also, make sure to fully air-dry your towel after use. It will slow down the growth of bacteria.
4. Not cleaning the inside of your shoes
If you have stinky feet, you know how embarrassing it is to take off shoes in public. You may try everything from rigorously washing to powdering your feet, but you may not be able to prevent the smell. That is because your feet are not the only problem here. Your shoes may be the actual culprit!
There are over 250,000 sweat glands in each foot, and your feet can produce over half a pint of sweat each day. Now, dirty shoes don’t breathe well, and the lack of proper ventilation can cause your feet to get even sweatier. When the sweat does not evaporate, bacteria start feasting on it and produce isovaleric acid, which causes a horrid smell.
If you keep wearing the same shoes without ever washing the insoles or cleaning the inside, the smelly problem will persist. Washing shoes manually with shoe care products or plain soap and water can not only reduce (or eliminate) the smell but can also help your shoes to last longer. You should also let your shoes air-dry every day.
5. Not cleaning the belly button
When it comes to personal hygiene, the belly button goes mostly ignored. However, just like any other body part, they need cleaning too. In fact, researchers have found 2,368 different species of bacteria in people’s belly buttons, and 1,458 of those may actually be new to science!
According to the study, conducted by the Belly Button Biodiversity project, most belly buttons harbor around 67 different species of bacteria, while some may have as many as 107 different species. What is even more curious is that one of the study participants had bacterium that was previously found exclusively on Japanese soil, where the individual has never been.
Unless you make an effort to clean your belly button, dirt and grime will keep accumulating in the crevices, making it the perfect spot for bacteria to thrive. A dirty belly button can lead to several problems such as odor, yeast infection, and omphalitis, which are naval stones that form after sebum and dead skin cells accumulate in the belly button.
6. Using scented feminine hygiene products
There is a lot of stigma around menstruation, and women have been trying to “hide” their periods for ages. From a young age, women are told that their periods make them dirty, which is why most women will do anything to keep up their hygiene during those days of the month. This has also led many women to try products such as scented tampons and pads that can help mask the smell.
In reality, scented sanitary products do more harm than good. According to experts, the vagina is self-cleaning, and there is no need to use perfume, soap, or any other product to keep it clean. In fact, the chemicals that are used in those products can further irritate the especially sensitive area. They can mess with the natural pH level and lead to infections, rashes, inflammation, and itching.
7. Obsessively cleaning the ears using cotton swabs
In fact, inserting a cotton swab or any other object in the ear can push the earwax deeper into the ear canal, which makes it harder for it to pass naturally. When chunks of earwax block the area near the eardrum, it can cause painful ear infections. There is also the risk of injuring the ear canal and eardrum.
Earwax or cerumen actually serves many purposes – it acts as a natural moisturizer, traps dust and dirt, absorbs debris and dead skin cells, and keeps bacteria and other organisms from reaching the inner ear. Having earwax does not mean you have poor hygiene. Therefore, you do not need to obsessively clean the ears.
8. Sharing makeup products and not cleaning makeup brushes
You love your makeup and sometimes you may share it with your friends. However, using someone else’s makeup product can be a serious mistake!
Though you may not realize it, makeup products such as foundation, lipstick, compacts, and so on can harbor all kinds of germs. The bacteria that live on your skin often get transferred to your makeup. If someone else uses the same makeup, the bacteria can then infect that person. Diseases can spread this way. You may end up with eye infections, cold sores, or acne.
Another common makeup-related mistake is never cleaning the brushes. Your makeup brushes not only have the product residue on them, but they also harbor oil, dirt, and dead skin cells. That makes them the perfect spot for bacteria to thrive. Using dirty makeup brushes can cause fungal infections, acne, and many other skin problems.
9. Using hand dryers in public bathrooms
You might think hand dryers are more eco-friendly than paper towels, but they are certainly not more hygienic! A study conducted by the University of Connecticut revealed that hand dryers are actually a whirlpool of fecal matter. According to experts, flushing an open toilet can cause bacteria and microscopic bits of poop to be flung as high as 4.5 meters or 15 feet into the air. The same bacteria and fecal matter can get sucked into the hand dryers, and the same gets transferred to your hands when you dry them. Research has also shown that jet air dryers disperse 190 times more viruses than paper towels.
That is why experts always advise against using hand dryers. Paper towels not only dry your hands faster, but they also cause friction, which dislodges any remaining bacteria from your hands. If you don’t have access to paper towels, you should just let your hands air dry.
10. Never replacing your loofah
Those who love exfoliating their skin use the loofah pretty much every day when showering. What they don’t do is replace that loofah often. In fact, most of us are guilty of using the same loofah for weeks and months without ever realizing why it is wrong.
Loofahs are spongy, porous objects with numerous nooks and crannies. When we exfoliate, dead skin cells get lodged in the loofah, which also stays damp throughout the day. That creates the perfect environment for bacteria to proliferate. The longer you use the loofah, the more bacteria it accumulates.
Using the same loofah for a long can cause a host of skin problems including fungal infections. Moreover, loofahs are harsh on the skin, and regularly using them can cause your skin to become damaged or irritated. (1, 2, 3)
11. Not changing pillowcases often
How often you change your pillowcase can determine the quality of your skin. Much like the rest of your body, your hair and face collect dirt, oil, and various air pollutants throughout the day even though you may not be able to see them. Of course, washing your face and hair does a good enough job of removing these particles, but it is not enough. The leftover microscopic irritants get transferred to your pillowcase.
If you use the same pillowcase for weeks and months, it is most likely covered in dead skin cells, oils, sweat, and bacteria. Prolonged usage can lead to rashes, itching, acne, and various other skin problems. A dirty pillowcase can also attract dust mites and bed bugs. That is why experts recommend washing the pillowcase once every week.
12. Shaving pubic hair
While some people shave their pubic region for aesthetic purposes, a large number of people do it for hygiene. However, experts say that shaving pubic hair can actually be risky. Humans are the only mammals to have long and coarse pubic hair, and there is a reason for it.
The hair actually protects the highly sensitive area from friction during intercourse. Moreover, the apocrine sweat glands use the hair follicles to release sweat. Removing pubic hair can not only mess up the natural process, but it can also make you more vulnerable to STDs such as HPV, chlamydia, and gonorrhea.