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Do you think bathing and grooming routines are only socially motivated? Sure, it’s easier to make friends if you’re fresh, but why do people tend to like each other more when they appear (and smell) clean? One theory: Good personal hygiene signals to peers that we’re less likely to spread illness to the community.
So let’s make 2020 the year of personal hygiene.
It’s not just about a daily dance in the shower — keeping clean requires a multipronged strategy.
Hands: Your own personal germ spreaders
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says you need to wash your hands:
- before, during, and after preparing food
- before and after caring for someone at home who is sick with vomiting or diarrhea
- before and after treating a cut or wound
- after using the toilet
- after changing diapers or helping a child in the bathroom
- after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
- after touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste
- after handling pet food or pet treats
- after touching garbage
Are you catching on to how important handwashing is for preventing illness?
Here are the CDC’s 5 steps for proper handwashing:
- Wet your hands with clean water. Turn off the water and apply soap.
- Rub your hands together with the soap, including palms, backs of hands, between fingers, and under your nails.
- Scrub for at least 20 seconds. (You could sing “Happy Birthday” twice — or just count to 20 if you’re not feeling like a preschooler.)
- Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
- Dry your hands using a clean towel or air-dry them.
In a pinch, hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol is better than not washing at all.
Srsly, you have to wash your hands every time
Unless you managed to use the bathroom without touching a doorknob, a handle, or yourself, it’s time to wash your hands. Even if you don’t think doing your business is that dirty, the bathroom is most definitely a petri dish. WASH 👏YOUR 👏HANDS 👏EVERY 👏TIME.
For healthy, clean hands, wash with soap and water at least 20 seconds, rinse well, and dry with a clean towel or touch-free air-dryer.
A shower a day keeps the dermatologist away
Sure there are many factors, and your mileage may vary, but let’s keep it simple: Shower once a day.
According to the Cleveland Clinic and dermatologist Shilpi Khetarpal, not showering can lead to acne, dandruff, and eczema flare-ups. Shower with warm — not hot — water, and use fragrance-free products if you have sensitive or dry skin.
There’s no need to soap every inch. Instead, concentrate on the bits that need it most: face, pits, and groin. After showering, pat dry and moisturize.
De-germ those nails
Even if you think your hands are clean, don’t forget what’s hiding under that gorgeous manicure. The CDC recommends these steps for keeping nails clean and preventing infection:
- Keep your nails short.
- Scrub the underside of your nails with soap and water every time you wash your hands. Use a nail brush for extra cleaning power.
- Clean nail grooming tools before use.
- Choose nail salons that sterilize all tools.
- Don’t bite or chew your nails. (That’s easier said than done for some, we know — but it’s important.)
- Don’t cut your cuticles — they act as barriers to prevent infection.
- Never rip or bite a hangnail. Instead, clip it with a clean, sanitized nail trimmer.
Watch your filthy mouth
Listen to your dentist (and the American Dental Association): Brush your teeth twice a day with a soft-bristled brush.
Use toothpaste with fluoride and replace your toothbrush every 3 to 4 months. Floss daily to clear away bacteria, food, and plaque between your teeth (and to have better breath!).
The germs are coming from inside your body
We’ve focused on how to stay clean to prevent illness, but what if you’re already sick? Hygiene is still important to spare your friends and family from getting sick too.
Always cover coughs and sneezes to avoid spraying people with germs. Sneeze or cough into your elbow since your hands will quickly spread germs to other surfaces and people. Since you’re the vector for illness, wash your hands even more often.
One small study of medical students found that they touched their faces 23 times per hour, so you probably do too.
The openings and mucous membranes of your face (nose, eyes, and mouth) are a hotbed for active infectious microorganisms when you’re sick. Just assume your hands are always dirty and wash them again.
Children tend not to notice the human body’s potential for grossness. They congregate in Pigpen-like clouds of snot, dirt, and germs. To prevent frequent outbreaks of viruses and other communicable illnesses, teach them all about hygiene early.
Nationwide Children’s Hospital suggests these body care basics for children:
- Brush teeth with a soft-bristle toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste after meals and at bedtime to prevent cavities and gum disease. Floss daily.
- Bathe to remove dirt, oil, sweat, and bacteria. Use mild soap and warm water. Wash hair once or twice a week.
- Wash hands (long enough to sing the whole alphabet song) after using the bathroom; after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose; before eating or touching food; and after touching blood or any other body fluid.
- Trim and clean fingernails and toenails at bath time.
Not convinced it’s worth all the effort? Just check out all these (not) fun illnesses related to poor personal hygiene:
- Acanthamoeba keratitis (AK): an infection that can cause blindness, often contracted from contaminated contact lenses
- Athlete’s foot: a fungal infection of the foot
- Body lice: parasitic insects that live on clothes and feed on human blood
- Chronic diarrhea: diarrhea caused by parasites, bacteria, or viruses that lasts longer than 2 weeks
- Dental caries: tooth decay caused by bacteria
- Head lice: parasitic insects that live in hair and feed on human blood
- Hot tub rash (pseudomonas dermatitis/folliculitis): a skin infection usually contracted in contaminated water
- Pinworms: small worms that live in the intestine and cause intense itching at night, when the female worms crawl out of the rectum to lay eggs
- Pubic lice (“crabs”): parasitic insects that attach to coarse body hair and feed on blood
- Ringworm (tinea): a fungal skin infection
- Scabies: tiny mites that take up residence in human skin
- Swimmer’s ear (otitis externa): an infection caused by water staying in the ears
- Trachoma: an infection that causes blindness
Skin is a workhorse for your body. It protects all the mushy inside bits, regulates your body temperature, and acts as the guard to block out germs that could make you sick. Keep it clean and in working order by establishing good hygiene habits.
- Decide when showering fits into your schedule and make it part of your morning or evening routine.
- Make signs for your kitchen and bathroom sinks to remind you to wash your hands after using the bathroom and before eating.
- Set reminders to brush and floss until it’s a habit.
- Tie new behaviors to established habits. Always take your vitamins before bed? Put your floss with the vitamins.
- Think all this extra washing with take over your day? Remember, washing your hands takes just 20 to 30 seconds, showers should be under 10 minutes, and brushing your teeth takes 2 minutes. You have plenty of time to do other stuff and get dirty all over again!
Should I shower in the morning or before bed? That’s an individual decision. If you run 5 miles in the morning, that might be a good time to shower. If you work all day and take public transportation home, it’s probably better to shower in the evening.
Is it OK to pee in the shower? Is it your personal shower? Then yes, it’s fine.
Should I wash my hair or body first? From a hygiene standpoint, it makes no difference. But if you start by shampooing your hair and then apply conditioner, the conditioner will have extra time to soak in while you wash your body.
Is it really a big deal if I scroll through the Twitterverse in the bathroom? It’s really not a good idea. Assume everything in the bathroom is contaminated with germs, especially your hands. Stow your phone outside the bathroom and listen to your thoughts until you’ve thoroughly washed your hands.
To bidet or not to bidet? No question: A bidet gets you cleaner than paper and doesn’t require wiping with your hands. Win-win.
Personal hygiene helps stop the spread of disease and makes you more pleasant to be around. Shower daily, wash your hands often, make sure to scrub under your nails, and brush and floss your teeth every day.
Keeping your skin and mouth clean also prevents breakdowns in tissue that can lead to bigger health problems. If you’re sick, be extra conscious of face touching, cover coughs and sneezes, and wash your hands even more often.