As with diet trends, hygiene habits come and go out style. We all want to appear clean and lower our chances of getting sick. But some "healthy" hygiene habits can actually make you sick. They can even damage your skin, teeth, or hair!
From Q-Tips to exfoliating scrubs to hand dryers, hygiene products want to convince you that they will keep you germ-free. But dermatologists, dentists, and doctors are here to tell you otherwise. Don't fall for these "healthy" hygiene habits.
Be Careful Cleaning Your Ears With Q-Tips
Did you know that you don't have to clean your ears? According to Dr. Brande Plotnick, ear wax is designed to clean your ears. It traps dust particles, prevents water from entering, and moisturizes your ear canal. Still, a survey in the British Journal of General Practice found that 68% of people clean their ears with Q-Tips.
Q-Tips can push more wax into your ear, according to Advanced ENT & Allergy. Eventually, this can plug your ears with wax and even affect your hearing. Only wipe the outer part of your ears with Q-Tips.
Don't Wash Your Hair Every Day
If you wash your hair every day, you're doing it too often. "Washing your hair too often will strip the hair of its natural oils and can dull hair color," says Philipp Haug, the Artistic Director of Toni & Guy International. Dermatologist Paradi Mirmirani adds that nobody needs to wash their hair every day.
When people wash their hair daily, they dry out their scalp, says Mirmirani. Over time, this prompts your glands to produce more oil, which makes your hair feel dirtier. Aim to wash your hair two to three times per week instead.
Don't Exfoliate Every Day
Exfoliating products remove dead skin cells, which allows a newer, healthier layer of skin to shine through. However, that doesn't mean you should exfoliate daily. Doing so will destroy that layer that keeps moisture in your skin, says UCLA dermatologist Emily Newsom. The result is more redness, irritation, and acne.
Dr. Newson recommends exfoliating once or twice a week. Celebrity esthetician Renee Rouleau says to exfoliate two to three times per week. Whichever schedule you choose, give your skin at least a day to recover from exfoliating.
For Skincare, More Doesn't Equal Better
"While 12-step [skin care] routines are popular, they may not work any better than one or two steps," dermatologist Joshua Zeichner told TODAY. He isn't the only dermatologist who thinks that complicated skincare routines can harm your skin. Dr. Cybele Fishman says that multiple steps can overwash, overtone, and over-exfoliate your face.
The result is more room for your skin to become over-moisturized and irritated. Esthetician Renee Rouleau states that only the first two products make a difference. So there's no need to drop money on multiple skincare products.
The Surprising Health Risk Of Making Your Bed
Although many influencers suggest making your bed immediately after waking up, one study reported that it might be unhealthy. In 2005, a British study alleged that covering your bed traps the dead skin, dust mites, and bacteria in the covers. Over 1.5 million mites stay alive under the sheets. Those same mites could die when exposed to dryness and sun.
However, not all experts agree with this study. Some doubt that the covers will become humid enough to keep these bacteria alive. Dr. Myron Zitt of the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology recommends shaking out the covers before making your bed.
How Hand Driers Are Worse Than Paper Towels
Although hot-air hand dryers help the environment, they don't improve our health. In 2018, a study from the American Society for Microbiology found a health risk of hand dryers. Researchers noticed that when toilets flush, they spray microbes into the air. Dryers suck in this air and blow the bacteria onto peoples' hands.
Although washing your hands removes bacteria, you have to be careful while they're wet, says urgent care specialist Theresa Lash-Ritter. Bacteria spreads much faster when your hands are wet, so using disposable towels may be a healthier option.
When To Not Brush Your Teeth After A Meal
According to dentists, there is a bad time to brush your teeth: right after eating certain foods. Colgate recommends brushing after eating sugary foods because that will get rid of bacteria that attack your enamel. But if you eat citrus, the toothpaste will further rot your teeth.
If you're someone who brushes their teeth after breakfast, you'll have to wait. The Oral Health Foundation recommends brushing 30 minutes to an hour after a meal. Plus, you only have to brush twice a day; brushing after every meal is unnecessary.
Are You Showering For Too Long?
The longer the shower, the cleaner you become. Right? Well, researchers recommend the opposite. Lauren Ploch, a dermatologist at the American Academy of Dermatology, says that the water may make cleansers more damaging. Plus, the hot water dries out your skin.
So how long is too long? Dermatologist Erum Ilyas told Insider that five to 15 minutes should do the trick. Think of it this way: the longer the shower, the more water evaporates off your skin, which sucks out the moisture. The result is more dryness, itching, and a higher risk of disease.
Sneeze Into Your Elbow, Not Your Hand
If you instinctively sneeze into your hand, you could be spreading illnesses, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Think about it; when we sneeze, millions of bacteria land on our hands. Then we use our hands to touch our desk, computer, phone, and others, spreading the microbes.
Dr. Lindsay Grayson, the Director of Infectious Diseases at Austin Health, recommends sneezing into the crook of your elbow or a tissue. The same goes for coughing. If you do sneeze or cough into your hands, wash them for at least 20 seconds.
Cleaning Your Sponge Makes It Worse
In 2017, a study in Scientific Reports stated that the sponge is one of the dirtiest spots in the home, with billions of bacteria per centimeter. Upon learning this, some people started sticking their sponges in the microwave to "kill" the bacteria. But this only made things worse.
Another study in the same journal revealed that heating a sponge doesn't kill the bacteria; it multiplies them. When you clean your sponge, the bacteria will learn how to outmaneuver your efforts, which makes them grow faster. Instead, replace your dirty sponge every couple of weeks.
Hand Sanitizer Doesn't Replace Hand Washing
Although hand sanitizers are convenient, they should never replace hand washing. Rush University Medical Center reports that hand sanitizers aren't nearly as effective as washing your hands. According to the FDA, relying on antimicrobials may lead to bacterial resistance. However, there hasn't been any evidence of that yet.
So when should you ditch the hand sanitizer? The Centers for Disease Control recommends washing your hands when they are visibly dirty or after you've touched chemicals. Plus, washing your hands keeps the healthy bacteria, while hand sanitizer wipes out all of it.
Yes, You Can Over-Moisturize
Just as you can over-wash your body, you can also over-moisturize. If you're suffering through a dry winter, it's over to lather up some more, says dermatologist Kaleroy Papantoniou. But people with oily skin may not benefit from extra lotion. Over time, the extra residue builds up to clog pores.
Relying on moisturizer can also make your skin dependent, says dermatologist Stefanie Williams. Our skin can moisturize itself, but packing on lotion teaches your cells to grow lazy. Plus, lotion can prevent dead skin from shedding naturally.
Never Leave Your Dishes To Soak
Soaking dishes may help sticky residue wash off, but it also multiplies germs. According to the University of Arizona, E. coli is more prominent in our kitchen sink than in a toilet that's just been flushed. And what happens when bacteria enter cold, stagnant water? It spreads like crazy.
According to Barbara Mullan, an associate professor from Curtin University, bacteria can stay alive for up to four days. She adds that any temperature under 60ºF is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. If you want to soak your dishes, do so briefly with hot water.
Turn Down The Water Temperature
Yes, hot water can relieve stress and relax muscles; but water that is too hot can be unhealthy. According to dermatologist Shari Marchbein, hot showers strip healthy oils, such as sebum, off the skin. This dehydrates the skin and can damage it, especially if you have a skin condition like eczema.
Marchbein adds that the outer layer of skin keeps bacteria and infections out. If your showers are too hot or too long, you weaken your skin overall. And it doesn't help our hair, either. Hot water can make our hair frizzy, brittle, and dry, says dermatologist Jessica Weiser.
No Need To Blow Dry Daily
Just as people shouldn't wash their hair daily, they shouldn't blow dry every day, either. During an interview with Bustle, Cleveland Clinic doctor Michael Roizen said that intense heat causes water in the hair to bubble. This stresses out your hair, which could lead to breakage, split ends, and dehydration.
If you can, avoid blow-drying your hair. According to Keith Hobbs, the clinical director of the Institute of Trichologists, you should let your hair dry a little bit before applying heat. Keep the blow dryer on low, and leave six inches of room between it and your hair.
Use Scented Sprays With Caution
From perfumes to air fresheners, sprays can help yourself and the room smell better. But don't resort to sprays every time you need to relax. The American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology warns that many sprays contain irritating chemicals that could trigger asthma or dizziness.
According to Poison Control, air fresheners contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can pollute the air over time. If you ever feel like breathing has become harder after using an air freshener, hairspray, or perfume, it may be VOCs. Use them sparingly.
Why You Shouldn't Pluck Your Nose Hairs
Nose hairs protect your lungs from dust, particles, and other pollutants in the air. That's why there's no need to pluck out your nose hairs, according to otolaryngologist Erich Voigt. Even the strands that hang out slightly, called vibrissae, catch larger particles that would otherwise irritate your body.
When we don't have nose hairs to catch pollutants, we raise our risk of infection, adds Dr. Voigt. The veins that provide blood to the nose also support the brain, and we don't want that blood getting sick. Instead of plucking your nose hairs, trim them.
Throw Out Your Loofah
According to loofah companies, the shower puffballs exfoliate the skin while cleaning it. But a study in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology found that loofahs are bacteria hubs. "The warm, moist conditions promote the growth of bacteria and fungi," says dermatologist Stefanie Williams.
That said, microbiologist professor Esther Angert says that loofahs can be healthy if you know how to handle them. If you keep your loofah in the shower, you'll spread yesterday's dirt all over your body, she says. Let your loofah dry entirely before using it again, and throw it out when it begins to smell.
The Dangers Of Douching
According to WebMD, between 20% and 40% of American women use douching to eliminate odor and prevent pregnancy. However, scientists have little evidence to support douching and a lot of evidence against it. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology warns women against it.
Douching can upset the pH and bacterial balance of the vagina. This leaves your body more prone to infections, pregnancy complications, and diseases. In 2002, researchers found that douching increases the likelihood of pelvic inflammatory disease by 73%.
The Sad Truth About The Five-Second Rule
Those who follow the five-second rule may think they're safe from germs, but they're not. In 2006, scientists at Clemson University tested the five-second rule. They found that the second your food hits the floor, it's swarmed with bacteria. In short, anytime you eat off the floor, you're taking a health risk.
That said, the longer your food stays on the floor, the more germs will infest it. The five-second rule is correct in that regard. Plus, the researchers said that you're unlikely to get sick from eating one piece of food off the floor, depending on where you are.
It's The Worst Place To Wash Your Face
Although washing your face in the shower saves time, most dermatologists advise against it. In short, showers are too hot, too pressurized, and just too much water. According to dermatologist Hadley King, the skin on our faces will dry out if it's in water for too long. Remember, facial skin is more sensitive than body skin.
On top of that, most showers are hot enough to aggravate the skin. Overly-hot water can dilate blood vessels or even break them. If you turn down the temperature and the pressure, you can wash your face in the shower, says Dr. King.
Don't Rub Dry
Are you drying your body too harshly? If you can describe your routine as "rubbing a towel," you are. Drying the body should be more of a gentle pat. Hurriedly rubbing yourself dry may aggravate your skin, which will dry it out.
When you step out of the shower, don't scrub, rub, or wipe yourself dry. Use a towel to gently pat your body. Doing so will keep the moisture on your skin without irritating it. The same goes for your hair; if you dry your hair in a rush, the fragile strands could break off.
"Squeaky Clean" Is Too Clean
"Squeaky clean" is a good standard for counters and floors–not our skin. If your skin feels “squeaky clean,” you're likely over-washing it. According to aesthetician Athena Hewett, this could create dry, flaky, red, and rashy skin. After all, over-washing strips the skin’s protective oils.
This problem is even worse for those with oily skin. Dermatologist Loretta Ciraldo said that this irritated, “squeaky clean” feeling can come from the wrong cleanser. “I see this a lot with acne cleansers,” she told Allure. If you think you’re over-washing your face, reduce the scrubbing time, or double-check your cleanser.
If you wait between drying off and applying lotion, you're making a mistake. Despite feeling wet, your skin will be dried out after a long while in a hot shower. Also, there’s a benefit to immediately lathering on lotion: your body will absorb it more effectively.
"Anything you apply after a shower will be more rapidly absorbed," says director of cosmetic dermatology Heidi Waldorf. The Mount Sinai Hospital director recommends not putting any product that could irritate your skin. Instead, use an unscented lotion to keep your skin hydrated for longer.
You Probably Need To Clean Your Washcloth
Speaking of loofahs and washcloths, when's the last time you washed yours? Is it more than a couple of weeks? If so you’ll want to take action. Despite all the soap, your loofahs and washcloths get dirty quickly. According to dermatologist Sejal Shah, dead skin cells stick to washcloths, loofahs, and sponges. They stay on and host more bacteria.
In general, aim to wash your shower tools every couple of weeks. You can run washcloths and sponges through the laundry, and wring a loofah with soap. Researchers recommend using diluted bleach in safe quantities. When in doubt, replace any old shower tools.
Ditch The Soap Dish
Although soap dishes come standard in almost every shower, they don't help skin health. Elaine Larson, an associate dean of epidemiology at Columbia University, warns people about germ-infested soap. According to her, leaving the soap bar in the shower is the worst thing you could do.
Bacteria thrive on soap’s slimy coating, which they usually develop on a dish. The good news is that these bacteria won’t harm you unless you have a compromised immune system. Still, you may want to store your soap bar in a dry place.
Enjoy A Blast Of Cold Water
Cold shower. The phrase is enough to make many people shudder. Even so, research shows that cold showers can strengthen the immune system. During a 2016 study in PLoS One, people who took cold showers were 29% less likely to get sick. And participants only turned the shower cold for 30 to 90 seconds.
A blast of cold water could also improve your mood. According to research in Medical Hypotheses, these showers make neurotransmitters more sensitive to endorphins. Potentially, this response could help people with depression. Remember, just 30 seconds makes a difference.
Don't Leave Your Razor In The Shower
Just as washcloths gather bacteria in the shower, razors do as well. "By storing your razor in the shower, you're increasing the frequency in which you’ll need to change your blade refill," says Venus dermatologist Jody Levine. Warm, wet environments cause razors to rust more quickly.
Plus, damp razors are breeding grounds for bacteria. When you shave, you open pores in your skin, making infection far more likely. To prevent this, dry your razors after you use them. Store them upright outside of the shower. They’ll last longer and won’t harm your skin.
The Danger Of Wrapping Your Hair In A Towel
The American Academy of Dermatology warns that wrapping your hair in a towel after showering can damage it. How? Because hair is fragile when it's wet. If done incorrectly, hair wraps can tug on your hairs and break them.
If you want to wrap up your hair, try to do so without twisting too tightly. Using a thin, delicate towel can reduce damage. Waiting for your hair to dry a bit and combing your hair beforehand will also decrease the potential damage.
The Right Way To Use Conditioner
Many people pour conditioner on their scalp and work their way down. However, applying conditioner above your crown line may irritate your skin. Colorist Meri Kate O'Connor says that doing so makes your skin oily. Since oil gathers at the crown of your head, adding more oils makes it greasy.
That said, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends conditioning your hair after every shampoo session. O’Connor recommends starting with the bottom of your hair–the oldest, driest part of your hair. Gradually work your way up to prevent an oily scalp.
Clean Your Bathtub Frequently
When is the last time you cleaned your bathtub? Despite all the soap, showers and tubs become dirty very quickly. Microbiologist Jason Tetro says that harmful bacteria such as E. coli thrive in the shower. TODAY Home adds that the shower's damp environment accelerates mold growth.
Tetro recommends cleaning your tub every two weeks and disinfecting your shower curtains weekly. After cleaning, leave the shower door or curtains open. You’ll want enough airflow to dry the bathroom fully, so leave your restroom door open, too.
Why You Should Shower After Exercising
A post-workout shower isn't just for the odor. It also prevents potential infections. According to women’s health director Holly Phillips, the leftover sweat allows bacteria to breed. In the best-case scenario, this could cause rashes and acne. In the worst case, it could lead to a staph infection.
That said, your skin won’t suffer from the occasional skipped shower. Changing into dry clothes and patting on some baby powder may help if you need to skip a rinse. When you do take a shower, all you need is a five-minute wash.
Stop Using Hard Water
Unlike soft water, hard water contains high amounts of calcium and magnesium. According to the USGS, 85% of the water in the United States is hard. These chemicals can interact with your soaps and shampoos. When calcium and magnesium react with the fatty acids in soap, they make the soap ineffective.
Hard water can also build up in your hair, making it tangled or limp. If your hair has ever felt different after showering at a gym or hotel, it's because water’s hardness varies by location. To prevent hard water, you can buy a water softener.
Ditch The Old Razor
After multiple drags across your skin, razors accumulate dead skin cells and bacteria. Don't use a dull or rusted razor; it could nick you more, create little red bumps, and potentially spread infection. Dermatologist Whitney Bowe recommends replacing your razor blade after a few uses.
Fortunately, Bowe has tips for keeping your razor sharper for longer. Rinse your razor after each use, since traces of soap and shaving cream will cause it to rust. Dry it with a towel, and store it in a dry area such as a medicine cabinet.
Why Regular Towels Aren't As Good As Bath Towels
Have you ever wondered why bath towels feel softer than regular towels? It's not just for comfort; it’s for your hair health. According to celebrity hairstylist Monae Everett, the rough texture of standard towels may damage your hair.
When hair is wet, it’s more fragile. Wringing your hair with a rough towel may create damages along the hair shaft, which leads to tangles and frizz, says Everett. If you’re out of bath towels, use a microfiber towel or t-shirt. And when you pat your hair dry, be gentle.
Don't Face The Showerhead When You Turn It On
In 2009, researchers from the University of Colorado examined showerheads across three states. They discovered that over 80% of showerheads contain the infectious pathogen Mycobacterium, which could cause pulmonary disease. If you're facing the shower when you turn on the water, you may get a face full of bacteria.
The good news is that these germs won’t affect those with a strong immune system. But immunocompromised people, children, pregnant women, and the elderly may struggle to fight it off. Clean your showerhead frequently, and let the water run for a bit before you hop in.