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7 Hygiene Myths You Should Stop Believing

Sep 17, 2021 By Devin Collins
Women inspecting face in the mirror

It’s no secret that personal hygiene is key to your overall health and wellness. As your body comes in contact with thousands of germs and bacteria everyday, maintaining good washing and cleanliness habits, such as bathing and washing your hands, helps lower your risk of infection and illness. And it’s good for your mental health too — practicing proper body hygiene can help you feel confident in yourself and boost your overall self-esteem.

But while the benefits of personal hygiene are clear, defining these practices isn’t always so straightforward. Everyone has a different idea of what good hygiene looks like, and many people follow very different bathing and self-care routines. Between constant ads for hygienic products and regular media coverage of celebrities’ morning regimens, it can be hard to know if you’re doing things right.

Questioning your own routine? We’re here to help you separate fact from fiction. Here are some of the most common hygiene myths to be aware of as you evaluate and develop your own self-care habits.

1. You need to shower every day.

While there are plenty of reasons why someone might choose to shower daily, such as personal preference, help waking up in the morning, or a regular workout routine, there is no health benefit to showering every day. In fact, showering too much can actually negatively impact your skin.

Normal, healthy skin has a layer of natural oils and good bacteria that protects the skin from dryness and germs. Overwashing your body with soap and water, particularly if hot, can strip your skin of this layer, leaving it dry, itchy, irritated, or cracked and at risk of infection or allergic reaction. For individuals with conditions like eczema or psoriasis, this can also lead to flare-ups. Additionally, the immune system needs some interaction with germs, bacteria, and dirt on the skin in order to build up resistance and protective antibodies. Showering too frequently interferes with the immune systems’ ability to do its job. Overuse of antibacterial soaps, too, can kill off normal bacteria on the skin, and lead to antibiotic resistance.

On the other hand though, bathing too little can result in body odor and a buildup of dirt, oils, and dead skin that can lead to clogged pores, acne, and other bacterial or fungal infections. While there is no hard or fast rule on how often you should bathe, showering every other day or a few times a week is typically enough for most people to maintain good health. It’s important, however, to take your own personal skin type, activities, and bath products into consideration when developing your own routine.

2. Your hair should be washed daily.

Like with showering, there is no one-size fits all approach when it comes to shampooing. How much you should be washing your hair really depends on a number of factors like your hair type, activity level, and how oily your scalp is. For instance, most experts agree that individuals with fine, thin hair may want to shampoo daily, as their hair tends to get oily and greasy faster. Those with thick, curly hair, however, may want to wash their hair less often, as it takes longer for natural oils to coat the strands. These oils can also help curly hair maintain moisture and reduce frizz. If you exercise or sweat a lot, you may also want to wash your hair more frequently, as it may appear more oily or dirty, regardless of texture. Ultimately, it’s about what works best for you. It’s important, however, to avoid using shampoo too often, as it can strip the hair of important oils and leave it dry and brittle.

3. The best way to get rid of a pimple is to pop it.

No matter how tempting or satisfying it may be to pop a pimple, don’t do it. Though it may seem like a “quick fix”, popping a pimple can actually cause more to pop up, as well as lead to worse blemishes and scarring. When you puncture the skin of a pimple, you release all of the oil, debris, dirt, and bacteria in it, which can spread to other pores and lead to a bigger outbreak. Squeezing or prodding a pimple may also force its contents even deeper into your skin, while introducing even more dirt and bacteria from your finger to it. This can cause your skin to look more red, inflamed, and swollen. The best way to get rid of a pimple is keep your hands off of it and let it be. Pimples typically go away on their own in 3 to 7 days. If you have frequent outbreaks or acne that seems to never go away, your primary care provider can help you identify the issue and develop a care plan specific to your needs.

4. Douching will clean your vagina.

Vaginal douching refers to washing or cleaning the inside of the vagina using water or a mixture of fluids. Most often, douches sold in stores contain a prepackaged mixture of water and vinegar, baking soda, or iodine. While some individuals claim that douching makes them feel cleaner and helps with unpleasant odors, public health experts, including the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, do not recommend it, as many studies have linked douching to health problems, such as bacterial vaginosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, vaginal irritation and dryness, STIs, and pregnancy complications. The vagina is a self-cleaning organ that regulates itself through natural secretions. Douching can upset the natural bacterial and pH balance of the vagina and result in the overgrowth of harmful bacteria, inflammation, and infection. It’s best to let the vagina clean itself and instead regularly wash the outside of your vagina with warm water and mild soap. For questions or concerns regarding vaginal odor, discharge, or discomfort, talk to your primary care provider.

5. Cotton swabs are a safe way to clean out earwax.

While many regularly use cotton swabs to clean their ears, the truth is, it’s not safe. Using a cotton swab or Q-tip can actually push earwax further into your ear canal, causing impaction and discomfort, and trap bacteria in the ear, which can lead to infection. Inserting a foreign object like a cotton swab into the ear can also cause damage or injury to the ear, such as a ruptured eardrum. Though earwax can be annoying, uncomfortable, or itchy, it actually helps prevent the ear from getting too dry and protects it from harmful substances like dirt and bacteria. In most cases, it’s unnecessary to clean out your ears, as earwax usually naturally moves to the outer ear and falls out on its own through chewing and other jaw motions. Sometimes, however, earwax can build up and may be too impacted to clear naturally. If you experience symptoms such as feelings of fullness in the ear, reduced or muffled hearing, earache, pain, fluid drainage, or discomfort, you should reach out to your primary care provider.

6. Deodorants and antiperspirants cause breast cancer.

In the early 2000s, a few studies suggested a link between antiperspirant or deodorant and breast cancer. The authors of these studies and other scientists theorized that chemicals found in these products, including aluminum and parabens, are absorbed by the skin, especially after shaving, and deposited in the lymph nodes. However, according to both the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute there is no strong evidence linking these products to breast cancer.

7. The 5-second-rule

If you’ve ever dropped a piece of food on the ground, you’ve likely heard someone shout out “5-second rule!”. This unofficial rule suggests that food that has only been on the ground for less than five seconds has yet to accumulate germs or bacteria and is still clean and safe to eat. To some extent, time on the ground does play a factor. Among the numerous studies that have looked into the 5-second rule, there is a general consensus that the longer food is left on the ground, the more bacteria it collects. However, the 5-second rule has been thought to be an oversimplification of what actually occurs. In reality, bacteria can attach itself to food the moment it hits the ground, no matter how fast you pick it up. The number of bacteria and germs it collects also depends on the type of food, as well as the surface it hits. For instance, moist foods may accumulate more bacteria than dry ones. So next time you go to eat something off the ground, consider taking the safer route and throwing it away instead.

Have questions about your personal hygiene? Book an appointment with your primary care provider today.

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Devin Collins

The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, a national, modern primary care practice pairing 24/7 virtual care services with inviting and convenient in-person care at over 100 locations across the U.S. One Medical is on a mission to transform health care for all through a human-centered, technology-powered approach to caring for people at every stage of life.

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