Personal Hygiene: A Guide to Healthy Practices
Does your scalp itch constantly? Do you experience unpleasantness due to bad breath or body odor? Or, perhaps you are a victim of repeated fungal infections. If you have responded in the affirmative, you are probably practicing poor personal hygiene.
Hygiene is defined as a series of conducive activities one follows to maintain health and protect against diseases. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), it is a broad term that not only includes personal habits, but also cleanliness practices at home and the workplace.
Why do we need to maintain hygiene?
We come in contact with millions of bacteria and viruses throughout the day. And it is by continuously keeping ourselves as well as our surroundings clean that we manage to remain healthy most of the time. An unhygienic environment is like a garbage bin full of nutrients for microorganisms like bacteria to thrive on, helping them spread diseases.
Studies have shown that poor hygiene also affects mental health adversely and lowers self-esteem. It’s an attribute of self-neglect, which indirectly showcases a person’s deteriorating mental well-being.
Steps to great personal hygiene
Personal hygiene involves taking care of your body by accomplishing simple tasks such as bathing, brushing, and washing hands regularly.
Here are 7 practices you must include in your daily routine.
Dentists recommend brushing your teeth after every meal. Brushing twice a day — after waking up and before going to bed — for at least two minutes is, however, a must. Floss regularly, use a medically recommended mouthwash, and go for regular dental check-ups to keep those cavities and bad breath at bay. Studies have shown that people who do not take care of their teeth are prone to advanced tooth decay and periodontitis, which includes gum infections, loosening of teeth, and destruction of the jawbone.
How frequently one bathes is subjective, but at least once a day is ideal. Showering with soap removes bacteria, dead skin, sweat, and oil depositions on the skin, especially in covered areas such as armpits or the groin. If not cleaned, these can cause skin conditions such as acne, eczema, psoriasis, or dermatitis.
You must also shampoo your hair at least twice a week. This will ensure that the scalp is free of oils, dandruff, and other microbes, thus allowing healthy natural hair growth.
3. Washing hands
Your hands touch innumerable objects every day, and contribute to the contraction and spread of respiratory diseases such as common cold, coronavirus, or pneumonia, as well as gastrointestinal diseases such as diarrhea and food poisoning. Washing your hands with a good quality soap at regular intervals is a healthy practice. But you should do so especially before and after eating, after sneezing, handling garbage, touching an animal, or giving first aid.
4. Nail hygiene
Nails should be regularly trimmed and cleaned to prevent the settling of dirt, as it can lead to infections. Refrain from biting nails. In case you wish to have long nails, clean them regularly with a nail brush.
5. Toilet hygiene
Toilets are one of the most common sources of infectious gastrointestinal pathogens such as E.coli, shigella, or streptococcus. Wash your hands properly with soap for a good 20 seconds after using the toilet, with special attention to your nails. Flush with the toilet lid closed to prevent “flying” of the refuse. Toilet seats and floors must be kept clean and dry at all times.
6. Genital hygiene
Both men and women should wear clean cotton undergarments and wash their genital area every day with water and soap. Uncircumcised men should clean the accumulated smegma (oil secretions) in the foreskin with warm water and soap. Women should clean the vulva with plain water. These regions are a hub for microbes, which can cause infections such as genital ulcers, genital warts, and in some cases, even cancers. Poor genital hygiene may also cause the development of sexually transmitted infections such as gonorrhea, genital herpes, chlamydia, and HIV.
Menstruating women should ensure they change their sanitary pads or tampons every 4 to 5 hours to prevent vaginal yeast.
7. Sickness hygiene
Whenever you feel sick, distance yourself from others to prevent the spread of infectious microorganisms. You must also cover your mouth and nose while coughing and sneezing. Avoid sharing utensils, and dispose of your soiled wipes/ tissues immediately in the biomedical waste disposal bin.
Do antibacterial soaps and solutions work?
According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), science is yet to prove that over-the-counter (OTC) antibacterial soaps are better at preventing illness than washing with plain soap and water. Moreover, the wide use of these products over a long time has raised questions about potential negative health effects.
Human skin is never 100% microbe-free. There are bacteria and fungi, collectively called skin flora, which are natural habitants of the human skin. These florae maintain the pH balance of the skin and also keep a check on overgrowth of any one colony of microbes. Overuse of antibacterial soaps tends to sway this balance in favor of the fungi and other resistant bacteria, thus leading to infections and other adverse effects on the body.
Also read: Poor Hygiene: Bad Habits You Should Avoid
How can you achieve personal hygiene?
Personal hygiene is all about making cleanliness practices a part of your routine. Eventually, the routine turns into a habit, and you no longer have to make an effort to carry them out. Individual hygiene practices play a significant role in maintaining not only your own physical and mental health, but that of others as well.
1. Holland K. Creating a Personal Hygiene Routine: Tips and Benefits. Healthline. 2018. https://www.healthline.com/health/personal-hygiene (accessed Feb 16, 2021).
2. Ames H. Why is personal hygiene important? Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/personal-hygiene (accessed Feb 16, 2021).
4. James J. Yu, Melissa B. Manus, Olaf Mueller, Sarah C. Windsor, Julie E. Horvath, Charles L. Nunn Antibacterial soap use impacts skin microbial communities in rural Madagascar Plos One August 20, 2018