Protecting yourself from viruses and infections begins with good hygiene. And as the flu season gets underway, it's good to know what to look out for so you can shield yourself from nasty colds and illness. While good personal hygiene seems easy, there are now studies showing that hyper-cleanliness may also cause disease. What's a girl to do? Check out our head-to-toe personal hygiene guide that will keep you fresh, clean and—hopefully—flu-free.
Hair: You don't actually need to wash your hair every day. In fact, washing it every other day will allow your tresses to maintain more of the scalp's natural oils, which is good for your locks. Massage your scalp gently with the pads of your fingertips when you shampoo. There is no need to lather twice. More important is making sure you've rinsed thoroughly. Avoid sharing clips, combs and brushes, since lice can spread via hair accessories. Contrary to popular myth, lice actually love a squeaky-clean hair shaft, so you won't prevent them with clean, shiny locks, but rather by not borrowing hats and hairbrushes.
Eyes: Even though tears remove toxins and irritants, proper eye hygiene is necessary to keep your vision strong and your eyes healthy. Always wash your hands before rubbing your eyes, or you can introduce a cold or infection. If you wear contact lenses, wash your hands thoroughly before handling them to prevent a serious corneal infection, and always throw them away after a bout of conjunctivitis. Put your lenses in before applying makeup, and use waterproof mascara to keep it from flaking into the eye. Women should always remember to gently wash away all of their eye makeup before going to bed and to never share mascara, eye shadow or eyeliner.
Ears: Wash in and around the ear with a soft washcloth in the shower, but never insert Q-tips inside the ear canal. You could puncture your eardrum or push wax further in, creating a blockage. Believe it or not, some studies show more emergency room accidents due to cotton swabs in the ear than knife wounds. Washing the inside of your ears with soap is a no-no; the detergent will wash away wax that protects and lubricates the ears, keeping them free from bacteria and fungus. Besides, ears are actually self-cleaning and remove wax naturally on their own. Still, if you have a build-up of wax that you need to get out, putting a few drops of warm water into the ear for a few seconds may be enough to melt troublesome wax. Otherwise, see a doctor for professional removal.
Nose: Two words: nasal lavage. Or, what the layperson might call sinus cleansing. Squirting a warm saline solution into the nose is a simple way to wash allergens, dust, mucus, bacteria, mold and viruses out of the nasal cavity. It may seem like a New Age ritual, but believe it or not, many sinus specialists are strong supporters of the practice. It is especially useful, they say, in preventing colds, sinus infections, asthma and allergy attacks, congestion and post-nasal drip. The trick is in getting the technique right. So follow instructions carefully on how to do it at home. When you do have a cold, use tissues judiciously, and be careful not to blow too hard. Otherwise it will force infectious agents into the ears and sinuses, leading to more infection. Wash hands after blowing, and wash them frequently during the illness. If you clip nose hairs, wipe small scissors with alcohol before and after use to prevent introducing germs directly into your nose. Be wary of plucking, which can encourage nasty infections.