Body Shop: Your Head-to-Toe Personal Hygiene Guide

Can good hygiene stop illness?

Mouth: Hands out. The number-one way you get sick is by putting your hands in your mouth. The American Dental Association recommends brushing your teeth at least twice a day with a soft bristle brush. Studies have proved that oscillating versions clean better than manuals, but that there's no advantage to the big-bucks versions. And if you brush for long enough, your manual brush will eventually do the same job. (Check out our dentists' favorite brushes.) Flossing daily also helps prevent cavities from forming and keeps the gums clean. Remember, gum disease isn't only bad for the mouth. Swallowing harmful bacteria on a daily basis can also lead to heart disease. Don't forget to swab your toothbrush over the tongue; bad breath often begins from plaque and bacteria build-up on the tongue. Always store your toothbrush away from the toilet spray and change it every three months.

Hands: Forget antibacterial soaps. "Plain old soap and water is best," says Rial Rolfe, PhD, professor of microbiology and immunology at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center. Antibacterial products lead to ultra-resistant germs. Wash frequently with warm water for 20 to 30 seconds. Try singing "Happy Birthday" or "Itsy Bitsy Spider" to gauge if you've scrubbed long enough. When is it important to wash? Before, during and after you prepare food, after handling animals or pets, after using the restroom, before eating and before and after visiting people who are sick. Carry a small bottle of non-antibacterial hand sanitizer with you for use in a pinch.

Genitals and Rectum: The anal area should be cleaned thoroughly and gently after every bowel movement, with toilet paper or a warm, wet cloth. Feminine hygiene sprays or deodorants, medicated talcum powders and perfumed or medicated cleansers are unnecessary and can cause irritation in those with sensitive skin. Wash genitals and rectum daily during your shower with either water or a gentle soap. During menstruation, warm baths may help to alleviate cramps and make you feel cleaner during that messy time. Vaginal douching is unnecessary and can cause the normal chemical balance in the vagina to shift and actually lead to bacterial infections. Baby and feminine wipes are okay to use every now and then, but everyday use may also disrupt the natural flora of your "garden."

Feet: Scrub your feet daily in the shower with warm soap and water. Make sure they are always clean and dry, and that the shoes you are wearing are also free of moisture. If you sweat excessively, add a little powder to your shoes when you aren't wearing them to soak up any wetness and prevent fungal infections. Protect your feet from germs by always wearing shower shoes at the pool, gym or locker room where athlete's foot fungus or the plantar wart virus lurk. And don't follow in the steps of Britney: Wear shoes into public restrooms, especially ones at the beach that almost always have damp or wet floors. Keep your toenails cut straight across to prevent ingrown toenails and painful infections. Use a pumice stone instead of sharp instruments to remove calluses and dead skin. A puncture wound on the foot could easily get infected.

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