Healthy Living

5 Myths About Hygiene, Germs And Cleanliness: Why Sweat Doesn’t Smell and Soap Doesn’t Kill Germs

washing hands
Soap doesn't actually destroy bacteria; rather, it lifts microbes off your skin and washes it away. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

The good thing is we don’t live in the Middle Ages anymore, when bathing was infrequent and inconvenient. But even though most of us take one to two showers a day these days, like hygiene machines, there are still some really simple things about cleanliness about which most people are unaware. Below are a few of these hygiene misconceptions.

Soap Kills Germs

Even though we believe soap to be magically destroying the bacteria on our hands, that’s not exactly what it’s doing. Regular soap actually picks bacteria off the skin’s surface and sends microbes into the flush of water, banishing them down the drain. Unless you’re using anti-bacterial soap, you’re not really killing bacteria at all; you’re just moving them from one place to another.

Washing Your Hair Every Day

This may be more a matter of personal preference, but it’s not essential to wash your hair every day — in fact, it may even be detrimental to your hair. Shampoo strips our hair of natural oils, or sebum, which can be good if it’s done every other day or so. But shampooing every day could leave your hair dry and brittle.

Michelle Hanjani, a dermatologist at Columbia University, told NPR that “[i]f you wash your hair every day, you’re removing the sebum. Then the oil glands compensate by producing more oil.” So if you wash less, your hair will eventually produce less oil. The key is finding a balance — don’t shampoo all the time, but don’t drop it altogether either, greaseball.

Public Toilets are Really Gross

OK, so they are probably relatively dirty, but actually getting sick from the bacteria on them is a rarity. In order to contract an STD, streptococcus, hepatitis A or E. coli from a public toilet seat, you would have to “rub your crotch on the toilet seat in precisely the same place that someone else has previously rubbed [their] contaminated crotch,” Mary Roach writes on Salon. Also, some bacteria can only survive on the surface of the seat for a limited time, so it’s very unlikely that they can cause an infection.

“To my knowledge, no one has ever acquired an STD on the toilet seat — unless they were having sex on the toilet said!” Abigail Salyers, president of the American Society for Microbiology, told WebMD.

Your Sweat is What’s Making You Smell Like BO

This isn’t true! Sweat itself doesn’t have an odor since it’s mostly made up of water, but then where does body odor (B.O.) come from? When you sweat, normal skin bacteria break down the sweat — and these little guys are the ones secreting that smell. To better understand the process, see the video below:

Hand Sanitizer Will Kill ALL the Germs

Recently, research has emerged that antibacterial agents don’t work as well as previously imagined — and on top of that, they could actually promote infections. In December 2013, the Food and Drug Administration announced that it would begin regulating antibacterial products to ensure that they were safe and actually more effective than regular soap. The widespread use of antibacterial products leads to bacterial resistance, which can become a huge problem, especially when bacteria develop resistance to antibiotics.

In addition, one antimicrobial agent known as triclosan has been pinpointed in a recent study as a promoter of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria in nasal passages. Triclosan is often found in common household or cleaning items like kitchen surface cleaners, antibacterial soaps and toothpaste. So regular soap may be the best bet after all.

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