Practicing good personal hygiene is important for helping keep the body healthy and clean.
In this article, we outline the importance of personal hygiene. We also discuss different types of hygiene, self-care routines, and what may happen if hygiene practices lapse.
What is it?
Good personal hygiene involves keeping all parts of the external body clean and healthy. It is important for maintaining both physical and mental health.
In people with poor personal hygiene, the body provides an ideal environment for germs to grow, leaving it vulnerable to infection.
On a social level, people may avoid a person with poor personal hygiene, which may result in isolation and loneliness.
Types of personal hygiene
There are many types of personal hygiene.
The following list is a good starting point for someone looking to build a personal hygiene routine:
Several million sweat glands cover the human body. When bacteria break down sweat, the process creates a smell or body odor.
Washing the body will help prevent skin irritation, as well as removing the bacteria that cause body odor. Washing the hair removes oil and keeps a person looking clean and fresh.
Regular hand washing is one of the best ways to avoid spreading communicable diseases.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend washing the hands at certain times:
- before, during, and after preparing food
- before eating food
- before and after looking after anyone who is vomiting or has diarrhea
- before and after treating a cut or wound
- after going to the bathroom
- after changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet
- after blowing the nose, coughing, or sneezing
- after touching garbage or dirty surfaces or objects
- after handling pets or pet-related items, such as food
Fingernails may harbor dirt and germs, contributing to the spread of bacteria. It is easier for dirt and germs to collect under longer nails, so keeping them short can help reduce the risk of spreading infections.
Knowing how to maintain good personal hygiene can make it easier to build a routine. A person should have some basic knowledge of the following types of hygiene:
For a healthy mouth and smile, the American Dental Association (ADA) recommend brushing the teeth for 2 minutes at least twice a day — once before breakfast and once before bed.
People should use an ADA-accepted fluoride toothpaste and replace the toothbrush every 3–4 months. The ADA also advise people to floss daily.
The CDC outline five simple steps for effective hand washing:
- Wet the hands with clean, running water, then turn off the tap and apply soap.
- Lather the hands by rubbing them together with the soap, remembering to reach the backs of the hands, between the fingers, and under the nails.
- Scrub the hands for at least 20 seconds, which a person can time by humming the “Happy Birthday” song twice.
- Rinse the hands well under clean, running water.
- Dry the hands using a clean towel or air dry them.
It is advisable to shower or bathe daily, using soap and water to rinse away dead skin cells, oil, and bacteria. People can pay special attention to areas that accumulate more sweat, such as the armpits, in between the toes, and the groin area.
They should also wash their hair with shampoo at least once a week, or more if necessary. Applying deodorant when fully dry can help prevent body odors.
Using sanitized tools to trim the nails and keep them short is one of the best ways to ensure that no dirt can collect underneath them.
Scrubbing the underside of the nails with a nail brush can form part of a person’s hand washing routine.
Menstrual and genital hygiene
It is important to change sanitary products regularly and to wash the hands before and after changing tampons, pads, or any other sanitary products.
As vaginas are self-cleaning, using soap to clean the vagina can cause an imbalance of its natural bacteria and lead to infections. The vulva (the external part of the vagina) should only need cleaning once a day using a mild soap and water.
People with an uncircumcised penis can clean it by gently pulling back the foreskin and washing underneath it with warm water or soap.
Parents and caregivers should teach children how to keep themselves clean from a young age.
For example, they can start using toothpaste to brush a child’s teeth when they reach the age of 12 months. When the gaps between a child’s teeth close, it is important to start flossing.
Encouraging children to help clean themselves as soon as they are old enough is a good way to instigate a proper personal hygiene routine.
Poverty and lack of access to clean water can both have a detrimental effect on a person’s personal hygiene.
A person’s mental health can also affect how they take care of themselves. People who are living with certain conditions, such as a psychotic disorder, severe depression, or drug or alcohol use disorder, may find it very difficult to keep up a personal hygiene routine.
Conditions that poor personal hygiene can signal
While personal hygiene can cause certain health issues, it can also be a side effect of some of them.
In some cases, the inability to maintain a hygiene routine could result from depression. Depressive symptoms, such as reduced energy levels and impaired cognitive function, can make a self-care regimen more difficult to keep up.