10 Hygiene Mistakes You’re Making (and How To Fix Them)

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Believe it or not, there’s a right and wrong way to brush your teeth. In the realm of personal care, hygiene mistakes don’t just diminish one’s cleanliness, they can also bring about infections, skin problems, and other health-related issues. These oversights often stem from long-held habits, misconceptions passed down through generations, or a lack of updated knowledge about best practices.

From improper hand-washing to neglecting dental care, here are 10 common hygiene mistakes you may be guilty of — plus tips on how to identify and correct them. 

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1. Improper Hand-Washing

Many people underestimate the importance of proper hand-washing techniques, including the duration and thoroughness required to effectively eliminate germs. Hand-washing should last at least 20 seconds and should include covering all parts of the hands with (ideally) an antibacterial soap, followed by a thorough rinsing. 

Pro tip: Remember to get into all the nooks and crannies, including the backs of hands, fingertips, and under the nails. These areas are typically teeming with microbes, and failing to address them reduces the effectiveness of hand-washing. 

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2. Not Brushing Your Teeth Long Enough

Dental health experts recommend brushing your teeth for at least two minutes, twice a day, to effectively remove plaque and prevent tooth decay. While two minutes might not seem like a long time, many people rush this process and don’t spend enough time and care on each section of their mouth. This can lead to cavities, gum disease, or even more serious dental problems like periodontitis and tooth loss.

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3. Brushing Your Teeth Too Hard

While we’re on the topic of dental hygiene, another common misconception is that going ham on one’s teeth is the best way to clean them. In reality, this aggressive approach can wear down tooth enamel (the hard outer layer protecting teeth against decay) and irritate the gums. Over time, this can lead to heightened sensitivity to hot and cold substances. It can also make your teeth more susceptible to cavities.

Instead, use a gentle and even motion with a soft-bristled toothbrush to maintain oral health effectively and safely. 

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4. Not Flossing Every Day

Similarly, flossing is another dental practice that’s often overlooked or done incorrectly. Proper flossing is crucial for not just removing food particles between teeth, but also for stimulating the gums and reducing plaque buildup. Neglecting this step can lead to periodontal diseases and other health issues down the line. 

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5. Not Changing Your Toothbrush Regularly

We hate to be the bearer of bad news, but toothbrushes don’t last forever. Experts recommend replacing your toothbrush every three to four months (or sooner) if the bristles become frayed. An old toothbrush can harbor harmful bacteria, which can reintroduce old pathogens into your mouth (yuck!). Worn-out bristles are also less effective at removing plaque and food debris from your teeth. 

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6. Using Q-tips or Cotton Swabs

The use of Q-tips or cotton swabs to clean the inner ear is a widespread practice that does more harm than good. This is because Q-tips push earwax deeper into the ear canal — which, over time, can lead to infections, blockages, or even damage to the eardrum. Contrary to popular belief, earwax has protective, lubricating, and antibacterial properties that are beneficial to one’s ear’s health. 

While the body has a natural mechanism for expelling excess earwax, if you want to manually remove it, consider using an earwax removal kit or tool.

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7. Reusing Workout Clothes Without Washing

Re-wearing workout clothes without first washing them can lead to skin infections or trigger conditions like acne, rashes, and allergies. This is due to the accumulation of sweat, bacteria, and dead skin cells, which can encourage fungal and bacterial growth. Over time, this can lead to more serious conditions like athlete’s foot and jock itch, both of which are very uncomfortable and may require medical treatment to resolve. 

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8. Exfoliating Too Often

Exfoliating your face or body every day can do more harm than good to the skin. While it may seem like a fast track to smoother and brighter skin, daily exfoliation can strip the skin of its natural oils, leading to irritation, increased sensitivity, and disruption of the skin’s protective barrier. This can, in turn, make the skin more prone to acne, dryness, and even premature aging. 

Experts generally recommend exfoliating two to three times a week — depending on your skin type — to safely remove dead skin cells without compromising skin health.

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9. Not Moisturizing

Frequent hand-washing or showering, while essential for hygiene, can strip the skin of its natural oils. This can result in dryness and cracking, which can create an entry point for pathogens and viruses. To avoid dealing with dry and itchy skin, consider applying a good quality lotion or moisturizer after washing your hands (and showering) to help protect your skin’s natural barrier and keep your skin hydrated. 

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10. Not Replacing Loofahs or Shower Puffs

Shower puffs and loofahs, with their intricate weaves and porous nature, are excellent at exfoliating skin and creating a rich lather. But when left in the warm, moist environment of a bathroom, they may not dry properly and can become a breeding ground for bacteria and fungi. Over time, as dead skin cells accumulate in the fibers of shower puffs or the crevices of loofahs, they can spread bacteria back onto your skin.

Dermatologists recommend replacing shower puffs and loofahs every three to four weeks to prevent any buildup of pathogens. After using, they should be thoroughly rinsed and hung in a well-ventilated area to dry completely between uses. 

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