Six “healthy” hygiene habits that can actually make you sick

Plus easy, effortless strategies for keeping clean


We tend to think about hand washing and other healthy hygiene practices during cold and flu season.

However, viruses and infections don’t take a summer vacation. Daily hygiene habits are just as important in July as they are in January.

Of course, you may think your personal hygiene practices are just fine…and they may very well be. However, many popular hygiene habits (promoted mainly by the consumer products industry) may actually do more harm than good where your health is concerned. 

Here are my six hygiene habits that need to be rinsed down the drain and what you should do instead..

High-tech handwashing. As I wrote in the June issue of Insiders’ Cures (“Seven keys to a whole-body health reboot”), research shows that good old-fashioned soap and water are just as effective—and much less dangerous for your health—than “sophisticated” antibacterial soaps and hand sanitizers. (Subscribers can revisit this article by clicking here and logging into the Subscribers Sign-In.)

Back in 1997, my daughter Alicia’s middle school science project demonstrated that using antibacterial soaps can help breed antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. If a bunch of pre-teens could figure this out, you’d think FDA scientists could as well. And yet, antibacterial soaps are still on the market.

And that’s not the only problem with these products. Up until the FDA finally banned them about two years ago, antibacterial soaps and hand sanitizers commonly contained triclosan and triclocarban—which have been shown in studies to disrupt hormones.

Of course, the FDA failed to address the other dangerous ingredients in commercial soaps and hand sanitizers, like artificial fragrances (which often contain allergenic and hormone-disrupting chemicals).

But you can avoid all of these chemicals by choosing organic soaps and hand sanitizers—which are sometimes even cheaper than their conventional counterparts full of fancy ingredients.

Hand dryers full of hot air. The word is out on hot-air hand dryers. These inefficient noise hazards fail to remove the bacteria remaining on your hands after washing.

In fact, according to a study I wrote in the February 2015 issue of Insiders’ Cures (“The shocking source spreading cold and flu viruses”), hand dryers actually suck bacteria right up and blow it back out all throughout the bathroom—and unfortunately, right back onto you.

Some misguided healthcare professionals claim hot air dryers are more “efficient” and less wasteful than using a paper towel (which has to be manufactured in a high-volume paper mill and then transported). But don’t be so sure. 

Hand dryer blowers are high-intensity and use a lot of power. In contrast, using just one paper towel (from recycled paper) is actually more efficient and ecologically friendly. You can also take the paper towel with you and use it to open the door while exiting the restroom, so you don’t contaminate yourself all over again with a filthy door handle.

Hot showers. Of course, showering is a big part of proper hygiene. But contrary to what you might think, taking a long, hot shower isn’t the best way to get clean.

Showers, no matter the temperature, remove bacteria—including healthy, probiotic bacteria—from your skin. (As I wrote in last month’s Insiders’ Cures, probiotics are important for the skin microbiome, as well as your gastrointestinal tract and metabolism.)

But hot showers are a double whammy. Not only do they wash away probiotics, but they also strip protective oils from your skin.

Your skin consists of three layers and showering, bathing, and hand washing affect the outermost layer—the epidermis. The epidermis not only protects the other layers of your skin against the environment, but it also helps your skin retain moisture by producing a thin layer of oil.

A hot shower softens the oil on your skin, like when heat is applied to butter. And the longer you apply the heat to your skin’s oils, the more moisture your epidermis loses. This makes you more susceptible to skin diseases and bacteria. Your skin can also crack and bleed, increasing your chances of infection.

That’s why I recommend lukewarm showers for no longer than 10 minutes once a day—or even once every other day, if you’re not particularly dirty or sweaty.

Timing is also important. Research shows that taking a shower is more beneficial in the evening. 

This is due to thermodynamics, also known as evaporative cooling. When you step out of the shower, the warm water molecules on your skin evaporate. This water vapor takes heat away with it, which is often why you feel cold before wrapping yourself up in a towel.

Evaporative cooling also triggers your body to slow down metabolic processes like breathing, digestion, and heart rate—which helps you prepare for relaxation and sleep. So, an evening shower should be an important part of your bedtime routine.  

Finally, keep an eye on your shower head. One study found that shower heads can be loaded with a type of bacteria that causes pulmonary disease.1 Researchers recommend avoiding plastic shower heads (which are more susceptible to harboring bacteria), and replacing any shower heads that have crusty deposits.

Scrubbing yourself “smooth.” You may have heard that this is a “must” for any anti-aging or skincare regimen, however, there is never a need to exfoliate your skin.

While loofah sponges and other harsh scrubbing agents may remove dead skin cells, they also aggressively strip your body of probiotic bacteria and oils.

It’s not even necessary to remove dead skin in the first place. You shed all of your skin cells every two to four weeks. And it’s much healthier to just let nature take its course—rather than “helping it along” with unnecessary exfoliation.

If you really want to make your skin “glow,” just use a washcloth in the shower and apply a natural moisturizer afterwards while your skin is still wet. This keeps your skin soft and supple…with a natural, healthy glow.

Lathering, rinsing, and repeating. Just like your skin, your hair also has natural oils (called sebum) that are excreted from your hair follicles. These oils lock in moisture and prevent the hair and scalp from drying.

A majority of shampoos—whether they’re labeled as “natural” or not—can strip your hair’s oils as part of the cleansing process. While different types of hair may benefit from various kinds of shampooing, almost no one needs to shampoo every single day.

I suggest you stop shampooing and observe how long you can go before your hair starts to look greasy or dirty. Of course, in the summer—with heat, humidity, and increased sweating—you may want to shampoo more frequently. But generally, try to wait a few days between cleansings.

You should also choose organic, natural shampoos without:

• Artificial fragrances
• Paraben preservatives (which are linked to reproductive and endocrine system issues)
• PEGs, or polyethylene cleansing agents (which contain a probable human carcinogen)
• Sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) (a very strong detergent that strips hair of oil and moisture)
• Triclosan (an antibacterial agent also linked to endocrine system issues)

To see how your favorite shampoo rates on the toxin scale, visit the nonprofit, nonpartisan Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database by clicking here.

Q-tip wrangling. You’ve heard about cerumen (otherwise known as ear wax). It gets brown and sticky, and may appear dirty and in need of cleaning.

But this “wax” is simply a combination of oils and secretions in your outer ear canal and skin. It’s part of the way your ears protect themselves, and helps preserve hearing.

Cerumen is self-cleaning—but sometimes it can get impacted and interfere with your hearing. In those cases, do not try to remove blockages by yourself. You could damage your ear or eardrum. 

If you can’t get to a doctor or healthcare clinic, try putting a drop or two of mineral oil in your ear every day for a few days. This should slowly loosen up the cerumen blockage. When it begins to loosen up, gently squirt clean water into the ear canal with a bulb syringe, and wipe with a clean towel.

But unless earwax is impeding your hearing, just leave it there. In other words, “If it ain’t blocked, don’t fix it.”

I encourage you to take a look at your normal daily routine, and see which habits could use a change.

More or less, I recommend just letting Nature take its course and allowing your body to do what it was built to do (within reason, of course). Your health (as well as your water bills) will be a lot better off for it.


1“Opportunistic pathogens enriched in showerhead biofilms.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Sep 2009, 106 (38) 16393-16399.