By Mona Mohammd
In an age when we take a shower at least once a day, with antibacterial soaps having triumphantly colonized our bathrooms, studies show that perhaps we are becoming too clean for our own good.
While proper personal hygiene is part of a healthy lifestyle, manufacturers of antibacterial products are trying to convince us to exterminate all microorganisms from our skin and leave no germ behind.
Are You Being Deceived?
Despite what you might have heard, not all germs are bad. To paint a clearer picture, every time you wash, you not only strip your skin of the oils that protect it against dryness, you also wash away the microbes responsible for fighting off infection-causing viruses, bacteria and fungi.
That’s because your skin’s antibacterial properties come from its slightly acidic pH. Washing with soap raises that pH level, leaving skin more prone to infections and various skin disorders. According to the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Aside from hand cleansing, specific evidence is lacking to link bathing or general skin cleansing with preventing infections.”
We Coexist with Germs
Our skin is home to hundreds of species of bacteria and fungi. Together they make up our skin’s flora or microbiome. Researchers at North Carolina State University found that Staphylococcus and Corynebacterium bacteria usually outnumbered other species of bacteria on human skin. Another study showed that the human heel hosts the most fungi—an outstanding 80 species. But don’t worry, though this might sound scary, these microorganisms are rarely harmful—in fact, they are necessary for healthy skin.
In addition to helping maintain a healthy immune system, beneficial microbes make it hard for pathogenic ones to infect us by either making our skin inhospitable or by competing for resources. For example, the bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa can cause infections in bones, joints, and gastrointestinal and respiratory systems if they enter the bloodstream. But before you deem them evil, they also produce an acid that prevents other bacteria and fungi from growing out of control, sparing us the agony of harmful infections.
Washing away the precious oils that your skin secretes for protection can eventually damage its upper layer, giving microbes a free pass. Additionally, your skin’s acidity makes it an inhospitable place for germs to thrive. Thus, alkalizing the skin’s pH through the use of soap means that it will no longer offer that protection.
Hand-Hygiene: The Exception
With all this new information, however, hand-washing guidelines stay the same. According to the US National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), the problem is not with a person’s resident skin flora. Infections are more likely caused by transient flora: the foreign microorganisms transferred to our skin as we touch people or contaminated surfaces. In other words, the more you come in contact with the outer world, the more you need to make sure all the hitchhiking germs on your hands stay at the door.
7 Tips to Maintain Healthy skin, Without Over-Cleaning
So how do you provide a happy home for all those precious little microbes on your skin without smelling like a hippie?
1. Go Soap-Free
Whenever possible, try washing with water only. Apart from the armpit, feet and groin area, you can get away with rubbing your skin under running water. Your skin produces less oil on your legs, arms and torso, so using soap sparingly will ensure you don’t dry those areas out. When you do decide to lather up, try following up with a natural moisturizer such as almond, olive or coconut oil. This should help prevent over-drying and damage.
On a similar note, don’t exfoliate more than once a week. Harsh exfoliation, either through abrasive sponges or scrubs, means less microbes and almost no protective oils on the skin.
2. Shorter Cooler Showers
As lovely as a hot water might feel, try to keep your showers short and cool. Long, hot showers will thin the oil layer on your skin.
Ironically, the worst time of the year to take a hot shower is winter, when the cold wind tends to wick away moisture from the skin.
3. Back to Nature
Most face and body wash products, and anti-bacterial soaps on the market do more harm than good. The chemicals they contain destroy that precious microorganism community you should be trying so hard to keep. So next time you’re shopping for skin cleansers, check the label and go for the milder ones made with natural ingredients. One of the best natural soaps is Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Liquid Soap. It contains absolutely no chemicals, and is certified to be completely organic and vegan.
AOBiome has developed the Mother Dirt skincare line that includes a spray with Ammonia Oxidizing Bacteria (AOB). The company claims that it is formulated with a patented, live “peacekeeper” bacteria to restore essential bacteria that are otherwise destroyed by modern hygiene and lifestyle practices.
For more information, read the “My No-Soap, No-Shampoo, Bacteria-Rich Hygiene Experiment” by the New York Times. You can also purchase their products online.
Alternatively, look for soap-free options, such as Sebamed Face and Body Wash, a product that does not contain soap or parabens, and maintains the skin’s optimum pH level. It is hypoallergenic and recommended by dermatologists.
You can also include healthy yogurt or kefir to your skin care routine. Add it to your skin and hair masks for a cheap and effective dose of healthy bacteria.
5. Embrace the Four-Legged
And now, we give you yet another reason to own a pet! A new study on how pets, particularly dogs, affect a household’s microorganism diversity revealed incredible results. Rob Knight, a researcher at the University of Colorado Boulder stated “The microbial connection seems to be stronger between parents and family dogs than between parents and their children.”
Interestingly, the study found that people and their dogs shared more skin microbes rather than gut or oral ones.
So, consider rewarding your pet with a treat in acknowledgement of their contribution to our environmental biodiversity.
6. Clean, Don’t Sterilize
Overzealous use of household disinfectants and antibacterial cleansers might also not be such a good idea. Regular soap and warm water is enough to keep your family healthy and protected by beneficial microrganisms.
7. The Great Outdoors
Do your microbiome a favor and go out into the fresh air more often. We have limited our outings to air-conditioned malls and cinemas while cringing away from the idea of visiting a farm or having lunch in a park. Fresh air, dirt and grass are highly underrated as contributors to good health.
So, embrace your micro-occupants and start welcoming new ones. Take a step towards living a healthier and happier life by using less chemicals and switching to skin-friendly alternatives like Sebamed Face and Body Wash, Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Liquid Soap, or Mother Dirt Skincare.
And don’t forget to spend more time outdoors with your loved ones. Go fishing, spend a day at the park or even visit the zoo. Your skin and the rest of your body will thank you.References