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The 7 Deadly Sins of Personal Hygiene

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Standards of personal hygiene are not universal. Personal, cultural, and religious difference, socioeconomic factors, and a ton of other variants determine how, and how often, we wash and groom ourselves. They also determine how groomed we expect others to be.

While there is no “right” amount of cleanliness, there are health-related reasons to maintain a minimum standard of hygiene. Also: We live in a society, so we should probably care about how our personal choices affect others, at least a little. With this in mind, here are seven bottom-tier personal hygiene mistakes to avoid.

Improper oral hygiene

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Not taking care of your teeth and mouth comes first on this list, because poor oral hygiene affects both your own health and the wellbeing of the people around you. Brushing, flossing, and gargling some mouthwash now and then will not only prevent cavities, gum disease, and other dental disasters, it’s polite to the people you interact with. You don’t need to be exhaling a plume of minty freshness every time you breathe; just avoid breath that stinks. It’s the least you can do.

Unacceptable levels of body odor

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People have a smell, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with letting your natural funk surround you. But when you factor in others—say on a crowded subway car—it becomes a thorny issue. Does your right to walk around with stinky pits end at my nose? Or am I just expecting strangers to adhere to some westernized concept of cleanliness that was invented to sell sticks of deodorant? I think there’s a middle ground between smelling like a human being and smelling like chemicals and perfumes, but some people just full on stink, and that’s not fair to anyone.

Not washing your butt

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I’m going to put aside cultural and personal tolerance for this one: Do not walk around smelling like crap because you don’t wash your ass.

Unless you don’t have access to a shower because you are without a home or something. (Damn; I’m equivocating again.)

Improper use of cologne and perfume

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I used to work in the videogame industry, and I often attended fan events. The absolute worst-smelling people in those convention halls and hotel lobbies weren’t the dudes who clearly didn’t bathe. The worst were the dudes who didn’t bathe and tried to use some kind of body-spray or cologne to cover it up. Do not be that person. It does not work. It just adds another layer of disgusting to your personal miasma.

And don’t be the person who lays the fragrance on too thick, either. A little dab of something behind your ears or on your wrists is fine if you want. An overpowering wall of scent that surrounds you like a personal black cloud? No.

Not washing your hands enough

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Hand-washing is both a health matter and a not-being-gross matter. According to the CDC, adequate hand-washing can prevent the spread of respiratory and diarrheal infections. You should wash your hands:

Before, during, and after preparing foodBefore and after eating foodBefore and after caring for someone at home who is sick with vomiting or diarrheaBefore and after treating a cut or woundAfter using the toiletAfter changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toiletAfter blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezingAfter touching an animal, animal feed, or animal wasteAfter handling pet food or pet treatsAfter touching garbage

Let’s all believe the CDC, at least on this one.

Personal hygiene in public

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I am aware that some people have nowhere to clip their toenails except the bus, and those people get a pass. But everyone else needs to perform their personal grooming rituals at home and not around me.

Overdoing it

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Showering too much can result in dry, cracked skin that can lead to infections. You can brush the enamel right off your teeth. If you wash your hair too much, it can turn brittle or greasy. This poor kid died from using too much deodorant. For complicated cultural and social reasons, most of us are probably overdoing it with the cleanliness, which might be leading to an increase in allergies or even be damaging our immune systems. Like anything, moderation is the key to being exactly the level of clean you choose.

(But I’m not backing down on washing your butt. In most cases.)



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