Personal Hygiene: What’s Harmful, What’s Helpful

Updated: Feb. 08, 2017

When it comes to your personal hygiene, we break down which common grooming habits you can miss and which you should maintain.

istock/Eva Katalin Kondoros

Not dealing with bad breath: possibly harmful.

Bad breath isn’t just embarrassing, it can also be a sign of underlying health problems like an infection. Regularly rinse with mouthwash, brush after you eat, and keep hydrated for a healthy, sweet-smelling mouth. If you have any other cause for concern, check with your doctor.


Using hair dye: possibly harmful.

There are nearly 5,000 chemicals used in hair dye products, some of which are reportedly carcinogenic in animals. One small study found that hairdressers had an increased risk of bladder cancer, but according to the National Cancer Institute, there is conflicting information regarding a link between use of personal hair dye and development of cancer since chemicals in hair dyes today are significantly less harmful than boxed color from the ’70s. You can, however, suffer hair damage from over-coloring.

istock/Michał Ludwiczak

Clipping your nails: helpful.

Neatly trimmed fingernails and toenails aren’t just aesthetically pleasing; they can be critical in helping to ward off fungal infections that can result from picking or biting.


Overdoing the perfume: harmful.

If applied too generously, perfume can be an annoyance to everyone around you, as well as yourself. “While many people enjoy the smell of perfume, for some people it can be problematic for the skin,” says dermatologist Jeremy Zeichner, MD, explaining that skin allergies to fragrances are not uncommon and can result in a red itchy rash. If your skin is sensitive, he suggests skipping perfume, or experimenting until you find one you’re not allergic to.


Shampooing daily: possibly harmful.

According to, you can skip a day of lather unless you have extremely oily hair. Fewer washes means your hair will be healthier because it requires less styling products, which can cause it to look dull. Long hair and curly hair can even go a few days without a wash.

istock/Eva Katalin Kondoros

Flossing: helpful.

Flossing is often overlooked, but it shouldn’t be! Regular flossing removes food particles and plaque from between your teeth that toothbrushes can’t reach. And many studies have been done exploring the links between problems in your mouth as a predictor for heart disease, as well as shown a link between flossing and a reduction in gingivitis.


Plucking your nose hair: harmful.

If you’re tempted to trim or pluck those nose whiskers, you might want to think again. Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD, says this can expose hair follicles to bacteria, which can lead to infection. If the hairs aren’t there, you also might breathe in more dust or particles, which can lead to sickness. If long nose hairs make you self conscious, trim the ends slightly.


Brushing your teeth: helpful.

Brushing your teeth is a daily habit you should never skip. Besides preventing bad breath, regular teeth brushing helps protect against cavities and gum diseases like gingivitis, deters plaque buildup, and wards off tooth decay. The American Dental Association suggests brushing twice a day, gently moving your toothbrush back and forth in short strokes. Replace toothbrushes every three to four months, or when the bristles start to fray.


Picking your nose: harmful.

It isn’t just a nasty habit, it can also be harmful to your health by putting you at risk for infections or illness. To clear your nasal passages, Dr. Oz suggests using a nasal rinse or lining your nose with a moistening gel.


Overwashing your face: harmful.

Beware of overwashing or scrubbing, which can strip the skin of oil and actually cause breakouts or more oil production. Use a gentle cleaner twice a day to remove oil and dirt.


Shaving incorrectly: harmful.

When you shave you’re not only removing hair but also affecting the skin. Use warm or hot water to help hydrate and soften hairs, making them easier to cut. Apply a shave gel to further hydrate and allow the blade to slide over skin smoothly, preventing nicks. Use single strokes in the direction of hair growth, which might not give you the closest shave but will reduce the irritation and razor bumps that against the grain shaving can cause.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest