12 “Healthy” Hygiene Habits That Are Actually Bad for You

You may think you're doing everything you can to improve your health and appearance, but these common hygiene habits do more harm than good.

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Cleaning out your ears with Q-tips

Some people swear on Q-Tips to dig out ear gunk, but medical experts will warn you not to try it. And for good reason—those seemingly harmless cotton swabs have caused countless catastrophes, from punctured eardrums and ear infections to even hearing loss. According to Brande Plotnick, MS, MBA, the ear canal doesn’t even need to be “cleaned.” Enough water enters the ear canal during showers to naturally slough away wax that has accumulated. It’s time to put the Q-Tip down and start doing these 30 healthy habits from every type of doctor.

Fizzy bath bomb

Bubble baths/bath bombs

Soaking in scented suds seems like the perfect way to unwind after a long day, but you may just find yourself with irritated skin and a nasty yeast infection. The fragrances and harsh detergents inside your favorite bath bombs can strip protective oils from the vagina and mess with the natural pH balance of the skin. Jen Gunter, MD, tells Safe Bee that bubble baths increase your odds for uncomfortable dryness, vaginal infections, and even bladder infections.

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Gynos everywhere agree that douching isn’t exactly recommended for your vaginal health. Wendie A. Howland, principal of Howland Health Consulting, tells Reader’s Digest that douching disturbs the normal pH and washes out beneficial bacteria, leading to an array of possible infections. A study from Environmental Health even found that douching products increase your exposure to harmful chemicals called phthalates, which can disrupt your hormones, increase your risk of chronic disease, and lead to reproductive problems down the line. If you want to keep it clean down there the safe way, look into adding one of these bidet toilet seat attachments.

Soapy foam on woman's hands
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Hand sanitizer

If you’re a habitual pumper, you may actually be doing more harm to your health than good. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns that triclosan, a synthetic compound found in hand sanitizer, is a poor (and dangerous) replacement for soap and water. And worse, “Data suggests that long-term exposure to certain active ingredients used in hand sanitizer could pose health risks, such as bacterial resistance or hormonal effects.”

Metal hand dryer on the white tiled wall

Air dryers

Sure, air dryers are better for the planet than paper towels, but research from the Mayo Clinic shows that paper towels easily trump electric dryers when it comes to personal hygiene. Electric air dryers fail at wiping away the leftover bacteria after washing, and even worse, they can literally spread it to the entire room, creating a contagious mist that contains many types of fecal bacteria. This reach is pretty powerful—studies found a substantial number of airborne bacteria within a radius of approximately 2 meters from the user. Check out the 22 other bathroom mistakes you never knew you made.

Water jet from a shower head in the bathroom

Relaxing in the shower

There’s nothing like lingering in a long, hot shower, especially first thing in the morning. But is it good for your skin? Alan J. Parks, MD, founder of DermWarehouse, tells Healthy Way that hot showers strip protective oils from your skin, so you should always keep them as short as you can. Better yet, take them at night—hot showers are actually most beneficial at night, according to science. The cooling process that happens afterward slows down the body’s metabolic activities (like digestion, breathing, and heart rate), making for an easier sleep transition.

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Washing your hair every day

While most of us have been conditioned (pun intended) to rinse and repeat ad infinitum, your locks may be paying a toll. Washing your hair on a daily basis strips away the natural oils that the hair needs, leading to dry, brittle locks, even if you have oily hair.

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Moisturizing too much

If you have dry, itchy skin, it seems natural to want to slather on the lotion every chance you get. But this may not always be the smartest alternative. According to the experts at Garnier, applying excessive moisturizer at night can create a tolerance, which trains the skin to produce less natural emollient, making it even drier in the long run. This results in a vicious cycle where your skin is no longer producing necessary nutrients, which only causes you to moisturize more. To prevent the problem, apply just a thin coat of moisturizer or try using an oil-free balm instead. These are the 9 other healthy habits you didn’t realize you’re overdoing.


Brushing your teeth right after a meal

Sticklers for oral hygiene may make a dash for the toothbrush after every meal, but that’s a mistake. That’s because certain foods, especially those containing citric acid, can weaken tooth enamel, and brushing too soon after eating damages the enamel in its already weakened state. Mayo Clinic recommends waiting at least 30 minutes after a meal so saliva can neutralize the acid in your mouth and strengthen the enamel on those chompers. Here’s why you should have a cavity filled in the afternoon and the best time of day to do these 14 other common healthy habits.

girl cleaning her body with loofah body scrub, bathroom

Exfoliating too much

You may feel like you’re taking extra good care of your skin with frequent scrubs, but in reality, you could be damaging your epidermis (the outermost layer of your face), stripping the pores of their much-needed barrier against the environment. According to Dermatology Alliance, your glands produce more oil to compensate, and as the skin fluctuates between too dry and too oily, it gets stuck in a cycle of imbalance. Ditch the scrub and switch to chemical exfoliants that are free of parabens and safe to use on a weekly basis.

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Sneezing into your hand

Covering your sneeze with your hand is better than sneezing into the abyss, right? Nope. Using your hands and subsequently touching food, money, or other people is a clear recipe for contagion. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most serious respiratory illnesses are spread by touching objects with contaminated hands. For the sake of everyone around you, politely sneeze into your elbow. Find out the hygiene habits you should STOP doing in public.

Close up of spraying perfume bottle on a dark grey background.

Spritzing fragrance in underwear

Although most people have enough sense not to spray perfume directly into the nether regions, you might try deodorizing your underwear instead. The truth is that anything chemical near the genitals can interfere with your natural pH, and it’s likely you’ll be stuck with a yeast infection, bacterial vaginosis, or urinary tract infection (which ironically, all end up causing worse smells than what you started with). Do yourself a favor and let your self-cleaning vagina do the work—it knows what it’s doing. Besides resisting the urge to clean your vagina, make sure you never touch these other body parts.

Hana Hong
Hana Hong is a journalist/storyteller whose writing has appeared in many publications and websites, including Reader's Digest, InStyle, CollegeFashionista, Her Campus, and The Fashion Network, among others. She hails from the midwest, where she graduated from the University of Illinois with a B.A. in News-Editorial Journalism, but has a passion for the East Coast. Visit her website: Hana Hong.