Are you the type A personality who lives a highly hygienic life where everything is clean and sanitary? It may actually be doing more harm to your body than good. Here's why.
The human body is 90% bacterial cells. Only 10% of your body contains human cells. What does this mean?
Bacteria play a vital role in our health and are actually extremely beneficial for us despite the old stigma that bacteria give us viruses and disease. What we once thought of as "bad" bacteria, such a e. coli and h pylori, can actually be favorable for our health.
This ecosystem of bacteria that live anywhere from our mouth to our anus is referred to as the gut microbiome. There are many different microbiomes in our body, with the gut microbiome being one of the most intricate and important. By taking good care of it we can remain healthy and prevent disease.
After reading endless research and studies on bacteria and their connection to the gut I had an "A HA!" moment where I realized "good" and "bad" bacteria don't exist.
There are 100 TRILLION bacteria cells that live in our body. That's a heck of a lot to analyze and conduct studies to assess which ones are "good" for us and which ones are "bad" for us.
While there are many studies which show favorable health conditions from certain species of bacteria, there is a stronger consensus that having a more diverse ecosystem of bacteria in our body leads to a stronger immune system, less disease, clear skin, and a good night sleep.
While we don't want our food to be contaminated with e.coli, having a small amount in our body it completely fine and healthy as long as there is enough diversification of other bacteria to keep the e.coli in check.
While H. pylori has frequently been connected to causing ulcers, recent research show is to be protective against reflux and esophageal cancer. Early exposure in children shows it to protect against stomach and intestinal autoimmunity including Crohn's and colitis in this study. It is also important to note that those exposed to H. pylori early in life may be living in a "dirtier" environment so it could be the environment that provides the protection. This reinforces the theme of "dirt" as a protector.
The more bacteria we are exposed to actually contributes to a stronger immune system, and a healthy well functioning body. If you think about it, its completely natural to be exposed to bacteria and "germs".
Let's start from the beginning. An infant in the womb who's mother is exposure to farm animals showed more protected against developing immune disorders later in life. The more animals the mom had exposure to showed a positive correlation and increased benefit for the child in multiple studies including this one.
This suggests that the microbiota begins to develop even before child birth. It is important to note that exposure to farm animals doesn't guarantee a positive effect on the microbiota and the immune system may require continuous exposure to environmental bacteria to have a healthy impact.
During birth, when a baby passes through the vaginal canal, it becomes exposed to a massive dose of bacteria from his or her mother. This contributes to a more diverse ecosystem of bacteria which leads to a stronger immune system. This is why babies who are born through a c-section tend to be more prone to allergies and disease, they skipped the step of exposure to the mothers bacteria.
Studies found that c-section babies are 20% more likely to develop type 1 diabetes. This study followed 750,000 children for 14 years and found ulcerative colitis, celiac disease, and arthritis were more common in c-section babies compared to vaginal birth. Does this mean your c-section child is doomed? No, but it means its important to promote healthy gut bacteria in all other areas such as breastfeeding and wholesome food.
As infants grow they begin putting things into their mouth. This is an essential part of building their immune system and diversifying their bacteria. It's much "healthier" in the long run for a baby to be exposed to as much bacteria as possible. Being held by a variety of people versus containing the baby in a sterile environment will contribute to a more diverse ecosystem of bacteria and a more intelligent immune system which will prevent the likelihood of the baby developing an autoimmune diseases down the road.
Studies have been done comparing the microbiome of kids who grew up in a household using sponges to wash their dishes versus those who used a dishwasher. Interestingly, the kids who used sponges had less allergies than those who used a dishwasher, suggesting that the exposure to the germs on the sponge contributed to a stronger immune system.
Not All Dirt Is Created Equal
There is “new” dirt and “old” dirt. Old dirt is what you would find in the woods, new dirt is what you would find in a city or the slums. Exposure to one may have very different impacts on your health. Not all dirt, germs and bacteria are good for you. If you are in a dirty city or go to the bathroom you should wash your hands. If you are hiking or gardening it may be best to not wash your hands, at least for a little while.
As you can see, the dirt can be very different based on the environment. Exposure to "new" dirt near garbage and stagnant water could give you bacteria that has a negative impact on your health.
Early life is a crucial time for the development of the microbiota and immune system.
We no longer live in an era of the plague. Instead we have self induced a chronic epidemic of disease from living a "too clean" lifestyle. This isn't to say that having a sanitary home and work environment was ill intended, but generations of sanitation has drastically depleted out body's diverse ecosystem of gut bacteria.
If you think back to hunter's and gatherers or even farmers, they had constant direct exposure to dirt and germs. This profoundly contributed to their diverse microbiome.
Now every bathroom is filled with disinfectant and anti-microbial soap that wipes out ALL the germs, the "bad" AND the "good".
This isn't to say you should lick the subway pole or stop washing your hands but you don't need to clean and disinfect your body as much as you may think. Be mindful of the products you are using and try to connect more with nature. Walk barefoot in your yard, lay directly on the sandy beach, garden in your free time, or drink from a stream of natural running water on your next hike. Connecting with nature will nourish your body with a healthy diversification of bacteria and also provide a soothing mental state.
Bacteria & Skincare
How does this relate to your skincare? Our skin contains it's own microbiome of bacteria. Again, the more diverse bacteria you have on your skin the healthier it will be.
I listened to a really interesting podcast the other day by That's So Maven who interviewed Jasmina Aganovic. She talks about the most overlooked secret to sexy skin: over-sterilizing ourselves with personal care products. Because of this she decided to start her own skincare line, Mother Dirt, using ingredients that protect and embrace the balance our skin once had. The signature spray, which can be used on the face, under your armpits, on your feet and much more is crafted around a bacteria that you will find in nature.
Urban living and our modern lifestyle have hindered our skin's interaction with mother nature. Because of this our skin has become susceptible to issues including skin sensitivity and irritation.
Most skincare has been formulated to work in the short run but have negative long term effects. For example, deodorant was built to make us smell fresh and prevent an unpleasant odor. While the intentions were genuine, we are now learning that these highly effective aluminum based antiperspirant deodorants are clogging in toxins that our body needs to naturally release. Using natural deodorants allows our arms to breathe and release toxins.
Worried your sweat will smell? It actually isn't our sweat that smells, its the bacteria that live under our arms. When we talk about body odor it's referring to the combination of our sweat and bacteria. By removing the bacteria that create an unpleasant smell you will naturally have less body odor.
My "Dirty" Hygiene
As someone who first meets me you may be surprised by my skincare routine. Not that I think I have flawless skin (I don't by any means) but I have been frequently asked how my complexion stays so clear.
I previously thought it was a factor of being blessed with good genes because honestly I barely wash my face.
Interestingly, after delving deeper into the world of health and wellness and all things natural skincare I have realized that less is more.
While I may have also been blessed with good genes, I have been contributing to a healthy microbiome on my skin because I don't destroy it with harsh chemicals found in most cosmetics.
I let the bacteria on my skin do their thing and don't drastically alter their ecosystem. I also eat a healthy diet and live a relatively healthy lifestyle which is a huge contributor to healthy glowing skin.
My 8 "dirty" hygiene techniques that I consider beneficial:
1. I seldom wash my face.
I technically only wash my face 1-2 times a week. When I get up in the morning I splash some water on my face and dry it with a towel. In the evening I use coconut oil to take off my makeup and again use water to wash my face. I will use a "facial scrub" about once a week to rub off any dead skin and I also use a "face wash" once a week to get that "squeeky clean" feeling. However, I try to keep it at a minimum, otherwise my skin becomes too dry. I also detoxify my skin with the FERA face mask and I use the FERA facial oil to hydrate because it's completely natural and nourishing for the skin. Plus it's it's naturally antimicrobial and full of antioxidants with anti-aging properties.
2. I seldom wash my hair.
I try and go 2-3 days before washing my hair. If I go to the gym and sweat profusely then yes I may wash my hair multiple days in a row. But for the most part I try and go as many days as possible without washing it. I will skill rinse off my body in the shower but will keep my hair dry. If it's looking greasy I braid it or throw it up in a ponytail. Your hair will naturally become greasy more quickly if you wash it more frequently. Once you stop you will be able to go longer without washing it and it will still look fresh.
3. I never use hand sanitizer.
I actually hate the smell but I have also learned how bad it is for you so stay away from it at all costs now. I use soap or natural products with tea tree oil.
4. I wear my clothes multiple times before washing them.
I normally always wash my gym clothes after one use but I generally eyeball and sniff to see if it needs to be washed. Plus, this keeps my clothes looking brand new longer.
5. I don't use antiperspirant deodorant.
I use a variety of natural ones including Aurelia and Kaia Naturals.
6. I don't wear deodorant to the gym or work-out classes.
I'll make the occasional exception but I try not to wear deodorant if I don't have to because it's normal and natural to sweat and release toxins from our body. Why would we want to clog our pores and keep everything inside.
7. I let dogs kiss me.
I love puppy smooches and will take any opportunity to have them kiss me all over my face!
8. I don't always wash my fruits and vegetables from farmer's markets.
A little bit of "healthy" dirt can actually be good for your body and microbiome. If I am getting produce from a local organic farm then I rarely wash the food before eating it. Of course if the lettuce is covered in dirt then I will give it a good washing, but for the most part I prefer to expose my gut microbiome to the microbes in the rich dirt. HOWEVER, when I purchase food from a grocery story I ALWAYS wash my fruits and vegetables because even the "organic" ones have likely been exposed to some sort of fertilizer or harsh chemicals.