Antibacterial Society: How Clean is Too Clean?
Our society is obsessed with cleanliness. We shower daily, wash our face twice a day, wash our hands religiously, and carry wet wipes and hand sanitizers in our purse. But some bacteria are good and actually necessary to our health. Using heavy-duty cleaners can kill the good bacteria which can cause issues with our immune system, not to mention the harmful toxins and chemicals used in many cleaning products. So how clean is too clean?
First, let’s look into the cleanliness of our homes. According to New Scientist, “there’s increasing evidence that the chemical mixtures we use to clean our homes create indoor pollutants.” Everything from soap and shampoo to laundry detergent and scented candles contribute to this. Currently, there are no laws that state cleaning products must list their ingredients, so we often don’t even know what we’re using to spray down our countertops or clean the windows. Synthetic fragrances are often the most toxic, reacting with the ozone and creating compounds like formaldehyde, a known carcinogen.
It’s recommended to use natural cleaning products and familiarize yourself with the ingredients in the items you use around your house, especially if you have young children or pets, who are more sensitive to these harmful compounds. I decided to make the change when I was cleaning my bathroom with a popular cleaning spray and my dog and I both started sneezing uncontrollably. It scared me that something that is supposed to make my environment a cleaner and safer place caused such a reaction. I now use vinegar, essential oils, baking soda, and castile soap to clean my apartment. All of these ingredients are far safer and much gentler, while still being effective at cleaning my space.
Speaking of being gentler, let’s also discuss the importance of keeping some bacteria in our environment. According to an article by the New York Times, the “hygiene hypothesis…holds that some exposure to germs and microorganisms in early childhood is actually good for us because it helps develop the immune system,” so being careful not to overly sanitize your home, especially when you have children, is necessary. There are even studies to suggest that children who are not exposed to enough microbes are at a higher risk of developing allergies, asthma, and eczema. It’s crucial to expose ourselves to some germs and bacteria so we can build up our immune systems and fight the harmful bacteria.
Asthma and allergies can also arise if our bodies are too clean. We’re constantly being sold products that tout being able to kill 99.9% of germs and most soaps have “antibacterial” in big letters on their bottles. The discussion surrounding personal hygiene is much more far along than our household cleanliness, however. We know that we shouldn’t wash our hair every day and more and more products are dropping sulfates (strong detergents responsible for creating a lather, which can irritate the skin) from their ingredients lists. Cleansing milks are also becoming more popular than other more intensive facial cleansers, which don’t strip your skin of sebum, a thin layer of triglycerides that keep your skin moisturized.
According to Well + Good, avoiding face wash all together might be the best thing you can do for your skin, stating that “leaving it alone is better for the bacteria on the surface of your face – which keeps your complexion functioning optimally on its own.” I’ve even read multiple articles by women who have stopped washing their hair with shampoo or conditioner. All of them said that there was an adjustment period, where their scalp was overproducing oil in response to shampoo use, but after a few weeks without washing their hair, their scalp adjusted and left them with shinier, healthier hair sans products.
While I’m still a proponent of washing my face twice daily and washing my hair a few times a week, I try to use the gentlest formulas possible and reach for products with natural ingredients whenever I can. The bottom line is that some bacteria is good and exposure to certain germs is necessary to build a strong immune system. That doesn’t mean you should stop cleaning yourself and your home, but instead give some more thought to your processes, familiarize yourself with the ingredients in your products, and remember that it’s ok to get a little dirty!
Cover image via CNN