Maintaining personal hygiene is necessary for many reasons; personal, social, health, psychological or simply as a way of life. Keeping a good standard of hygiene helps to prevent the development and spread of infections, illnesses and bad odours.
Most people are very conscious of personal hygiene because:
- We’re taught of the importance of hygiene from an early age
- We may have been “picked-on” at school for a one-off or a peristent hygiene problem. This may even have been an issue mistakenly related to hygiene by others – such as head lice
- It is considered a way of making ourselves more attractive to the opposite sex
- It is off-putting to our friends and colleagues if we smell unpleasant etc.
- We’re aware of health problems that can develop as a result of poor personal hygiene
Body image influences self-esteem, confidence and motivation. Those who already have low self esteem and especially those with depression often neglect personal hygiene which perpetuates the problem of poor body image.
Many forms of modern media including magazines, fashion, TV, film and the internet present a certain body image as being “acceptable” or “expected”. Young children and teenagers are especially influenced by this; physical appearance being the ultimate factor by which to judge and be judged.
To youngsters, teenagers and those who care for them, there are 3 things to remember:
- The first thing to accept is that you will probably never look like those perfect specimens in the media – but you can, and WILL look good to most people if you follow basic personal hygiene principles
- Secondly, your actions and the way you behave are more important to most people than the way you look
- Thirdly, good hygiene practices will help to keep you healthy, give you confidence and be pleasant for those around you
Most people hate to be talked about, especially in a negative manner. By ensuring that our body is clean and well presented, we are more assured of projecting a positive body image that reflects our personalities.
Children should be taught the importance of hygiene and how to achieve good hygiene very early to keep themselves and others healthy and to reduce the risk of being bullied at school.
Poor hygiene can lead to poor health. If you have cut yourself, the wound should be cleaned and dressed suitably, this can help reduced the risk of infection and pain.
Conditions such as head lice, athlete’s foot etc. should be treated immediately to prevent further infections and spread to others.
Hand washing cannot be emphasised enough as this simple action can prevent a plethora of illnesses and disorders developing. Many people ‘forget’ to wash their hands after using the toilet or before handling foods; this can cause a great deal of illness and even death.
By being well presented, clean and tidy, people can feel more confident, especially in social situations. Our chances of succeeding either in work or social settings, or even with the opposite sex can be altered by maintenance of good hygiene.
Maintaining hygiene practices helps to reduce the risks of ill health, but equally important affects how we and others perceive ourselves and can influence our levels of confidence and self-esteem which can affect many aspects of our lives.
Which Bits to Focus On and How?
Think about each area individually and why hygiene is important (for health reasons as well as appearance). Hair and teeth are good places to start, together with those areas of the body that might smell or which are more prone to fungal/bacterial infections.
Dirty head hair does not actually cause many health problems; it’s mostly for appearance factor that keeping hair clean is a good idea.
Greasy hair – At some points of your life – especially in teenage years and at times of hormonal change, hair can become greasy more easily. There’s really only one solution to greasy hair and that is to wash it, although some people find dry shampoo or talc helps to absorb some of the grease. If you’re lucky enough to have hair long enough to tie up then you can miss a wash occasionally – those with natural blonde hair will find grease shows up more than on brunettes – it has to have some draw backs!
Dandruff – If you suffer from dandruff, try the various shampoos available. If it’s serious there are some medical treaments available that are not harmful to the skin – those containing zinc pyritheone or selenium sulphide are said to be the most effective.
Head lice – Head lice are highly contagious. If left unattended, the lice grow large enough that you can actually see them moving(!) and the white eggs (nits) are also sometimes visible. You may also – but not always – experience itching. The best way to avoid persistent head lice is to wash your hair, leave a conditioner in and comb through with a fine tooth comb. Do this at least once a week, then even if a couple of lice manage to find their way to your lovely locks, they will not be given the chance to lay eggs and multiply!
Read more about head and hair hygiene here
2. Teeth and Mouth
Teeth – A beautiful smile can make a person’s day – but if teeth are grubby or breath is smelly, it has an entirely different result. Brush your teeth twice daily with a decent toothbrush (powered ones are best), a fluoride based toothpaste and an antibacterial mouthwash and you can’t go far wrong. If you think your teeth are not white enough, try wearing different colours to make them seem brighter, avoid drinks such as tea, coffee and red wine, which are thought to stain them. If you’re still convinced they’re not white enough ask your dentist about treatments.
Smelly breath – Sometimes, despite good brushing a tooth will succomb to decay – if left untreated this can spread and infect your gums. Bad breath can be the sign of a gum infection. Make sure you vist your dentist regularly to keep a check on it. Halitosis (bad breath) can also be a result of dehydration or an empty stomach, so eat and drink regularly. Read more on halitosis, teeth issues and mouth infections in our oral hygiene section here.
3. Areas Prone to Odour and Fungal Infection
Unpleasant smells and fungal infections are most commonly experienced in areas of the body that are warm and not often exposed to fresh air: the feet; the genitals and some of our sweat glands.
Smelly Feet – The feet contain lots of sweat glands. If feet are confined in socks and shoes the sweat has nowhere to ‘evaporate’ and the skin bacteria will in effect attack to, causing that pungent’cheesy’ aroma. There’s a variety of reasons why some people suffer more than others see the Smelly feet article for more information.
Here are some measures you can take to minimise smelly feet:
- Wash regularly and dry thoroughly with a soft towel and an anti-bacterial foot powder or a baby talc
- Allow feet to air when feasible and wear open shoes as much as possible
- Change socks more than once a day if needed and make sure they are cotton or other breathable fabric
Athlete’s foot – Athlete’s foot is a fungal infection that causes itching, flaky skin and sometimes a sore, red rash. It’s highly contagious and can be unsightly. There are plenty of products available to combat athlete’s foot, but you should check with your pharmacist or GP if you are taking any other medicines, have certain medical conditions, or are buying for a child as some of the treatments contain steroids. Read up on athlete’s foot here.
Genital Areas – Genital areas can be prone to bacterial infections and unpleasant aromas if not kept clean. Conversely though, too much cleaning with scented products or soaps can cause thrush – a yeast infection. The best hygiene for all the genital ares is to clean once or twice a day using mild soap and water. Read more on genital hygiene here.
Get more specific information on areas of hygiene that you are concerned about at:
And remember you can always make an appointment to see a practice nurse or GP at your local surgery or health centre.