The topic of showering is an age-old one. Just this year, we had that nurse who admitted to showering twice a week, America Ferrera revealing that her guilty pleasure is not showering for a couple of days, and Al Roker getting grossed out by such practices and sharing that he showers twice a day. And who can forget the “great unwashed celebrities” debate of 2021? Well, whether you shower daily, twice a day, or whenever you feel like it, there are certain parts of your body that are apparently easy to miss. We all know to wash our hands, face, arm pits, crotch, and legs, but according to a recent study, the three dirtiest body parts that people miss while showering are behind the ears, between the toes, and in the belly button.
After analyzing a collection of skin swabbing samples collected from 129 graduate and undergraduate students, the researchers found that microbes from areas typically washed regularly—in this case, forearms and calves—were more diverse, and, consequently, potentially part of a healthier microbiome than samples from behind the ears, between the toes, and inside the belly button.
In the study, published in September in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology, Crandall and his colleagues explain that when the moist, oily areas of the body like these aren’t washed often enough, it gives certain undesirable microbes the opportunity to shift the entire microbiome, and potentially result in skin conditions like eczema or acne. The authors also note that given the relatively small sample size, and the limited body parts swabbed for the study, more research is needed to get a more definitive picture of how washing—or not washing—various areas can impact our health.
According to Laura Purdy, MD, a Miami-based family medicine physician who was not affiliated with the GW study, this research reinforces the need to clean all the skin on our body when bathing—including the “hard-to-reach” and “easy-to-forget places” like behind our ears, between our toes, and inside our belly button.
“Washing our body gets rid of dirt, odor, and allergens that have built up on your skin throughout the day, but it also removes your body’s dead skin cells, sweat, and natural oils found on your skin,” she explains. “Your skin can also be hosting some bacteria, viruses, or fungi, so washing these areas is important to cleanse your skin.”
[From Real Simple]
Well, that all seems pretty straightforward and like common sense. Honestly, not washing those “hard-to-reach” and “easy-to-forget places” kinda sounds like when you vacuum but you’re too lazy to really do the whole carpet, so you just sorta spot clean for those visibly dirty areas. Let this study be a reminder that even if you can’t see (or smell) the germs, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t there! I know we’re all always in a hurry or exhausted, but it is important to wash every surface, nook, and cranny. The article also gives advice on how to wash those three neglected areas.
Behind the Ears: There’s no special method or product you need to wash behind your ears: the key is remembering to do it. “Washing behind the ears should be no different than washing the rest of your body,” Dr. Stacey Tull says. “Use whatever type of soap your skin is used to. If you use a washcloth elsewhere, use it here, too. I personally just use soap and the friction of my fingers to wash my entire face and body.” Dr. Purdy agrees, saying that simply using your fingertips to rub gently behind your ears will get the job done.
Between the Toes: While most of the water and soap from your shower probably flows over your feet and toes before going down the drain, this doesn’t sufficiently clean the areas between your toes. Washing between your toes is also pretty straightforward. According to Dr. Tull, it should be done whenever you shower: ideally, every one or two days. “Again, using what you would normally use to wash your body should be fine for the feet,” she adds.
Inside the Belly Button: In addition to being dark and moist, the belly button also has multiple skin folds, creating the ideal environment for the accumulation of dead skin cells, sweat, and other microorganisms, like bacteria and fungi, Dr. Purdy says. All you need to do to clean your belly button is use a soapy finger to gently rub the inside, then rinse. Some people prefer using a cotton swab, but Dr. Tull stresses the importance of using this, or any tool, with a light touch. “Care should be taken to not be too aggressive, such as digging into the area with a Q-tip, because this can induce extra trauma,” she says.
And there you have it, friends. Go forth and properly apply that soap with those fingers, washcloths, and Q-tips. Beat that bacteria! And while you’re at it, let’s all cross our fingers and very clean toes that we don’t suddenly get celebrities chiming in about whether or not they wash their belly button. I really couldn’t handle hearing about whether or not Ashton Kutcher has clean ear folds or how often Kristen Bell washes between her toes or somewhere worse.
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