Perhaps you've found yourself in a situation like this: You're preparing for your weekly softball game, when you realize you forgot to swipe on some fresh deodorant before leaving the house. The thought of the impending seven innings immediately triggers your smelliest stress sweat, so you ask around if any of your pals happen to have brought a stick with them. Inevitably, someone rustles some out of their bag, but not before someone else throws a disgusted grimace your way. Let you rub your stinky pits on their personal deodorant?! That can't be healthy—can it?
Turns out that disgust may be a pretty good indicator of smart hygiene habits. A growing body of research suggests that our revulsion may actually have been key to our early ancestors' survival. "[Disgust] has a purpose, it's there for a reason," self-described "disgustologist" Valerie Curtis told Reuters Health earlier this month. "Just like a leg gets you from A to B, disgust tells you which things you are safe to pick up and which things you shouldn't touch."
But in the days of hand sanitizer and antibacterial soap and bleach, is disgust really saving us from much of anything? Maybe not, says Pritish Tosh, an assistant professor in the division of infectious diseases at the Mayo Clinic. Today, we're sharing far less bacteria than ever before, he says—and that might be a bad thing. Maybe part of the reason we have so many allergic diseases and such an increase in obesity is because we're just too darn clean.
That idea was reflected in a recent study that found certain kinds of gut bacteria, namely from lean people, might be able to help combat obesity.
When it comes to sharing your germ-infested items, "it's a balance of risks and benefits," Tosh says. Sharing a toothbrush with someone you know intimately is obviously very, very different from sharing a toothbrush with a complete stranger, making certain items seem ickier to share than they truly are, he says. "The reality is we're speaking more about possibility than probability," says Neal Schultz, a cosmetic dermatologist in New York City and founder of DermTV.com. Still, he says, "forewarned is forearmed." Here's the truth about 10 items you might want to consider keeping to yourself.