From popping pimples to not cleaning makeup brushes, there's more to worry about when it comes to germs than just toilets and toothbrushes
No one would wash their face with a dirty rag or drink from the toilet (looking at you, puppy!), but many women overlook the hidden health hazards in their morning routine. A lot happens to your body between the first buzz of your alarm and that last-minute dash out the door—and while showering, putting on makeup, and doing your hair may seem routine, even these small actions can have long-term consequences. After all, germs live on more than just your toilet or toothbrush! Discover the surprising ways your a.m. beauty regimen could be making you sick—and the simple solutions to fix them.
You may feel like microdermabrasion tools and exfoliating brushes give you beautiful skin, but clean pores start with a clean brush or cloth—and these brushes are not self-cleaning. "People should definitely be cleansing and sanitizing any tool they take to their face," says says Susan Bard, M.D., cosmetic dermatologist at Vanguard Dermatology in NYC. "Clarisonic-type brushes should be popped off the their bases and cleaned weekly with antibacterial soap then allowed to dry thoroughly."
The biggest culprits for causing sneaky illness and infection are makeup brushes, Bard says. "People almost never clean them, and they can transfer dangerous bacteria from your bathroom right to your face," she explains. She recommends washing brushes with shampoo or mild bar soap every two to four weeks, depending on use.
Your eyes may be the window to your soul, but they're also open doorways to infection, says Brian Francis, M.D., an ophthalmologist at the Doheny Eye Center at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in California. "I've seen patients with serious complications and even blindness resulting from improper care of their contact lenses," he says. The biggest mistake he sees is people showering with them in. "Lenses are sponges and they'll absorb parasites and bacteria that live in tap water," he explains.
Instead, he advises waiting until after your shower to put them in, cleaning the storage case once a week, not wearing disposable lenses longer than prescribed, and never, ever sleeping in your lenses (not even a nap!).
Nobody can use an entire eyeshadow compact before it expires (unless you're really into the smokey eye look). And while your product may seem perfectly fine, looks can be deceiving. "The expiration date on makeup refers to the preservatives meant to keep the product fresh and bacteria-free," Bard says. "Using makeup past the expiry date means that the preservatives are no longer as effective as they should be, allowing for the growth of bacteria, which can lead to infection when applied to the skin." (Extend the Lifespan of Your Makeup.)
"You may have heard that the vagina is self-cleaning, but that's only partly true," says Sheryl Ross, M.D., an OB-GYN and women's health expert at Providence St. John's Health Center in Santa Monica. She says a healthy vagina needs the same hygienic attention as any other part of your body. "Between urine, sweat and being so close to the anus, cleaning the vagina regularly is critical to prevent dirty bacterial buildup and to avoid the offensive odors that develop throughout the day."
No need to go overboard though! She recommends a gentle, non-fragranced soap and plain water. And definitely skip douching and antibacterial washes as they can kill the good bacteria in your vagina and lead to infections. (Get The Down Low on Down-There Grooming.)
Rushing with a razor blade is a bad idea—and not just because a quick shave risk cuts that could lead to infection. The biggest problem our experts see is women using their razors long after they should've been tossed. "Old, dull razor blades can cause razor burns, bumps, acne, and other irritations to the skin and hair follicles," explains Ross. (Do it right with 6 Tricks for How to Shave Your Bikini Area.) "Plus, they carry unwanted bacteria which can lead to infections." How often you need to change the blades depends on how often you're using the razor, the size of area being shaved, and coarseness of the hair, Bard says. "But once the razor no longer glides smoothly, its time for a new one."
If you want to give your dermatologist a heart attack, tell her you pop your zits with your fingers. "Avoid this at all costs!" Bard says. "Squeezing often leads to greater inflammation which can lead to scarring or post inflammatory hyperpigmentation." But Bard does know how maddening a big blemish can be, so if you absolutely must do it, she says to only pop pustules that have a very obvious head. "I prefer to very superficially lance the pustule with a sterile needle to create a small portal of exit rather than squeezing until the skin violently ruptures. Then, with two Q-tips, apply very gentle pressure to express contents. If the contents cannot be expressed easily with gentle pressure, stop immediately." If you use a blackhead remover, be sure to sterilize it in a mixture of alcohol and water both before and after use, as zits are basically balls of bacteria, Ross adds.
We understand your confusion—it's called the medicine cabinet, after all. But this is actually one of the worst places to store pills, prescription or over-the-counter, according to research from the National Institutes of Health. "The heat and moisture from your shower, bath, and sink may damage your medicine, making them less potent, or causing them to go bad before the expiration date," the researchers say. Instead, they say to keep your meds in a cool, dry place without a lot of temperature fluctuations like a bedroom drawer.
A study done by the Amercian Society of Microbiology found that while 97 percent of Americans say they wash their hands, just under half of us actually do it. And this can have consequences far beyond the gross-out factor. "Washing your hands before touching any female-related body parts, beauty tools, and makeup is extremely important for overall health," Ross says. According to the ASM report, all you need to ditch germs is fifteen seconds of soap and water while vigorously rubbing your hands together. No excuses! (Check out these other 5 Bathroom Mistakes You Don't Know You're Making.)
According to commercials, mouthwash is a prerequisite for morning meetings, board presentations, and so on. But research has actually found that mouthwash, particularly the anti-bacterial kind, comes with more risks than rewards. A study done by the British Heart Foundation found that mouthwash raises blood pressure and can increase your risk of heart attacks and strokes. And a 2014 study published in Oral Oncology linked mouthwash use to an increase in oral cancers. Brushing, flossing, and regular dental checkups are all you need to keep your smile healthy and bright, according to the American Dental Association.
Dropping your towel to the floor post-shower may work great in the movies but damp towels are anything but sexy. Not only do they smell funky, but they're the perfect breeding ground for mold, which can cause rashes and allergies. And how gross does it feel to towel off with a not-dry towel anyhow? "The bathroom can be a reservoir for bacteria so it is absolutely necessary to clean or replace all bathroom items weekly," says Ross. Towels should be washed in hot water with bleach or a disinfecting detergent. And just hang it up already! Do we need to call your mother? (7 Things You're Not Washing (But Should Be)>.)