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8 Gross Bathroom Habits That Are Bad for Your Health

Bad Bathroom Habits to Ditch Now

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Gross hygiene issues are lurking in even the most spotless of bathrooms. It's true: Bathrooms are nasty breeding grounds for bacteria and germs that can mess with your health and, sorry, but Lysol alone can't save you.

Locker rooms at the gym and public restrooms in restaurants pose their own threats—for instance, walking around barefoot in a women's locker room could expose you to infections, like athlete's foot or plantar warts, says Lauren Ploch, M.D., a dermatologist in Augusta, GA. (That's reason enough to never forget to pack your flip-flops again.)

But even the funk in your own bathroom at home can put you at risk, particularly if you practice some unintentional bad habits. Here are some of the gag-worthy things you might be doing, and why you need to break up with these tendencies for good. (Plus, more bathroom mistakes you don't know you're making.)

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Bad Habit: Missing a Spot In the Shower

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A little soap and water will clean the skin and prevent acne and bacterial infections, but only if you're actually getting that soap where it needs to be. An often overlooked area: your back. There are sections of the back that might be harder to reach, like the center, putting you at risk of acne, rashes, and other skin infections, explains Dr. Ploch, who says she has seen dermatosis neglecta, a skin condition caused by the buildup of sweat, dirt, and oil that can result in plaque-like warts and discoloration in skin. This can develop in otherwise healthy, clean people who simply "miss a spot" in the shower. To get to these hard-to-reach areas, grab a washcloth or loofah with a handle.

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Bad Habit: Improperly Storing Sunscreen

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The steamy bathroom is not only a hotspot for bacteria growth, but any product left out is susceptible to the warm, moist elements, too. So the bathroom isn't an ideal climate for your expensive face creams or sunscreens, says Dr. Ploch.

"Many products degrade faster in hot, moist environments," she says, making them less effective. The degradation of sunscreen means you could slather on even the best-reviewed SPF 50 and it could be essentially worthless, setting you up for dangerous sun exposure, burns, and skin damage. "It's always best to keep sunscreen in a cabinet away from light and rapid temperature changes," says Dr. Ploch, so opt for a hallway closet instead of the bathroom vanity.

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Bad Habit: Wiping Back to Front

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If you've heard it once, you've heard it a million times, so why are you still wiping the wrong way? When you finish your business, make sure you clean up from front to back. (Unless you want a UTI, but we have a feeling that's not your goal.)

"Wiping back to front can theoretically spread bacteria from the anal area to the vaginal area, which can lead to urinary tract infections," says Dr. Ploch. This bad habit can also cause vulvovaginitis (an infection of the vulva and vagina), yeast infections, and itchy, red rashes. You'll know if you have a UTI if your pee burns or if you feel the need to go to the bathroom more often than usual. And, here's a gross side effect: UTIs can make your pee stink, so you might also notice a slightly sweet or ammonia-like smell.

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Bad Habit: Leaving Your Toothbrush Out On the Counter

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It might make sense to toss your toothbrush in a cup on the bathroom sink, but when you think about what goes on in that room, you might want to reconsider. When you flush the toilet with the lid open, a super-fine spray of water in the bowl—and whatever else is in there—is sent into the air, and yep, lands on whatever's in its path, which includes your toothbrush. Yuck! 

This can transfer E. coli and other infection-causing bacteria to something that's supposed to be used to clean your mouth, says Mark Burhenne, D.D.S., a dentist in Sunnyvale, California.

First, always try to flush the toilet with the lid down to minimize bacterial spread. But it's even better to avoid the issue by keeping your toothbrush behind a cabinet door or in a drawer. Or use a snap-on sanitizer, Burhenne says. You'll also want to change your toothbrush (or toothbrush head if you use an electric version) every four to six weeks or during times when you're especially exposed to germs, such as when you're sick or traveling, he adds.

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Bad Habit: Bringing Your Phone Into the Bathroom

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Leave your Facebook feed for five minutes, and keep your phone outside the bathroom. You'd be surprised by how many germs are crawling on bathroom sinks, says Charles Gerba, Ph.D., professor of microbiology and environmental sciences at the University of Arizona.

You can find tons of different bacteria, such as funghi and yeast, on the toilet, the sink, and the floor, says Gerba. So when you go to the bathroom to wash your face and put your phone on the counter, it's sitting right in those germs. And then you carry the phone and the germs away with you. You use your fingers to touch the phone, and then you use them to touch your face or pick up a sandwich. (Yep, bathroom business or not, your phone is teeming with germs.)

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Bad Habit: Letting Hair Build Up In Your Brush

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The bristles of hairbrushes can become coated in product residue, dead skin cells, and oils from your scalp, making the brush a breeding ground for yeast and bacteria, says Sonia Batra, M.D., a Los Angeles–based dermatologist and cohost of The Doctors.

And adding insult to injury, "Debris from the brush can be transferred back on your hair and ruin your freshly washed style," says Dr. Batra. (Have you seen the first "smart" hairbrush?)

She recommends a thorough cleaning of your hairbrush at least once a month. "To clean your brush, use a fine-tooth comb to pull out all the built-up hair, then soak in soap and water for a few minutes before air-drying," she says. If you use a lot of products, don't wash your hair every day, or have long hair, you might want to clean your hairbrush even more often.

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Bad Habit: Popping Pimples

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Popping pimples can be tempting, but you probably know by now that derms and other pros say this is a cardinal skin-care sin. "Popping a pimple breaks the skin, creating a doorway for bacteria, which can prolong the pimple's life span," says Dr. Batra. The pressure can push the oil and dirt deeper into the skin, which triggers inflammation leading to a red, sore area. What's more, "Popping a pimple can sometimes leave a scar in its place that is difficult to remove," she says. (Still tempted? This woman's horrifying story about popping pimples will make you never want to touch your face again.)

While Dr. Batra says she definitely doesn't recommend popping a pimple, "If you absolutely must pop, make sure the pimple has a white head on it." This means the pus inside is likely close to the surface and will release without much pressure. And, if it wasn't already obvious, never touch your face or pop a pimple with dirty hands.

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Bad Habit: Not Washing Makeup Brushes

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You know you should wash your makeup brushes, but you probably also know you don't do it nearly as often as you should. "Makeup brushes can be magnets for bacteria," says Dr. Batra. "This bacteria can be transferred back and forth between your face and the products you use, creating a vicious cycle that causes irritation, clogged pores, blemishes, and sometimes infections." Worth the extra few minutes to get a clean brush, right?

What's more, sharing a makeup brush with a friend or roommate can introduce her bacteria to your face and vice versa, only worsening the cycle of bad skin and germs. And don't even think about using someone else's mascara wand or eyeliner brush unless getting pinkeye or a bacterial infection, like staph, sounds like fun.

A general rule of thumb for cleaning a brush is that the more you use it, the more frequently you should wash it, particularly for brushes used with liquid products like concealer and foundation. "Eye shadow brushes can be cleaned less often, about twice a month," says Dr. Batra. The best method is simple soap and warm water, and there is no need to invest in a separate brush cleanser unless you prefer it.

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