There are no classrooms that teach you basic hygiene growing up. Your parents may do what they can, but a surprising number of people make it to adulthood with gaps in their knowledge. We're here to help fill those gaps.
Start By Forming Solid Habits
Of all the skill involved in personal hygiene, making it a habit is the skill that underlies them all. It doesn't matter if you know how to properly brush your teeth if you only do it once a week. It may seem tangential, but it's essential. If you don't already have solid hygiene habits, start by identifying the areas where you do have solid habits and build on those.
As we've talked about before, if you need to create a new habit, piggybacking on an old one is the best way to do it. If you already have a routine for brushing your teeth, tack on flossing (or, if that doesn't work, floss in the shower!). Be open to adjusting the order you do things in, but keep it as close to your existing routine as possible. Slowly build up over time, if necessary. While it's generally expected that everyone has a full hygiene regimen by the time they are an adult, but that may not always the case, depending on how you were raised.
How To Shave Effectively
Learning how to shave is a rite of passage for some families. Others, however, may not get in-depth lessons. Of all the things you might have missed growing up, there are few that could actually draw blood if you do it wrong, but shaving is one of them. There are many different ways of shaving, so there's no one correct set of instructions — not to mention that men and women need dramatically different strategies. However, there are some basics that cover everyone.
The first thing you'll need to do is pick how you're going to shave. Electric razors are cheaper over the long run, but they often don't provide the closest shave — which means your skin will feel rougher and you'll need to shave more often. Disposable razors can be much less irritating and have better results, but you'll need to buy replacements over time. You can read more about the different types of razors with respect to men here and for women here. There's overlap between both, but each has their own unique challenges.
Once you've decided what you're going to shave, you need to learn how. For women, this video can show you the basics of how to shave your legs. Men have to decide whether they will shave their beards or keep them trimmed and neat. For the latter, we've previously covered a video that explains how to keep a beard tidy. If you'd rather go clean shaven, About.com has a handy step-by-step here.
Of course, sliding a blade over your body isn't the only thing that matters when shaving. How and when you do it matters as well. As WikiHow suggests, if you're shaving in the shower, use warm water and shave last. The water will open up your pores and reduce skin irritation.
How To Shower Properly
Showers are ubiquitous because they are essential to both cleanliness and health. They're also fairly straightforward: acquire soap, rub it on yourself under running water. Simple, right? Well, there are still a few other things to keep in mind. For starters, the order in which you wash yourself in can matter a lot. Start by allowing water to run over you for a couple of minutes. Warm water can open your pores and make it easier to remove dirt and residue. Make sure it isn't super hot, which can dry out your skin.
As we established earlier, you should do any shaving towards the end of your shower. Washing your face should also come towards the end, as this is the area that most benefits from open pores. Of course, all this waiting around may start to feel comfortable, but don't dawdle too long. As our sister site Jezebel learned when discussing showering with Dr Sanjay Jain, spending more than 10 to 15 minutes or so in the shower can start to strip away healthy oils and damage your skin more than it helps.
You also need to take care of your out-of-the-shower habits. As Women's Health Magazine points out, you could be making things worse if you don't clean your washcloth or loofah regularly:
Washcloths and loofahs can harbour bacteria, mould, and yeast, says dermatologist Joel Schlessinger, M.D. If you use a loofah, make sure you replace it at least once a month. Schlessinger says the best way to keep loofahs clean is to dry them completely between uses — even if that means storing it outside of the moisture-filled shower. If you prefer washcloths, grab a fresh one every day, and avoid using it on your face. This is very irritating to the skin and ends up causing dry areas, breakouts, and even sores, says Schlessinger, who recommends washing your face with your hands instead.
Your towels should be cleaned regularly as well. In addition, try to experiment with different soaps, shampoos and conditioners to find the right ones for you. We've discussed before how to find the right hair product, and Everyday Health has some information regarding the choice between body wash, shower gel and bar soap here.
How To Brush Your Teeth Correctly
Your teeth are more complex to clean than most parts of your body, and more painful if you don't bother. Decaying teeth can be agonising. It doesn't take much time, but it's easy to get it wrong. Just sliding a toothbrush over the outside of your teeth for ten seconds won't help you much. As the video above demonstrates, brushing for two minutes two to three times a day is recommended. You can divide your mouth into four sections (bottom left-right, and top left-right), and spend about 30 seconds on each.
You also need to follow up brushing your teeth with flossing. Flossing is the process of placing dental string between your teeth and dislodging any bits of food or gunk that may be stuck, as well as sliding it across your teeth to remove any residue on the surfaces. Toothcare company Oral B also has a simple four-step process for how to floss:
- Wind: Wind 50cm of floss around middle fingers of each hand. Pinch floss between thumbs and index fingers, leaving a one- to two-inch length in between. Use thumbs to direct floss between upper teeth.
- Guide: Keep a 5cm length of floss taut between fingers. Use index fingers to guide floss between contacts of the lower teeth.
- Glide: Gently guide floss between the teeth by using a zig-zag motion. DO NOT SNAP FLOSS BETWEEN YOUR TEETH. Contour floss around the side of the tooth.
- Slide: Slide floss up and down against the tooth surface and under the gum line. Floss each tooth thoroughly with a clean section of floss.
Flossing isn't just for those popcorn kernels between your teeth, either. In fact, it's one of the best things you can do to fight bad breath (if that isn't a motivator, I don't know what is). While you're at it, pay attention to your tongue too. The tongue is an often-neglected part of oral care, but your tongue houses bacteria that causes bad breath. Tongue scrapers can scrub the bacteria hiding on your tongue away and help reduce bad breath. Many cheap toothbrushes include tongue scrapers on the backs of their heads that you can use if you don't want to buy yet another accessory.
The Miscellaneous Essentials
There's almost no limit to the amount of extra stuff you can use on your body to keep it clean, smelling nice, or squeeze out that extra little bit of beauty. Some things are necessary, others are superfluous. Here are some of the things you should consider adding to your repertoire:
- Deodorant: The basic function of deodorant is to combat the funk that your body starts to emit when too much bacteria builds up on your skin. As we've covered before, which brand you buy doesn't matter much and they mostly only differ by scent. You may want to consider unscented deodorant, as your personal scent can actually be an important part in your romantic endeavours. For best effect, apply the antiperspirant at night.
- Mouth wash: If you practice proper oral care, mouth wash shouldn't totally be a necessity, but it can't hurt. It helps to eliminate extra bacteria and can help fight cavities. Just make sure you don't use it as a replacement for brushing or to mask bad breath. Only solving the underlying problems will actually help.
- Perfume/cologne: Using an artificial scent is largely a matter of personal preference. For some it can be attractive, others can use too much and make it off putting. If you want to try experimenting with perfumes and colognes, start by learning how much is too much.
You can find all manner of ways to improve your appearance and hygiene if you look hard enough, but don't let yourself be overwhelmed by fancy products or claims of super, scientifically-advanced chemicals that will make you more attractive. The basics are still the most important: clean yourself regularly, groom your hair neatly, and if you decide to augment your natural scent, do so lightly and with restraint.